Brean Cunningham has been around movies all his life.
His uncle, Westport native Sean Cunningham, directed “Friday the 13th,” “Spring Break,” and “Manny’s Orphans” (the greatest soccer movie ever, starring a young Dan Woog as the referee).
After graduating from Georgetown University, Brean — who in his younger days played “every sport” at the Westport Y, and worked at Carvel — assisted his uncle when Cunningham produced the 2009 remake of “The Last House on the Left.” Brean later worked with Sean, on the development side of filmmaking.
But when Brean decided to do his own film, it wasn’t a thriller. It wasn’t a coming-of-age comedy. It wasn’t even the greatest soccer movie ever.
Brean wanted to make a difference.
In 2011 he co-founded Expect Miracles Productions, to “tell stories people can believe in.” He traveled to Africa for a web advocacy video about the positive effects of combating neglected tropical diseases in Ghana. He was a field producer on a documentary about Churchill, Manitoba (“The Polar Bear Capital of the World”), and the people who live there.
The 1st documentary he directed and produced, “Expect Miracles,” spotlighted the impact of volunteers in Appalachia.
Brean is very excited about his latest project. “Dogs on the Inside” explores the partnership between a Massachusetts prison and a dog shelter. Inmates train rescue dogs, who are then given to new families.
Brean Cunningham, at work in the Massachusetts prison.
Both the dogs and inmates gain new leases on life. Both suffer from trust issues. As bonds deepen, prisoners — about to re-enter society — discover a new capacity for love and empathy.
It’s a powerful film. Like any documentary maker, Brean had to navigate a thicket of challenges, from obtaining permission to film, to making sure they had the right people and dogs to tell this compelling story.
Brean was allowed only 3 days inside the prison. He and his crew filmed the day the dogs arrived; a day in the middle of the program, and the day the dogs left with their new families. Everywhere Brean and the crew went, prison officials hovered over their shoulders.
Brean was impressed both by the prisoners’ warmth, and prison officials’ genuine desire that the inmates succeed. He was devastated, though, by what he saw in Mississippi, where the abused dogs came from.
Post-production took time. Nashville musician Sam Gay scored the film, and in late December it was done.
Brean and his co-director — Fairfield native Doug Seirup — have submitted it to festivals. It premieres at the Boston International Film Festival on April 14, with others to follow. Of course, Brean is looking for a local venue too.
Brean loves sports, so his next venture may be “a great sports story.”
Go for it. Though it will be hard to beat “Manny’s Orphans.”
If the trailer for “Dogs on the Inside” does not open in your browser, click here.
The Bard — and Adam’s Players mentor Al Pia — would be proud.
“Texas Chainsaw 3D” is not just a direct sequel to the 1974 classic Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It also massacred the competition this weekend. It made $10.2 on Friday — opening day — to blow past Django Unchained and, trailing those 2, The Hobbit and Les Mis.
Audiences loved it. Just as important to Adam, so did Tobe Hooper, the director of the original.
Though Adam has vast experience in the film industry — his romantic comedy So You Like This Girl won a student Best Picture award when he made it at NYU — Adam always credits Westport for his start.
And his inspiration.
For location, too. This Girl was shot here, with 200 background actors.
Adam Marcus (right) and his brother Kipp, in their Staples days.
One of Adam’s best friends — from age 6 on — was Noel Cunningham. Noel’s father Sean is a famed producer/director, including Spring Break and Friday the 13th.
Sean helped Adam break into Hollywood. At 23, he became the youngest director New Line ever hired. The project was Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday.
(The Hollywood Reporter, commenting on that 1993 2nd-place box office opening, headlined: “‘The Fugitive Wins; Rest of Box Office Goes To Hell.”)
Adam directed the 1999 film Let It Snow, and shot it in Westport. His brother Kipp Marcus wrote it. And it starred Bernadette Peters, who came out of a long retirement for it.
Adam and Kipp collaborated on many TV writing projects, working with big names like Ron Howard. Adam and his wife Debra Sullivan — they celebrate their 20th anniversary next month — also worked together often. Their credits include Conspiracy, starring Val Kilmer.
Debra Sullivan and Adam Marcus.
Adam and Debra’s next project — The Plantation, a remake of the 1943 cult classic I Walked With a Zombie — begins production in April.
Clearly, horror films are in Adam’s, um, blood.
“In this day and age, when everyone has a huge TV and surround sound, there has to be a reason to go to the theater,” he says.
“Horror and comedy are the 2 genres that you need to watch in a group.”
At Friday’s night’s opening, he notes, “the entire audience was screaming together. You can’t get that experience at home.”
Adam Marcus (bottom row, 3rd from left), with friends and admirers celebrate the opening night of “Texas Chainsaw 3D” at LA’s Grove Theater.
That concept of the importance of the audience comes directly from Players director Al Pia, Adam says.
And it was at Staples, Adam adds, that he learned so much about drama, theater and writing.
Gratefully, he says, “I’ve never had to work a day in another profession. I owe it all to Westport.”
But make no mistake: Hollywood is hard work. In the midst of The Plantation, Adam is already looking ahead to the project that follows.
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