J. Robert Spencer: Jersey Boy & Movie Man
In addition to his role as Nick Massi in Broadway's Jersey Boys, J. Robert Spencer (aka Bobby) has just completed directing, producing, writing and starring in his first feature film - a screw-ball romantic comedy entitled Farm Girl in New York - premiering Thursday evening, November 15, at the Big Apple Film Festival.
BroadwayWorld.com's News Desk Editor, Eugene Lovendusky, grabbed a few minutes with Bobby two days before his anticipated movie premiere to discuss the filming process, his inspirations along the way, and his positive-outlook on the theatre industry.
"A screwball comedy about Sam and Matt, a couple of horny guys in the city, who stumble upon an idea to hold a fake audition as a way to meet hot chicks. Hilarity ensues when dozens of hot, talentless, babes show up competing for a job that doesn't exist. When one of the actresses wins Sam's heart at the audition, he is inspired to write a play. With the help of some of the interesting people and places you find in theatre, they just may have a Broadway Hit and fall in love along the way."
Eugene Lovendusky: Congratulations! How excited are you?
J. Robert Spencer (aka Bobby): I'm most excited that the hard work has paid off for myself and the team. You put your heart and soul into something and you want to show it to an audience outside of Jersey Boys. It gives a chance to not only show my work, but of Jeffrey Schecter as an actor and co-writer. It gets to show off our cinematographer, my production team. That's what I'm most proud of everybody gets to have their own moment to enjoy it.
Eugene: I'm glad you touched on your creative team I'll be asking about them in a while. But first of all, without giving too much away, tell me a little bit about Farm Girl in New York and what comedy you have in-store for the audience?
Bobby: It is a whacky, mad-ball screw-ball comedy - it really is off-the-wall crazy with a big sweet heart in the middle of it all. The premise is two guys come up with a scheme to hold a fake audition in New York City so they can meet hot chicks [laughs] The one guy, Sam (played by Jeffrey Schecter) is very reluctant. The other guy, Matt (played by Josh Wade) is the instigator and trouble-maker. All these girls show up and there's the pickle. One girl walks in the door, Mary (played by Allison Munn) and she is the love the guy is looking for. Now he's in a situation that I don't want to lose her and let her know it's fake! So he has to write a play and put on a charade to keep things going. And all hell breaks loose. It's your basic boy-meets-girl, loses-girl, gets-girl-back story but surrounded by some of the funniest physical comedy that I could come up with. It's like a thousand different SNL sketch comedy bits all woven together with an easy concept. Nothing but laughs. One of things we wanted to do was to write and shoot something we wanted, but also something where audiences would laugh hysterically.
Eugene: How did Jeffrey Schecter get into the picture and how did you piece this all together?
Bobby: I was living in LA in 2002 and I had known Joshua Wade for a long time - he was writing screen-plays - and I told him I had an idea for a film. But I had never written anything in my life. Josh said "Let's go over to my friend, Jeffrey Schecter's place." Jeff had done a couple of movies and was a nice guy, very energetic and talented. He liked the idea too and the three of us started writing it immediately. Because of my comedic-influence growing up, Mel Brooks, Jim Carrey, Steve Martin A lot of Jeff comedic-influences included Charlie Chaplin and physical comedians of the silent-era. What we were able to do together is to show all these major influences but make it into our own comedy. We've seen the stereotypical boy-meets-girl story a hundred thousand times But in our film, we're taking that scenario and beefing the joke physically. Our visual jokes break-up the structure. That's what we wanted most of all. As director, I knew the visualization and physical-comedy is what's going to help this film. The dialogue has got to be quick! It's got to be wham! It's got to be bam! That pace has got to be roller-coaster until boom, we get to kick-back and meet the people in love. Then start the roller-coaster again. It makes for a really entertaining film that no one falls asleep at. We jammed in a million jokes in an 82-minute film. The cinematography is as much involved with the physicality of the scene, so a lot of our shots are hand-held. I felt the cinematographer needed to be the fourth-character with the same drive as the actors. When you're doing physical comedy, everybody's involved, not just the actors. Everybody's behind the scenes following them, and we've got Jillian the cinematographer running after them, then we've got three guys behind her who are cable-wranglers running with her so she doesn't trip on it. Every day was a mad-dash to the finish line. Every day was so stressful. Every day was so fun.
Eugene: How did you fit this all in with an eight-show-a-week schedule?
Bobby: Well, we had to. We just had to. We knew that we had to. All of us would have loved to have done a film and paid SAG-scale. But being this was a low-budget feature film, the SAG actors were getting minimum and none of us could leave our jobs. Jeffrey Schecter, Chryssie Whitehead, J. Elaine Marcos, Peter Kapetan are all like me - doing Broadway shows at night as well. We literally shot it Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday! You still got to pay the rent and bills. We had a shooting schedule for 26 days and did it in 23 days; and came way under our budget. The bottom-line, you just have to. You do it because you want to do it and need to do it. You live life just one time. Why sit around and wait for the phone to ring? Even though I'm in a hit phenomenal show and it happens once every ten years - a show this big and popular - the last thing I want to do as an artist is feel comfortable and bide my time. Now is the time, more than ever, in this artistic explosion to do as much as we can!
Eugene: That's fantastic. Yes!
Bobby: You know what I'm saying? I'm in a great show with a great role, but it doesn't mean it's always going to be there. This is one of the greatest gigs in the world, but I'll never sit by. I'll always better myself artistically. I feel the growth that I do outside Jersey Boys adds to my life in Jersey Boys. It's important to keep your artistic drive alive.
Eugene: Creative people have to stay creative! If people can't make it to the Tribeca Theatre on Thursday, how else can they see the film?
Bobby: We are hopefully seeking some kind of distribution - but that's the ultimate goal of any independent film-maker. We are sold-out, from what I was told yesterday. We're going to try to put together another screening because I know there's a lot Jersey Boys fans that are coming. I don't know when, why or how, but we definitely want the opportunity for everyone to see this.
Eugene: You definitely sound like you're taking life by the horns. On top singing that phenomenal bass-line in Jersey Boys and premiering your movie, the holidays are right around the corner so what are you most content about in your entertainment life?
Bobby: Let's just put the business aside and talk about family. Family's just amazing. My wife Jenny-Lynn is an incredible mother. Our son Geddy is 10-months and just unbelievable. Nothing but love and laughter and that's what life should be. It's so hard when you're in the industry we're in. It can be very negative. I've tried my whole life to stay positive with this gig, and I do. I just love what I do - but more importantly - I love life.
Eugene: This movie sounds like it was one fun and crazy experience and you have a lot to look forward to.
Bobby: Thanks, man! Take care.
Farm Girl in New York: Premiering at the Big Apple Film Festival on Thursday, November 15 at 6PM, Tribeca Cinemas (54 Varick Street, at Canal Street). Visit www.BigAppleFilmFestival.com.