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Jason Toews and fifi (the band)

“Paper City” Trailer


Matt and his son Nick briefed me: “We’re making a film about an independent historical theater in Everett, WA. You play a filmmaker of limited talent but unlimited ego. You grew up in Everett, but later moved to Hollywood and hit the big time. We need you to write, film, and edit a trailer for your (non-existent) debut film. You have one month. GO!”

And so I did.

I tried explaining the project to friends and neighbors, but the way I described it made it sound awfully “meta” and confusing. Wait, are you directing the movie or are your friends? Do you even appear in the movie? Do you appear in the trailer? Why aren’t your friends making their own trailer? Hold on – are you telling me that the trailer you’re making is not a trailer for the actual film that your friends are making? Who do you play, again?

Finally, I shortened my speech to, “Hey, I’m making a movie – wanna help?” Just about everyone said, “hell yes.”

In response to my desperate email request, I received a deluge of scene and dialogue suggestions from Jeff Lageson, Jeff Brender, Mike Bryan, Özlem Sensoy, Cami Ostman, Eric Creery, Timothy Brennan, Keith Dussell, Kieric Miles, Brenden Carlson, Dale Pratt, Robin DiAngelo and Jeff Henderson. Jeff Brender and Mike Bryan went above and beyond the call, and sent me completely-imagined treatments. Eric Creery suggested the title.

Neighbor Steve Cary happens to be on the local library board, and somehow convinced them to allow us into the Forest Park branch before it opened one Saturday morning. The branch manager (Reggie) and the librarians (Maureen Tipton in particular) were friendly and helpful and patient. I can’t thank them enough, though I plan to bring them some more donuts.

Neighbor Todd Lemieux chauffeured me around Holyoke for endless hours, directing me to the most attractive industrial decay and suggesting camera angles, even after I told him to knock it off. Todd also called his friend Mark, and got us permission to film the “lawyer’s office scene” and the “childhood memento scene” in Mark’s beautiful home. Thank you, Mark.

Kent Alexander, a gentleman and a scholar (who will also belt out a saucy Divinyls karaoke performance upon request), took my vague suggestions (“say something about how good stuff used to be, and, uh, how bad it is now… ya know?”) and spun them into shiny shiny gold. Kent plays the lawyer/family friend.

I haven’t known Mary Ramsay for very long, but after she showed up at our house in a Wonder Woman outfit, I kinda fell in love with her. Thank goodness for friends like Mary, who jumped in with both feet, endured my ineffectual direction, and nailed it on the first take. Mary plays the librarian.

Austin Joseph lives across the street from us, and is a talented musician/actor/chicken farmer/herbal botanist/bear chaser/coffin carpenter. On weekends, he is a white water rafting guide. To put it plainly, this thing would not have worked without Austin. After you watch this trailer, you may find yourself wanting to make your own movie just so that you can cast Austin in it. Austin plays Peter.

Jonathan Girard also lives across the street from us, has won several competitive swimming awards, and is one of our favorite people. When it all starts going South, Jon is the guy you want at your back. Though he is conservative, Jon does not actually walk around with a gun in his waistband, as far as I know. He plays Jon (though you could just as easily call him Cain).

Robin has been my partner for many years now, and has endured many of my time-devouring projects. She has every right to complain, but usually doesn’t. Sometimes, as with this project, she provides invaluable ideas and feedback, and even ties her hair back and wears unflattering death-bed face makeup, all for the sake of my art. She also donated the raggedy teddy bear, which is a relic from her own childhood. Thanks, partner. Robin plays Loretta, Peter’s boozehound mother.

I play the soon-to-be-defrocked priest.

The music is all from the royalty-free Sony Vegas collection.

“Rosa Hund” is Google-Translate-English-to-German for “Pink Dog.”

Finally: Yes, I know that trailers are only supposed to be two and a half minutes long.

Parts of this trailer will be used or referenced in Nick Terry’s film, “The Historic,” which should be completed/released in June 2011.

For more on the history of Holyoke, look here.


  1. Why, Kieslowski would be turning over in his grave with pure envy.

    No doubt will receive the Golden Knee award @ Cannes….

    Teresita Alicea

  2. Absolutely love it!

  3. I’m finally back in the USA…read: finally back where I can get fast unlimited (and free!) Internet access…and thus able to watch this. In fact am on your side of the country, looking at the snow falling here on Long Island (visiting Aunt and cousin). Monday we actually go home after 10 weeks on the road…

    Well done sir! You are quite the talented sole. My favorite parts were a) The camera shots before the actual acting, of the urban decay and flowing water along with the introductory words and b) The review by “Tacoma Time Out”…as if sleepy Tacoma (or even the entire Seattle area) were enough of a metropolitan/cultural draw to support an edition of Time Out magazine!

    Now…I’m going to have to watch again to listen for Goldenrod…I missed that the first time… 🙂

  4. As much as I dislike travel….I belive I would have to change my “no flying more then 3 hour” rule if there is some type of “unvieling or opening”

  5. Great narration. I, too, loved goldenrod. (Actually have some at work right now.) Laughed right out loud at “I CAN’T READ!” Stunningly beautiful video work. What a fun off-the-cuff project and what an awesome result!

  6. Wow! I can clearly see why this was slated for a Christmas release. The “Paper City” is that fragile, hoped-for city in our hearts that sometimes turns into hell’s own amount of rot when left unattended for too long. That sentiment is well-carried by the composition of the plot and the pointed acting. It is easy to be disturbed, yet at the same time, morbidly fascinated by this premise. The scene and shot distributions are compelling, although, at times, they attempt to touch perhaps one too many bases on their way home. As usual, my best moments have been left on the cutting room floor, but, as the saying goes, “That’s New Hampshire”. Irregardless, this ‘trailer’ remains an intriguing and provocative introduction to the deliciously wicked dissonance that exists in our deepest insecurities about human loss and redemption. Bravo! Keep me in the loop for the next offering!

  7. This genuinely touched my heart.

    I do find it kind of funny that the video is ‘JWPLAYER’. Jehovah’s Witness player?

    • I think of that every time I use it! Nope, it stands for “Jeroen Wijering,” the developer. If you’re looking to place videos on your site, but don’t want to use YouTube, JWPlayer is an excellent option.

  8. OMG – so funny! I think I hear Oscar buzz for Robin. And what was that long phallic thing she was smoking?

    Looks like you all had a great time. Well done.

  9. Oh yeah, you should have. The review in its entirety is fantastic. There’s this whole section analysing the Christian themes in Paper City. Like the Priest. That’s a theme. And then there’s paper. Cuz the Bible’s written on paper. That’s a theme. It’s really insightful.
    : )

    Let me know if you start anything public for Paper City once it’s “public” — maybe I could find the full review for you to post…

  10. Alright I tried and tried, but couldn’t figure out the “Rosa Hund” reference….

    OMG I loved goldenrod too!
    Fantastic dialogue:
    “Blue paper, blue water… And just like that water, the city didn’t go nowhere…”
    “Only one of us grew up!”

    I loved the shot from bird’s eye view of the car pulling up…
    Oh the little kitty stuffed animal brought a tear to my eye…
    And that Loretta’s a nasty bitch with that cigar and pills and shit…

    You might be interested to know about this review just posted on a well-respected yet unknown Canadian film blog:

    “Beneath the thin veil of sincerity, gurgles a powerful story of Christian suffering and redemption”
    – The Vancouver Muslim

    • Damn. I wish I had asked you for a pull quote before I finished! Rosa Hund is (sort of) German for “pink dog.”

  11. Twas brillig…we must have an opening!

  12. Dude………I CAN’T READ! You never cease to amaze me. I’ve watched it three times.Seriously funny…..GOLDENROD!

    • I’m so glad that someone besides ME loved that wistful “Goldenrod…” remark. Kent is a treasure.

  13. Brilliant! As the producer of Nick’s film, again, I can’t thank you enough. Still hope you actually turn this into a feature length film – there’s so much more I want to see.

    And thanks to everyone who participated. Great job.

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