Three years ago, Reuben Guberek made a snack of a film called “Foodfellas.” Next week, he starts whipping up his first feature film in Oceanside and Imperial Beach.
Returning to a theme, he sets it partly in a restaurant.
“We will be shooting at Gianni’s Pizza in Oceanside,” says Guberek, the 28-year-old co-writer and co-director of his “microbudget” movie “Sign Man.”
He says the owner has been very welcoming — “and they have delicious pizza.”
Originally set for June 2, production of the $26,000 film begins Nov. 2 and will last a dozen days, he said via email.
He summarizes “Sign Man” thusly:
When the sign spinner for a pizza restaurant loses the van he lives in, he’s left no choice but to move in with his co-worker, the pizza delivery driver. His plans to leave town and do something more with his life are derailed when he becomes tangled up in the pizza driver’s escalating personal war against a local congressional candidate.
The Congress hopeful isn’t based on any specific local politicians, he said, but is inspired by certain friends’ fathers he’s known, plus characters from famous movies, “as well as a few politicians at the federal level.”
He and co-writer Luc Février-Silberman (aka Luc Hollywood) originally set out to write a generic corrupt politician, “but that was boring, and audiences have seen that cliche before,” Guberek said.
“So instead, we went the polar opposite and wrote a politician who is so absolutely incorruptible that it makes made him just as bad as one who is. But the character really came to life when we found the talented actor Chopper Bernet to portray him.”
Guberek said Bernet “absolutely wowed us with his audition and his sly zeal for the material, and we are lucky to have an experienced actor of his caliber on our cast.”
Called an “absurdist dark comedy,” his film has two main leads and about eight other supporting players — already cast and a mixture of professional and nonprofessional actors.
“Most of our cast are San Diegans, and we are operating under a SAG New Media contract,” said the Encinitas resident.
Andrew Huse is cinematographer of “Sign Man,” who recently premiered his documentary “The Last Waltz” (about the local music scene) at the Oceanside International Film Festival.
Composer is Adam Wollach, a member of San Diego bands Trash Axis and Beekeeper.
“We’ll also be featuring music from San Diego bands including Pinkeye, The Strawberry Moons and The Havanauts,” he said.
He says he’s aiming for the 2021 film festival circuit, and would love to find an online streaming distributor that year as well.
“We are open to, but not specifically seeking, a release in brick-and-mortal theaters,” Guberek said. “The festival I’m most excited about premiering at is Slamdance, which takes place in Park City, Utah, concurrently with Sundance.”
He says he attended Slamdance in 2016 and was impressed by its welcoming atmosphere and the way in which it celebrated the do-it-yourself filmmaking ethic.
“They even have a special award for the film that best embodies the DIY spirit,” he said. “We are also looking at Oceanside International Film Festival as a home for our San Diego premiere. Beyond our festival run, I would love to target Netflix or Amazon for streaming distribution.”
Why shoot in North County?
“We live here, and this is the environment that inspired the movie,” he said. “These are the towns where my co-writer Luc (the real sign spinner) actually spun his sign. As an alternative to L.A., San Diego is also less noisy (which helps for recording sound) and much easier to get around in. We’ve also found the community and local business owners to be very supportive.”
(Oceanside has a long history of being filmmaker-friendly, with star turns in “Top Gun,” “Bring It On” and “Veronica Mars.”)
“Sign Man” is expected to be rated R, for language. (He says: “One of our main characters, the pizza delivery guy, is pretty crass.”)
Guberek lived for a time in Los Angeles, working as a video editor in the film industry, including short films as well as branded content.
“I spent the better part of 2018 editing for NODE YouTube channel,” he said.
Besides wanting to make an entertaining film, he hopes “Sign Man” inspires others that a movie can be made on a “shoestring budget.”
“My experiences on ‘Sign Man’ have taught (and continue to teach) me a great deal about microbudget filmmaking, project management, people and life in general,” said Guberek, also a producer on the project.
“Once we’ve wrapped shooting, I intend to sit down and write a very long blog article documenting all the creative, project management and interpersonal lessons I’ve learned along the way. Hopefully others might benefit from my mistakes.”