Filmmakers turn dietary dilemma into creative ‘Curse’

From left, Jack McBrayer, Jessie Hoyt, Neil Parisi and Chris Fondulas shoot a promotional video for "The Curse of Don Scarducci."
From left, Jack McBrayer, Jessie Hoyt, Neil Parisi and Chris Fondulas shoot a promotional video for "The Curse of Don Scarducci." Photo submitted

Back when Jessie Hoyt was diagnosed in 2006 with Celiac disease - which is caused by eating gluten and damages the small-intestine lining - the whole "gluten-free" issue had yet to become a widely known phenomenon.

Hoyt and Chris Fondulas, her then-boyfriend and now-husband, would sometimes have to go in energetic search for elusive gluten-free food items.

"We'd spend entire weekends devoted to finding a pancake in New York City I could eat," Hoyt says. "Things really started to revolve around this hunt for gluten-free food."

The two reminisce about all-day outings, driving around desolate areas of Queens for, say, cupcakes and searching Brooklyn for a bagel factory that, it turns out, didn't exist.

Back then, Fondulas was starting his run as a boom operator for all seven seasons of the acclaimed sitcom "30 Rock," and they were living in New York.

On Wednesday, they are returning to the city to film a short movie - one inspired by adventures in gluten-free living.

Fondulas took all that experience with the effects and quirks of Celiac disease and turned it into a screenplay titled "The Curse of Don Scarducci." In this case, the person with the disease is a mobster. When symptoms interfere with his gangster life, he heads to a clinic, where he hears the gluten-free bad news: he can't eat pasta any more. No cannoli, either. He changes his lifestyle and his diet, and he becomes - can it be? - a regular person.

In addition to the Brooklyn shoot on Wednesday, scenes are expected to be filmed later on here, with exact locations to be confirmed.

Fondulas and Hoyt - who both grew up in southeastern Connecticut - moved back to Stonington a little over a year ago with their now-3-year-old son, Diver.

They co-founded Copps Brook Pictures, and this will be their first short film.

They are still in the process of raising money for "The Curse of Don Scarducci" via Kickstarter.com. As of Wednesday, they'd raised $9,500 of the $15,000 total, and the deadline is March 31.

"It's been really exciting because we do have perfect strangers coming out of we don't know where," says Hoyt, a producer on the film. (Hoyt is also marketing communications project manager at Connecticut College.)

Fondulas has written throughout his life, keeping a journal and creating some short stories. It was when he worked on "30 Rock," though, that screenwriting really became a passion.

"On '30 Rock,' I was able to see firsthand what a great script really looked like," he says. "I learned so much from that that I took this idea and crafted it into this story of a mobster who finds out that he has gluten intolerance. What would the aftermath be of such a diagnosis for him?"

Fondulas' script won first place in the best short screenplay category in the 2011 L.A. Comedy Shorts Film Festival.

It also was a 100 Round Pick at the Table Read My Screenplay contest at the Sundance Film Festival that same year.

Fondulas filmed a "Curse of Don Scarducci" Kickstarter promotional video (it's online at kck.st/NOJBwc), which features "30 Rock" star Jack McBrayer. McBrayer, though, isn't expected to appear in the actual film, due to scheduling issues.

Neil Parisi plays Scarducci in the video and will again in the movie, which should run around 20 minutes. He will share the screen with Halley Feiffer, who acted in HBO's "Bored to Death" and the film "The Squid and the Whale," and Wayne Soares, an ESPN radio host and stand-up comic/actor.

Parisi, who is acting for the first time here, was recommended by someone who worked on "30 Rock." When Parisi left a phone message for Fondulas, he recalls, "It was basically the voice of a hardened mobster."

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Fondulas, now 37, grew up primarily in Stonington and Groton, and Hoyt, 36, lived in Stonington. They met in high school. Hoyt earned a degree in ethnic studies at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

Fondulas majored in fine arts at Johnson State College in Vermont before taking a detour into film and TV.

"My family dog actually got me into the business," he says.

He's not kidding. Golden retriever Max was cast in an independent film called "Dead Dog." Animal trainer Gleanna Doyle told Fondulas he should come with her and Max to the New York set. She said that, with these young people making a movie, it would be right up his alley.

He did go, and he met what would become his two future roommates. He moved to New York City and found work as a production assistant, which is the first step into any film job.

Fondulas segued into sound work. He says he liked the idea of being a boom operator because it put him right in the middle of the action.

A boom operator is in charge of microphone placement. If a scene features two actors, the boom operator moves the mic between them both.

That process could get a little tricky on "30 Rock," which was renowned for its rapid-fire dialogue.

"The dialogue was happening so fast sometimes that I literally had to learn how to just watch their lips and know who was going to speak next ... based on their breath, based on the movement of their body language," Fondulas says.

Sometimes, filming is more difficult than other times. Fondulas recalls shooting "30 Rock" outside at Rockefeller Center during a snowstorm. For an episode of the Comedy Central show "Stella," he had to ride a bike with a wireless microphone, following an actor on a bicycle.

Fondulas also worked on HBO's "Bored to Death," starring Jason Schwartzman, Zach Galifianakis and Ted Danson. That show was different from "30 Rock" mostly in terms of the hours, he says; the noirish "Bored to Death" involved a lot of night shoots.

Now, with "The Curse of Don Scarducci," he's transitioning to writing and directing. He plans to enter the movie into festivals to showcase what he can do.

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