Filmmaker says dream of movie centered around Miss Albany Diner may come true

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Date: Thursday, January 27, 2011


More than a decade after conceiving a movie centered around Miss Albany Diner that celebrates the city and its people, local writer-director Mike Camoin believes his film is finally on the verge of being made.

"We're one 'yes' away from all this happening," says Camoin, a 45-year-old filmmaker who has been a leader in the upstate film community since the mid-1990s.

That "yes" is a big one: an investor willing to write a check for, say, $500,000 for the film, titled "Grazing Miss Albany."

"One significant check would trigger everyone else who's interested -- the guy on Park Avenue would sign on, the people on the West Coast would come aboard. It would snowball," says Camoin.

His confidence is rooted in a groundswell of support the film has received in the past year from community and business leaders and people savvy about the film business. During a meeting at the Palace Theatre in December designed to spur interest in "Grazing Miss Albany," speakers in support of the film included investment banker Danny Wheeler, physician and community activist Bob Paeglow, Siena College President Kevin Mullen, philanthropist and Albany Molecular Research founder Chet Opalka and a representative of Berkshire Bank, which has already given a $5,000 grant to "Grazing Miss Albany." Some, like Opalka, have been supporters for years, while other are more recent; all are products of the relentless networking and frequent pitches Camoin does on behalf of his film.

Also in attendance was Larry Jackson, a former Hollywood studio executive whose credits include "Silence of the Lambs." Now a resident of Amherst, Mass., Jackson works as a consultant on production, marketing, distribution and screenplays for independent films. He's committed to "Grazing Miss Albany" and, should it be made, will be one of the producers.

Besides appreciating the story told in "Grazing Miss Albany," about a diner owner and a priest who are brothers, supporters say the film could have a positive impact on the city in which it's set.

"The prospects on this are quite significant for Albany," says Jackson. While the projected overall budget is less than $4 million, setting the film in Albany and having the city's name in the title promote Albany in ways that big Hollywood films shot here, like last year's Angelina Jolie vehicle "Salt," do not, he said.

Jackson and Camoin believe "Grazing Miss Albany" could do for New York's capital city what a little picture called "Mystic Pizza" did for Mystic, Conn. The 1988 film, co-starring a 19-year-old Julia Roberts, spurred a surge in tourism that continues more than two decades later, with visitors flocking to the titular eatery for pizza and taking tours of the city. The president of the Mystic Chamber of Commerce told USA Today, on the 20th anniversary of the release of "Mystic Pizza," that the film helped transform the town.

"The thing about that movie is it has the name of the town in the movie," she told the paper. "(I)t pulled all of our sights into the movie, and because the landscape here is gorgeous and it definitely featured that, it made people say, 'Hey, I want to go there.'"

Jackson, who at the time was head of production for Samuel Goldwyn Co., the studio that made "Mystic Pizza," believes "Grazing Miss Albany" could have a similar effect.

"We didn't go to Mystic intending to be an economic development project, but that's what happened, and I really think this is the right film to do that for Albany," he says.

Bob Curley, the New York chairman of Berkshire Bank, agreed enough to award "Grazing Miss Albany" the first economic development grant ever given to a film by the bank.

"We look at it as an opportunity to sell the Capital Region," says Curley, who is based in Albany. "The character of the region is very important to get across, and it does in the movie. ... It could entice companies, individuals and industries to take a look at this market."

Jackson believes Camoin's film would resonate with audiences nationwide.

"The story he's telling is very, very moving, and the values in the film are very much how a lot of people in America are feeling today," he says.

In "Grazing Miss Albany," the brothers come into conflict when the local diocese, which holds the mortgage on the diner, moves to close it after the owner falls behind on payments.

"It's a beautiful story. I could see that right from the beginning (of the screenplay). The characters are full and easily likable. It's funny and cute in spots and incredibly poignant in others," says actor Jim McCaffrey. An Albany native who lives in New York City, McCaffrey's screen credits include a recurring part on the Denis Leary drama "Rescue Me," the lead role in the 1990s series "Viper" and many other series roles and guest spots, including in last week's episode of the Tom Selleck police drama "Blue Bloods."

Should funding come through, McCaffrey says he is eager to act in "Grazing Miss Albany," as are local actors who have participated in sample scenes of the film that Camoin shot for promotional and fundraising purposes. (The scenes may be viewed on the film's Facebook page.)

"I really believe in the movie," says McCaffrey. "I'd tell Mike that it's ready to go now."

Camoin is ready, too, nine years after the screenplay received its first reading and almost a dozen years since the idea began brewing. When he's occasionally frustrated by how long "Grazing Miss Albany" has been in development, Camoin reminds himself that the movie version of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" languished for 13 years before going on the become one of the most successful and acclaimed films of the 1970s. He expected to have finished the film years ago -- getting into the 2007 Cannes film festival was once a goal -- but funding difficulties and other roadblocks kept postponing production.

"The way I keep going, it's a testament to the faith I have in the story -- faith that other people have, too," Camoin says.

When he turned 45 recently, Camoin's 6-year-old daughter, Isabelle, who knows her father has been working on the movie for twice as long as she's been alive, made a card for him. In it she wrote, "You can't stop a Daddy. Happy Birthday."

Reach Steve Barnes at 454-5489 or by e-mail at sbarnes@timesunion.com. Visit his blog at http://blogs.timesunion.com/tablehopping.