Six years ago, with no budget, no permits and no rules, Oceanside native Scott Weil set out to produce the film “Once Upon a Superhero” with its writer and director, John M. Klein, in Los Angeles. After several setbacks and a lengthy post-production process, Weil will return home to Long Island when the award-winning film screens at Malverne Cinema on Feb. 21.
“It was a six-year process,” Weil said. “I don’t like rules. I don’t like parameters. We made this movie with no rules, no budget, no help, no nothing. For us, it was about making an uncompromised piece of art that the studios couldn’t f—k up.”
Weil described “Once Upon a Superhero” as a racy and engaging film geared toward adults, and said he thought it would attract a cult following. The 1-hour, 52-minute feature chronicles a character named Solar Flare (Adam Marcinowski), a self-proclaimed superhero who plummets into a world of drug-induced confusion and loss of self in the underbelly of Los Angeles, while desperately awaiting the return of his lost superpowers in order to return to his home, the sun.
Weil said that he and Klein knew Marcinowski from other film projects, but noted that “Superhero” was the actor’s first major role. Supporting him are Yvette Monreal, who plays Frankie, and Thomas Dekker, who plays Teeto. Monreal has appeared on “NCIS” and will star in “Rambo 5: Last Blood,” which is due for release later this year. Dekker had roles in “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” and the 2010 remake of “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” Weil said the cast bought into his and Klein’s nonconforming philosophy.
“I think from the very get-go, our mindset was to do everything in an anti-Hollywood way,” Weil said. “If there was a way Hollywood traditionally would do something, we wouldn’t. It wouldn’t have taken six years with the right budget, but we were too invested, and there was no way that we were not gonna take this to the finish line.”
At the Malverne event, Weil and Klein’s film will be screened after “There’s Something in the Trunk,” an independent film written and directed by Miller Place native Daniel J. Egbert, a U.S. Army veteran and a Purple Heart recipient.
Annie Sampfel, who is Weil’s cousin and owns Malverne Cinema, said she was really proud of his accomplishments and excited to screen the movie. “It had a really good story,” she said. “A feature takes such dedication. Usually, for an independent filmmaker, it takes a long time. It takes a lot out of him. This film shows you the dedication. He stayed with it.”
Weil, who declined to give his age, grew up in Oceanside and graduated from Oceanside High School. He moved to California in 2001, then came back to Long Island, briefly living in Long Beach before returning to Los Angeles in 2009. He said he never went to film school because he felt like he could learn more by teaching himself and learning from others in the industry. He met Klein, who also didn’t pursue formal education, shortly after his second move to California, and the two began producing music videos together before getting involved in other film-related projects. When coming up with ideas for “Superhero,” Weil said, a conversation with one of his uncles sparked the idea to name the main character Solar Flare.
Klein approached Weil to work on the film in 2012. After reading the script, Weil said he was enthusiastic about producing it, and shooting began later that year. After a two-year filming process, post-production took four years — two years to edit and another two to perfect the sound. Weil explained that his roles in the filmmaking process included casting, making location decisions, scheduling, and entering festivals after the film was completed.
Klein said it was a thrill to collaborate with Weil on the film. “It was great to work with Scott, because he wanted to be a part of something different than how other films are produced and make some headway outside the mainstream,” he said. “His thirst for trying new ways to get the film on the big screen and in front of people has been very exciting.”
Most of the movie was shot in Los Angeles, but Weil said they didn’t pay for permits to film it — a risky endeavor. Weil recalled filming a scene in a park in the city when a crew shooting a commercial approached them and asked if they had the necessary permits.
“Thankfully it worked out for us, and we were able to get away with it and not really be hassled,” Weil said. “We always carried $100 on us in case we needed to grease a palm,” he added with a laugh.
Audiences and critics have responded positively to the film since it began making festival rounds in September. In October, it was named Best Sci-Fi Feature at the Silver State Film Festival in Las Vegas, and again at the Marina del Rey Film Festival in Los Angeles. In December, “Once Upon a Superhero” earned the Best Cinematography award at the Culver City Film Festival in Los Angeles. In addition to festivals, Weil has also screened the feature at events, which included collaborating with Helping Paws 22, a Florida-based group that saves dogs scheduled to be euthanized at local shelters.
At the event, Weil will introduce both films and take part in a question-and-answer session afterward. He said he didn’t care much about the awards, but had been pleasantly surprised by audiences’ responses to the movie, which he said he hoped would continue in Malverne.
“I’m really pumped up about this,” he said. “Obviously this is a hometown show for me, and this is also good to be a part of a special double feature. For this particular crowd, it’s nice to share something that you’ve worked on for six years, and people after awhile I’m sure thought I was talking about some phantom movie that didn’t exist, so to finally be able to bring it in all its glory . . . to be able to experience it in the proper environment, that’s a lot of what it means to me.”
The event begins at 7 p.m. on Feb. 21. Tickets can be purchased at onceuponasuperhero.com for $8 in advance starting on Feb. 15, or at the box office on the day of the event for $10. For updates about the film, follow OnceUponASuperHeroTheMovie on Instagram.