June 16--WATERTOWN -- Following the surprising success of his first movie, a strong follow-up film was literally in the cards for Clay J. Dumaw.
Mr. Dumaw's horror film "Get Out Alive," released in 2012, which he wrote and directed and shot locally, consumed two years of his life. Now, with added confidence, he has released the thriller "Hold 'Em" with plans already in the works for his next film.
"In the first film, we were just trying to figure out, 'Can we do this?'" said Mr. Dumaw, a 2007 graduate of Carthage Central School.
"Get Out Alive" has made back its approximate $10,000 budget, mainly through downloads on amazon.com. It was mostly shot in Carthage. Mr. Dumaw's new movie, "Hold 'Em," was shot in Watertown and Carthage last summer.
"Hold 'Em," which premieres July 10 in Syracuse, features a World Series of Poker-meets-"Hunger Games" scenario. Its tagline: "The entry fee is your life." It features amateur local actors and another, Jay Storey, with professional experience. He plays Nathaniel Savage, the sinister host of the high-stakes card game, in "Hold 'Em." Mr. Storey, who grew up near Calcium, was also in "Get Out Alive."
For his follow-up project, Mr. Dumaw wanted to focus on a more coherent script with better characterization and sharper dialogue.
The idea for the movie was pitched to Mr. Dumaw by fellow Carthage resident Richard E. Cooke, who plays "Hold 'Em" main character Jake Emerson.
Mr. Cooke enjoys watching sports, including the "odd ones" like curling and darts. But the pressure of televised high stakes poker always intrigued him.
"It's you versus the other guy and you have to bluff the other guy out," Mr. Cooke said. "There's so much pressure and you are on TV with millions of dollars on the line. It dawned on me: What if it was even worse? What if these guys were playing for their lives? I just wrote that idea down."
Mr. Cooke learned about Mr. Dumaw's first film through social media and the two developed a friendship. Mr. Cooke took his movie idea to Mr. Dumaw.
"He only had the bare idea for it, but I was like, 'If you turn that into a screenplay and hand it to me, I will make it,'" Mr. Dumaw said.
Mr. Cooke went home and wrote the script in two days in longhand. The pair then tweaked it.
But the film ended up dealing out something else for Mr. Cooke. As he and Mr. Dumaw searched for an actor to play the lead character, Jake Emerson, Mr. Cooke said he'd like to give it a shot. He had no acting experience.
The results are impressive. Mr. Cooke obviously feels comfortable in front of the camera.
"When we started shooting, Clay said, 'You are pretty natural at this,'" Mr. Cooke said. "Then a few other people said it. And lately, I've gotten a lot of that."
Mr. Cooke, who attended General Brown Central School, said he developed his sense of acting through the resolute watching of movies.
"I didn't just watch them, I studied them," he said. "I studied mannerisms, personalities and things like that."
Mr. Cooke is glad he took a chance on acting in "Hold 'Em."
"I always knew I could do it," he said. "But I was scared about how other people would take it. I had self-image issues."
learning from mistakes
Mr. Dumaw said he learned not to make the same mistakes with "Hold 'Em" that he made in his first movie. For example, he said he over-relied on a tripod for "Get Out Alive."
"Those shots were really static and boring," he said. "As it went on, we were running out of time, so we had to shoot with a hand-held (camera) out of necessity and less time to set up. But we noticed the hand-held gave it a cool look."
There are only two shots in "Hold 'Em" that are from a tripod-set camera.
Mr. Dumaw said he also learned to make better use of his schedule and resources.
"In the last movie, I wrote it without thinking about what resources that I had," Mr. Dumaw said. "When we wrote this script, we made a list of the stuff we had."
The items ranged from a warehouse (at Slack Chemical in Carthage) where the card games are held to vehicles and a card table.
Local viewers of "Hold 'Em" will recognize the settings in the film -- from Watertown'sThompson Park to Public Square. Mr. Dumaw said the film crew managed to raise some eyebrows, and recalled one scene that was filmed at 2 a.m. on a Saturday last year.
"It was right when all the bars were getting out and we had to shoot around all these drunk people who kept jumping into the shots," he said. "We have so many outtakes of drunk people photo-bombing."
building on success
The entry fee for attending the premiere of "Hold 'Em" in Syracuse will help the filmmaker pay to enter the 82-minute movie in film festivals and send it out to agents.
"Right now, I just do it because it's fun," Mr. Dumaw said of his filmmaking. "But eventually, I want a career in it."
Mr. Dumaw will be the cinematographer on a production in St. Louis later this month. It's an adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's short story "The End of Something." David Fichtenmayer, the lead actor from "Get Out Alive," is producing it.
"He liked my work, so he wanted me to work on his film," which will be shown to Warner Bros. executives, Mr. Dumaw said.
Mr. Cooke said he hopes his movie career advances. He plans to pursue acting professionally. His inspiration is his sister, Norma Jean Riddick, a General Brown graduate who is a successful actress and comedian in Los Angeles.
"Only a few people knew I wanted to get into acting," Mr. Cooke said. "It was always a daydream. I'm 39 now. But it doesn't mean I can't give it a shot and try."
Mr. Dumaw and Mr. Cooke plan to work together on Mr. Dumaw's next film.
"I can't give away too much but it's a comedy; complete polar opposite of what I'm doing right now," Mr. Dumaw said. "I'm trying to get away from the scary stuff because I feel like I'm getting pigeon-holed. I like scary movies but I'm not obsessed with them. I actually prefer to do funny stuff."
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