Well into the filming of his first feature length movie, Oceanside native film and television producer Danny Costanzo still hadn’t raised enough money to complete the picture.
“It was very unorthodox,” he said. “Typically we’d want to go into this with the budget locked in.” But knowing he needed to get the project under his belt to move forward in his career Costanzo, 44, went ahead anyway.
Every day on-set he would sit in his car — away from the ears of the crew whose pay relied on him securing the necessary funds — and negotiate with investors for the $1.3 million the film required. “I would not recommend it,” he recalled of the experience, but ultimately he prevailed.
“By the graces of God we did it,” he said. “Week-by-week we’d sneak in just under the deadline. It was a lot of blood, sweat and tears, a bit of infighting and creative differences, but we did it.”
At long last the film, “Austin Found” starring Linda Cardellini, Craig Robinson, Kristen Schaal, Patrick Warburton and more premiered at the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, Calif. on July 7. But never forgetful of his Long Island roots, Costanzo held a local premiere at the Bellmore Movies and Showplace theater on Aug. 20.
“Austin Found,” a dark comedy, tells the story of a mom, Cardellini, who dissatisfied with her financial and home-life situation hatches a get-rich-quick scheme by orchestrating a hoax kidnapping of her daughter. Things quickly fly off the rails, however, as Cardellini’s on-screen ex-boyfriend, played by Skeet Ulrich, who she recruited for the plan becomes suspicious of her motives, and a reporter, played by Schaal, catches wind of the plot.
From the beginning, Costanzo had faith in the project. Writer Will Raee had secured Cardellini before the script made it onto his desk at Costanzo Media, and Costanzo knew that with good execution, the film would be successful. After securing a portion of the film’s budget, more actors agreed to come on. First Robinson, then Schaal and Ulrich. Finally Warburton signed on. “We didn’t get a lot of noes,” he recalled of recruiting the actors. “Which is pretty unbelievable.” Then came the challenge of securing the remaining funds, but Costanzo was confident he could go out and raise it. He knew it wasn’t how films should be produced but he also knew it was a fantastic opportunity. “I couldn’t let it go by,” he said.
An Oceanside High School dropout, Costanzo said he always had an interest in the entertainment industry, but despite that, he regrets not taking advantage of the school’s thespian club during his tenure there. “Back then, I hung out with a group of guys who thought being in the thespian club wasn’t a cool thing to do,” he recounted. “I'd have one foot in the club and one up their asses.”
“I wish I had started earlier,” he added. He became an entrepreneur and built up experience as a business owner, but it wasn’t until he was in his 30s, when his girlfriend, dying of Stage 4 breast cancer, told him to follow his dream. Taking it to heart, he moved to Hollywood.
Now, with his first feature film completed, he is moving on to other projects. His next film, which currently holds the working title “Brooklyn Heist,” is set in New York and Costanzo said he is happy to be back. “I’m excited I get to come back to New York,” he said and added that after showing the film’s writer around Oceanside, a new TV series set in the neighborhood may be in the works.
Fond of his hometown and neighboring areas, Costanzo said he had a local premiere for “Austin Found” because he wanted his loved ones to have the opportunity to view it. “All of my family and friends still live here,” he said. “It always comes home.”