Nickel City Tinseltown: The History of Buffalo Filmmaking, a film about Buffalo’s filmmaking industry, is nearing completion. Two filmmakers from Rochester, Adrian Esposito and Curt Markham, had such positive experiences with the Buffalo film community that they wanted to share its history with the world.
Interviewees include Buffalo Niagara Film Commissioner Tim Clark, noted local independent filmmaker Greg Lamberson, Troma Entertainment founder Lloyd Kaufman, and actors and filmmakers known to the Buffalo community: Kim Piazza, Bill Kennedy, Adam Steigert, Rhonda Parker, John Renna, Jason John Beebe, Bob Bozek, Paul McGinnis, Arlowe Price, Richard Satterwhite, and international stars Lynn Lowry and Debbie Rochon.
“I have every confidence that Buffalo will at some point in time become the Hollywood of the East,” says actor Richard Satterwhite, noting the growth in local film training classes as well as local production. “Things are happening, and it’s absolutely fantastic to see.”
Film Commissioner Tim Clark notes that with the construction of Buffalo FilmWorks sound stages, Buffalo now has three major sound stages as well as a major camera company and a seller of expendable film supplies. According to Clark, Buffalo is “ready to go” for consideration by major film production companies. In fact, he noted that Buffalo FilmWorks has one of the largest sound stages in the Eastern United States. “We’re on track for a good trajectory of making movies here,” says Clark.
Buffalo’s cinema roots go back more than a century. “The first movie theater in the world was built in Buffalo, New York in 1896,” notes filmmaker Greg Lamberson. “The Vitascope Theater was located in what is now the Ellicott Square Building in downtown Buffalo, and was the first theater built specifically for the purpose of showing films. Lamberson laments the fact that “if you go to the Ellicott Square Building, there’s no plaque, there’s no sidewalk, there’s nothing to mark this important historical aspect.”
Mr. Lamberson also notes that the first Hollywood movie to be filmed in Buffalo was Flying Tigers, a World War II movie starring actor John Wayne. This was followed a decade later by Niagara starring Marilyn Monroe, who spent a few weeks in the area during production. “If you go to a lot of the hotels around the Falls, there are still photos of her at these different locations,” says Lamberson. “It was a big deal for our area.”
Tim Clark credits filmmaker Lloyd Kaufman with being “a pioneer and a trailblazer” for film production in Buffalo in the 21st century by filming the popular cult films Poultrygeist and Return to Nuke ‘Em High in Buffalo. “When he brought Poultrygeist to Western New York, it really helped create a crew base,” says Clark. “The people who worked on that Troma film went on to become union members and work on bigger films and other studio films, and other independent films.” Amateur filmmaking in Buffalo dates back even further: the local filmmakers’ group, BM-VM (Buffalo Movie and Video Makers), was started in 1934 and is still going strong with monthly meetings at the Screening Room in Amherst.
For some, starring in local Buffalo film productions eventually led to Hollywood stardom. Filmmaker Rhonda Parker’s locally produced film Message in a Bottle starred a ten-year-old Jack Champion, a Virginia-based child actor who went on to co-star in James Cameron’s Avatar film series. “So it wasn’t just me that saw how talented and how much promise this young actor had,” says Parker.
The film covers much more—watch for it! It will certainly make you proud of Buffalo!
The film’s producers come with many IMDB credits. They most recently wrote and directed the successful horror film Clowns in the Woods. Adrian Esposito’s directing and writing credits include the feature films Bury My Heart with Tonawanda, Greetings from Tromaville, Liberation Unit, and We Can Shine: From Institutions to Independence. His next film, an action-comedy film called Special Needs Revolt!, is in preproduction and fundraising status. Curt Markham wrote and directed the comedy feature Saberfrog and is currently editing his next film, a crime comedy called Ragdoll Assassin.
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