Friday, October 1, 2010

Kind of a funny Park Slope story

By Ethan Alter

Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck are back in familiar territory.

The Park Slope-based filmmakers first gained national attention with their 2006 debut, “Half Nelson,” a critically hailed film about a troubled public school teacher in Gowanus.  

Following a detour to the baseball farms of the Dominican Republic in their sophomore effort, “Sugar,” the writer/directors return home with “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” an adaptation in theaters now of the acclaimed young adult novel by Park Slope native Ned Vizzini. Inspired by the author’s own brief stay in the adult psychiatric ward at Park Slope’s Methodist Hospital, both the book and the film tell the “funny story” of Craig Gilner, an overworked, stressed-out teen who checks himself into a mental hospital after flirting with thoughts of suicide.

In the film, the young British actor Keir Gilchrist (pictured with the directors above) plays Craig, with a supporting cast including such familiar New York faces as Jim Gaffigan, Adrian Martinez, and funnyman Zach Galifianakis as a gregarious-but-troubled older patient who takes the confused kid under his wing. (See our review here.)

“The book had such a nice tone and a wonderful lead character,” said Boden. “Ned did such a brilliant job getting into the head of a 16-year-old who was going through a lot of s—, but really wanted help in an open, earnest way. The book didn’t have any of the cynical, sarcastic edge that I see too often on TV and in movies these days. It reminded us of the spirit of those John Hughes movies we grew up with.”

Much of the action takes place inside a mental institution, so the film could feasibly have been filmed anywhere, but there was never any chatter about leaving Brooklyn, a decision the author appreciated. 

“New York City’s pressure to succeed is key to the story and it birthed the hectic inner monologue that plagues Craig,” said Vezzini. “I’m  thrilled that the film doesn’t just name-check Brooklyn. It supports it by being shot here.”  

Specifically, the bulk of the movie was filmed late last year at the now-closed Victory Memorial Hospital in Bay Ridge, which gave the production access to an entire unused floor.

“We got lucky with that location,” said Fleck. “It’s a visually interesting hospital — it doesn’t feel oppressive or claustrophobic, like a ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’ kind of place. The production design team did a good job making it feel like a warm place for healing to occur.”  

Due to production constraints, a few scenes were shot in other Brooklyn-area hospitals, most notably an emergency room sequence filmed in an active ER at the Wyckoff Heights Medical Center. 

“We shot the scene overnight, but at any moment someone could come through the door with an emergency and we’d have to stop shooting and let them go through,” said Boden.

Although the cameras never ventured outside Victory into the surrounding neighborhood, Fleck and Boden did become regulars at a few local spots, including the Japanese restaurant Fushimi, where they often grabbed lunch in between location scouting trips. And just before shooting began, the pair picked up a 16mm Bolex camera and filmed Gilchrist riding his bike all over the borough, from Coney Island to the Brooklyn Bridge. That footage appears in the film as part of an extended flashback sequence in which Craig recalls one of the last days he felt truly happy.

“We scripted which neighborhoods we wanted to visit and then went out and filmed the boys on their bikes,” said Fleck, adding that they made sure to shoot the kids passing by several familiar landmarks, such as the Park Slope Food Coop. “We also got a mom with a stroller [in the frame], so that was a two-for-one shot.”

“It’s Kind of a Funny Story” is screening at Cobble Hill Cinemas [265 Court St. near Butler Street, (718) 596-9113] and Pavilion Park Slope [188 Prospect Park West at 14th Street, (718) 369-0838] starting Oct. 8. For more info, visit


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