‘Sure-Fire’ tells tale of New York City con-man

‘Sure-Fire’ tells tale of New York City con-man
PJ Marshall portrays con man Benny Boon in “Sure-Fire.”
Photo by Diana Matos
By Tammy Scileppi

Keep your eyes peeled for this hilarious, upcoming crime comedy feature, “Sure-Fire.”

It is currently a must-see short film, and you can catch it at the Museum of the Moving Image Friday evening at 8:15 p.m. during the 8th Annual Queens World Film Festival.

In the world of con artistry, you could say acclaimed filmmaker Michael Goldburg’s fictional charlatan Benny Boon — a hapless New York City con man having a mid-life crisis, who stumbles into becoming a movie producer to pay off gangsters threatening him — sits pretty low on the totem pole of “ballsiest” swindlers, compared to the likes of Bernie Madoff and old-time villain Victor Lustig, aka “The Count,” once considered the smoothest bamboozler that ever lived. Low-level prankster Benny isn’t as suave or notorious as “The Count” or Bernie, but he makes up for his less than sophisticated, double-dealing ways, with his outgoing personality and “irresistible” charm, combined with his own brand of colorful chicanery.

Goldburg and acclaimed writer/producer Dave Chan — the founder of Navy Yard Films, an independent, Brooklyn-based film production company — co-wrote the script and said they’re thrilled to present their work, which was inspired by a weird, but true story.

The idea for “Sure-Fire” started several years ago when Goldburg encountered a real-life shady “producer” through an ad he answered on the NYU job board (he was in the Graduate Film program at Tisch). The job was advertised as a paid position. The so-called producer was looking for a screenwriter for a script he was developing.

According to Goldburg, the two met a couple times about the creative aspects of the script — presented as a “raw, gritty drama” — but when getting paid was brought up, the con man literally said, “I paid for your lunch, didn’t I?” The lunch was a slice of pizza. After realizing that he had no intention of paying him other than in pizza, the filmmaker said no to the job, but soon found that he couldn’t get rid of the annoying prankster.

That experience got Goldburg’s creative juices flowing, and he suddenly saw a feature movie in his future. He just couldn’t resist; the guy was such a classic New York hustler type and knew he’d make a great character in a script of his own. Thus, the seeds of “Sure-Fire” were sown.

Surprisingly, Goldburg said he felt a kind of kinship with Benny, “and the tenacity with which he throws himself into the process of making a movie.”

As for a stylistic approach, his creative vision was “to ground the film in a gritty, New York City reality, as well as depict the genuine distress of a small-time con man as he struggles to stay alive.” So he looked to Woody Allen’s crime comedy “Broadway Danny Rose,” with its “hilariously poignant tone, small-time New York City hustlers,” as well as “Gordon Willis’ gorgeous and gritty location photography” as inspiration.

Other comedic influences were “The Producers,” as well as Hollywood crime comedies “American Hustle,” “Get Shorty,” “The Big Lebowski,” and “Pulp Fiction.” Although a comedy, “Sure-Fire” is also inspired by the immediacy and troubled, desperate characters of Martin Scorsese’s and John Cassavetes’ work, according to the filmmakers, who along with their team, assembled an amazing cast.

You’ll get a kick from the comedic shenanigans of Astoria actor PJ Marshall, who plays Boon. The con man needs to come up with $50,000 fast to pay off a gangster — or else. He meets a washed-up actress, Kitty Kinkaid, who’ll do anything for a comeback and claims to have the moolah to bankroll a screenplay. Fast-talking, pinky ring-wearing Benny then poses as a movie producer and hooks her in with a script called “A Woman on the Edge.” But the script doesn’t exist, and Benny has no idea how to write one. So, he places an ad on Craigslist for a screenwriter and puts his scheme into motion.

Marshall has appeared in many films, from “Catch .44” with Forest Whitaker, to “Maggie” with Arnold Schwarzenegger. His recent TV credits include “Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G.,” “Underground,” “American Horror Story,” and “Marvel’s Luke Cage.”

Other local talent on the short includes co-writer Steve Wisniewski (Astoria); Omar Benjamin, actor who voices the character of Leo, the gangster (Forest Hills); John Timothy, a New York-based actor/comedian, plays Anthony, a young wannabe screenwriter who is conned by Boon into writing a script for him.

Every gritty, big city crime story needs a sexy, man-eating broad like Kitty Kinkaid. Lué McWilliams, who plays the boozy, has-been actress dying to make a comeback, has appeared in “The Pill,” and “Naked As We Came” (to name a few), which garnered great reviews in The Hollywood Reporter and The New York Times.

The short film version of the upcoming feature comedy by the same name has earned accolades on the film festival circuit, while the feature script was a finalist in the 2016 Beverly Hills Screenplay Contest. Sony Pictures Classics saw the short are interested in distributing the feature version of the film, according to the filmmakers, who have already partnered with casting director Chrystie Street Casting (“American Hustle”), and production counsel Jonathan Gray’s law firm (Oscar-winning “Moonlight”), on the feature.

“Sure-fire” is Goldburg’s follow up to the hilariously absurd, award-winning horror-comedy, “What’s Eating Dad?” which is distributed by Amazon and IndieFlix. He also directed “Tragic Relief,” a bleakly funny web series by writers from The Onion and Comedy Central, featured on Funny or Die.

Goldburg cites Woody Allen, the Coen Brothers, Wes Anderson, Alexander Payne, Charlie Kaufman, Edgar Wright and David O. Russell as his favorite comedic filmmakers.

“I like how personal and funny their films are while tackling weightier issues and a diversity of genres,” Goldburg said.

“Sure-Fire” has already screened at many New York festivals, including the Big Apple Film Festival and Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema. The MoMI screening will likely be one of the last public screenings of the short in New York City.

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