“Just because you live in a certain place, you have a certain job, you have family obligations,” Rockville Centre resident Ken Frank said, “you shouldn’t use that as an excuse not to do what you want to do.”
Frank, an English teacher at Kellenberg Memorial High School in Uniondale, and his wife, Shawna Brandle, a political science professor at CUNY Kingsborough, certainly didn’t. Out of their arts-and-crafts-decorated apartment, courtesy of their young daughters, the couple wrote and produced a feature-length comedy film, called “The Mix.”
The movie tells the story of a baker who, hoping to achieve riches and glory, partners with a marketer to promote his cookie mix. The marketer swindles him, and the baker ends up kidnapping the marketer.
“He makes a rash decision, and he spends the rest of the movie recovering from it,” Ken said. The film focuses on the question, “Can one misdeed poison an otherwise good person? It also asks whether the baker was happy enough without seeking fame.
During the 2016 film festival season, “The Mix” earned the award for best comedy and best actress at the New York City Chain Film Festival, and best feature screenplay at the Tampa Bay Underground Film Festival.
After its festival success, the film was picked up by Comedy Dynamics, a California-based distribution company, which is responsible for many of the stand-up comedy programs on Netflix, including those of Kevin Hart, Louis C.K., and Aziz Ansari. The movie was released on on-demand streaming platforms on Oct. 10.
Shawna and Ken’s independent studio, In The Garage Productions, comprises Shawna’s sister, Brett, and Brett’s husband, Chris, who is also Ken’s best friend. “It’s either sisters married best friends or best friends married sisters,” Shawna said.
The group had made several short films prior to “The Mix,” but after a few screenings, they knew that this one was different. “People laughed,” Shawna said. “They laughed at the parts that we thought were funny.”
They said that the most encouraging feedback they got was when professionals in the movie industry told them not to make the movie, but to sell the script to someone else. “No offense, they’ll make it better than you,” Ken recalled being told. But they went ahead and made it themselves, because they didn’t think they’d be able to find a studio willing to produce it.
The film was edited on a laptop that Shawna bought for Ken using part of the nearly $20,000 that she won on Jeopardy in 2009. She also used the money to buy him a ukulele with a mother-of-pearl trim, and to finance her own dissertation research on media representations of human rights abuses.
Ken and Shawna said that their do-it-yourself careers have started to wear off on their children. “We gave Elanor an iPod Touch with a camera,” Shawna said, referring to their 6-year-old daughter, “and she made a three-hour documentary all about chins.”
Ken added that they wanted to set an example for how to forge their own paths. He recalled that growing up, “I wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t know what a writer’s life looked like. …We hope that they see people creating things,” he explained, “so that some point in time, if they want to do something, there’s not really barriers to doing it.”