The movie follows Michele Connelly (Erica Leerhsen from 2003’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake and Wrong Turn 2), a journalist from New York City who returns to Solvay to investigate the mysterious circumstances surrounding the 1993 murder of her brother. “Lonely” Joe Gainard is suspected of the crime, but died at the scene of natural causes. Ever since, more than 30 people have disappeared for no apparent reason other than they were near the railroad tracks where her brother went to terminal dreamland. During her search for the truth, Connelly is stonewalled by the town sheriff and becomes submersed in supernatural-like phenomenon.
Most of the movie takes place in open farmland and along deserted roads, but there are also a number of short, but integral, scenes that were filmed in locations residents will instantly recognize. Milton Avenue, which runs from Tipperary Hill through Solvay, is shown quite a few times, with actual businesses such as the Book Cellar, 1701 Milton Ave., featured in different sequences. Names of towns and streets were kept intact, as well as the Solvay and New York State Police departments, which played a prominent role in the plot. And the most aesthetic footage of all—possibly in the history of cinema—were the newsroom scenes that were filmed at the offices of the Syracuse New Times.
Jeffrey Meyer, location manager for Lonely Joe, and also the IMAX projectionist at the MOST, spent last spring driving around Central New York photographing different locations he thought might be good for the movie. Then he presented them to Michael Coonce, director and writer of the movie. “Mike picked out the ones he liked, we hopped in a car and the initial look and feel of the movie began to take scope,” said Meyer. “And every experience we had working with the community from that initial drive until shooting was complete was nothing but positive. Everyone who let us shoot supported the film crew and we all respected each other.”
Aside from the eerily serene green the Syracuse scenery provided for the film, one of the underlying goals Meyer noted of the choice to make the movie here was to inspire local filmmakers to shoot here, not some simulated here. “Four years ago, Mike didn’t have a clue about how to make a movie and came to me and asked what he can do to make a movie here,” he added. “From there I introduced him to the producer and many other people that ended up working on the movie. He had a dream to make one and three years later, it was done and it came out like he’s been doing it for years. The idea will come true if you pursue it.”
The version screened at the MOST was unspooled in its “rough cut” form, meaning a general polishing up of the transfer is necessary before the finished product debuts at the Palace Theatre, 2384 James St., as part of the Syracuse International Film and Video Festival, April 25 to May 4. More than 42 hours of footage were shot in 19 days and some re-editing may be required, but as Meyer noted, it will most likely, if anything, just get slimmed down from the 98-minute rough cut. The day after the showing at the MOST, a transfer was sent to John Roome to compose the movie’s score.
Now in its fifth year, the Syracuse Film Fest is expected to screen more than 120 movies and attract thousands of people from the United States and abroad. Meyer pointed out that Lonely Joe was shot in the city where it will be debuting, which will benefit the region in the long run. “When you screen these movies and tie them in with other movies at fests, you have people coming in and seeing Syracuse on the big screen from all over the world,” he noted. “We presented Syracuse very well, and hopefully other filmmakers from out of town at the fest will say ‘let’s shoot in Syracuse.’ It’s an opportunity to draw people who would not normally think about filming here to consider it.”
A deal to distribute the indie flick is in the works and, aside from the Syracuse Film Fest screening, the only other planned showing is at the fourth annual Shaun Luu Horror Fest taking place Friday, June 13, and Saturday, June 14, also at the Palace. That fest turns out the lights to screen only movies of the macabre, with this year’s tentative slate—aside from Lonely Joe—including 35mm big-screen presentations of rare, uncut cult classics such as Cannibal Holocaust, Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom and Terrorvision.
With help from Dan Liedka, mayor of East Syracuse, as part of June 14’s festivities, a “Zombie Walk” has been confirmed. Anyone who wants to dress up like the living dead can walk the one mile from St. Daniel/St. Matthew Academy on Kinne Street to Village Hall on East Manlius Street. A 10K run has also been proposed, but Meyers isn’t sure there is enough support yet to get that done. “We’re still waiting on city officials to allow us to make that happen,” he said. “Maybe with a little community support, we can.”