Forget the latest
’99, producer of
knows small tales
are worth telling.
Jason Contino ’99 is tending bar to make ends meet. But not in the way you might think.
It’s 2005, and he’s just signed on to produce an
independent film—an ambitious new project that could
make or break his career. And while he doesn’t yet know
how this story will end, it starts the same way all movies
do: with a pile of cash.
Finding that cash is Contino’s first order of business.
While big-budget movies are backed by studios with
millions, and many independent films get their funding
from a single investor, the relatively unknown Contino
doesn’t have it so easy.
So tonight he’s playing bartender—and fundraiser—at an
investor’s benefit for the film. He’s pitching the script, and
doing his best not to bruise the gin.
“It was literally my very first task as producer,” Contino
recalls. “We invited people we’d worked with before,
explained the project, and tried to get them a little drunk.
My only job was to make sure the glasses stayed full.”
With the help of a few good Manhattans—or “lots and
lots of bad ones,” Contino jokes—the project eventually
earned its funding. (Of course, it didn’t happen overnight.
All told, the tedious financing process took more than a
year. But as they say in the movies, this story’s been edited
to fit your screen.)
The film, Lebanon, Pa., went on to premiere at the South
by Southwest Film Festival to critical acclaim in 2010. It’s
been on a whirlwind tour ever since, winning the 2010
Founders Award at the Traverse City Film Festival, and then
had theatrical runs in New York, Philadelphia, Washington,
D.C., and more than a dozen other cities.
A story Hollywood won’t tell
Contino has been in this industry for more than a
decade. Producing independent projects when he can and
freelancing to pay the bills, his commercial resume includes
work on the Food Network’s Restaurant: Impossible and
Before Lebanon, Pa., he already had a few bare-bones
indie films under his belt—“a couple of super low-budget
slashers,” he says nostalgically. But he was ready for
When writer and director Ben Hickernell approached
him with the script in 2005, Contino knew he was being
offered his chance.
“I recognized immediately this could be the biggest
project I’d ever produced,” says Contino. “I also recognized
this wasn’t the kind of story Hollywood would tell.”