Friday evening, as other stores and offices along Post Road in East Greenwich shut off their lights for the night, Self Storage stays illuminated. They’re not open for business, but for another, unlikely reason: the facility doubles as a film set for the Verdi Productions team.
Leading the team for their latest horror film, “Self Storage,” is Cranston resident Tom DeNucci, who started as a writer and bit actor with the company and has worked his way up the ranks. DeNucci wrote the script, and is directing and starring in the film.
“It’s been cool to grow with this company,” he said. “When I first came to the company, it was as a writer for hire. To be directing, it’s a totally different playing field.”
The film follows DeNucci as Jake, an easygoing security guard who stumbles upon a nefarious underworld business. The writer-turned-director says the genre is hard to pin down, because while it has serious horror elements, there is a lot of comedy in the script as well. He described it as an “American Pie meets Silence of the Lambs.”
DeNucci admits that when he wrote the first draft of the script in 2006, he modeled Jake after himself in some ways. A 2002 graduate of Cranston High School West, DeNucci had just finished his studies in digital filmmaking at New England Tech at the time, and was starting to break into the film business.
“Six years and 10 drafts later,” he said, considering how far he has come.
DeNucci soon after connected with Michael Corrente, whose partnership with filmmaker Chad Verdi ultimately brought him to the Verdi Production offices. He is grateful to be given the opportunity, and especially to work closely with other actors in his new role as director.
“Starting off mainly as an actor, I kind of know what goes through your mind as an actor when you’re going through a character. As a writer, I understand pace, driving a story – those kinds of things. Combing those two backgrounds is a natural fit,” he said.
The project has attracted a crew of roughly 30 people, and another 12 to 14 actors.
Veteran actors Michael Barrymore from slasher films “The Hills Have Eyes” and “The Devil’s Rejects,” and Eric Roberts from “King of the Gypsies” and “The Pope of Greenwich Village” have signed on to the project. DeNucci is pleased with the caliber of crew and actors, including those relatively new to the industry.
“I’ve been working with a lot of young people – a really fresh group of local actors,” he said.
Among them is Warwick native Nick Principe, who met DeNucci through a friend and was drawn to the project. He has been in the film industry for more than a decade and currently lives in Los Angeles but was thrilled for a chance to work close to his hometown.
“I’ve been working in front of and behind the camera for 12 years and I haven’t been able to work in my hometown. I jumped at the opportunity,” he said.
Principe has worked on such films as “Lay to Rest,” and as a Michael Myers body double in Rob Zombie’s 2007 remake of “Halloween.” He is a regular in the horror convention circuit, traveling from New Mexico and Canada to Bulgaria and Germany.
“I stay busy,” he said. “I’m very rarely in the same place for a month or so.”
For the most part, his film work has been in the horror and action genres.
“I’m mostly known in horror films, mostly because of my size,” he said.
Principe does tower over most of the other people on set, and with his build, it’s easy to see why he was cast as a so-called “henchman” for the “Self Storage” bad guys. He wouldn’t call it typecasting, so much, as it has always been his dream.
“I always looked for an escape and there was no other kind of film that took me away more than horror films. As a kid, I always wanted to know who was behind the mask,” he said, explaining that often, the man behind the mask is a stunt double, which was what prompted his pursuit of a career in action.
For him, film is the only career choice.
“It’s just a blast. At 33 years old, I get to be a child for the rest of my life,” he said.
Still, the shooting schedule is grueling. They must film at night, for three weeks, usually running from 4:30 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. By the time they clean up and head home, it can be as late – or as early, in this case – as 7 a.m. Chad Verdi keeps the group fed and happy, though, as Gregg’s, of which he is a part-owner, has provided craft services for the project. Support also comes from Self Storage owner Tony Victoria and Vinny Dinofrio, who owns Vinny’s Auto and Truck in Cranston, a secondary set location. Both business owners have been generous with the Verdi team, allowing them to film throughout the night. The conditions seem unconventional, but DeNucci says the off-hours and setting invigorates the group.
“It’s fun to be up at times when the whole world is sleeping,” he said.
In fact, he called the past week of filming, “the best week of my life,” and said he can’t wait to see what the next two weeks bring. After filming wraps, DeNucci estimates there will be a six-week post-production period and then the film will be sent out for colorization and sound mixing. By next spring, “Self Storage” should be ready for audiences.
For more information on Verdi Productions, visit www.verdifilms.com.