The easiest, cheapest, and safest location for a first-time filmmaker is their home. That's what New Yorker Zack Imbrogno planned in 2012 when he wrote his debut feature Apt 3D. He didn't expect a mandatory evacuation order, but that's what happened when Hurricane Sandy swept through. He says, "We saw our block on television, six feet under water."
In Apt 3D, which makes its world premiere at Other Worlds Austin, writer/director Imbrogno plays Ben, a scriptwriter who has relocated from Los Angeles to New York for a sitcom gig. His girlfriend Erin (Maxxe Sternbaum) is unhappy about the move and the extent to which it has disrupted her own career. The situation between the two gets worse when Chris (Jordan Lewis), an overly inquisitive neighbor, interjects himself into their lives. Then there are the strange noises through the walls, and sudden sicknesses that overcome the couple. Imbrogno says, "I think about a movie like Rosemary's Baby, where the tension is being in this unknown place with these unknown people, where you don't just start to question the strangers, you start to question your loved ones."
The Georgia native had moved to New York to study drama, but Imbrogno quickly found himself drawn to writing. "I liked acting and auditioning and going out for films and TV shows, but that seemed like the lottery, unlike making your own films, which seemed more like work and making your own luck." He and Lewis were childhood friends, while he knew Sternbaum from working on her documentary Warpaint. For Apt 3D, everyone doubled up on jobs: Imbrogno cowrote with Lewis and shared editing duties with Sternbaum. "The three of us spearheaded this together, and shot this in an apartment we were living in at the time." The trio was inspired by filmmakers who started with lo-fi, sci-fi calling cards: Christopher Nolan's Following, Darren Aronofsky's Pi, and Mike Cahill and Brit Marling's Another Earth. As Imbrogno describes, these are "people who get their friends together, make a film, get it out into the world, show what you're capable of, and hopefully make slightly more ambitious projects."
The story's genesis was simple: "Jordan and I were total X-Files heads as kids," recalls Imbrogno. "The tension I loved about that show was that you never knew who was behind the what. You never knew how much was supernatural or how much was a pharmaceutical experiment or a secret government mandate. They always walked that line." Then the apartment also shaped the script. "I would hear the strangest noises in that apartment all the time," he says, comparing the film's genesis to Oren Peli's explanation of the Paranormal Activity films. "That was his experience of living in the suburbs for the first time, and being freaked out by the quiet and the space." For Imbrogno and Lewis' script, the tension is about living shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers. He says, "The best neighbors in New York are the ones that never come up to you. Had Chris been a real guy in my apartment complex, he would not have been the creepiest person living there."
The downside was that the apartment was by the South Street Seaport, just a block from the East River. When Sandy decimated the area, "the character really changed," says Imbrogno. "In the process of writing this script, we were envisioning all these shots around the seaport as this desolate, post-apocalyptic setting and we got way more than we were expecting."
When the filmmakers returned home, they faced a neighborhood rewritten by the force of nature. Local businesses had gone under water and into debt: Their regular Italian hangout down the block was closed for months, and even the elevator in their apartment building was out of order for half a year. Normally, that wouldn't be too much of an issue, but Imbrogno and Lewis' script had multiple scenes set in the elevator. Out of necessity, they moved the action to the staircases, switching out claustrophobia for M.C. Escher-esque confusion. Imbrogno says, "The stairs made for a more labyrinthine atmosphere. We wanted to let the building become this place that was like being transported to this other realm."
Apt 3D, Galaxy Highland, Sat., Dec. 6, 10:30pm
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