PAWTUCKET — The gods of filmcraft must be smiling on Brian DeCubellis.
Had the city native not finished shooting a day before New York City was paralyzed due to the pandemic, his latest picture almost surely would have died aborning.
“The timing for us was a miracle,” says DeCubellis. “That was a hair’s breadth from real trouble. On a picture like this, you can’t afford to lose a shoot day.”
As it turns out, the art of cheating the pandemic was just getting started for DeCubellis, but the end result is “Trust,” due for release in select theaters around the country and video on-demand platforms March 12. There was more sweat than divine intervention in getting the rest of the picture made during the reign of COVID-19, but more on that in a moment.
Raised on Makin Street, where his mother Carol still resides (his father Anthony is in assisted living), DeCubellis, 51, had been doing mostly TV and advertising work until 2016, when he made his first feature film, “Manhattan Night.” Starring Oscar winner Adrien Briody and Yvonne Strahovski – better known, perhaps, as Serena Waterford in Hulu megahit “The Handmaid’s Tale” – the contemporary noir was critically acclaimed and still gets plenty of views on streaming services these days, says DeCubellis.
“Trust” is a different sort of picture with a younger cast and is based on a stage play by Kristin Lazarian, who shares writing credits with DeCubellis and K.C. Bruce. DeCubellis is also the director and producer of “Trust.”
It’s a mixed-genre film – part romance, part mystery – that DeCubellis said he was drawn to because it was less moody and more uplifting than “Manhattan Night.”
Also, he says, “I thought it was a great date movie.”
The storyline follows the relationship of characters Brooke Gatwick and Owen Shore, a couple that seems to take their commitment for granted until Gatwick invites an exotic, charming painter from abroad to exhibit in her new gallery and wants to spend some time with him, alone and far away, ostensibly on business. Around this time a seductive-looking blond unexpectedly enters Shore’s life – someone Gatwick eventually finds out about.
The sexy newcomers who pierce the bubble of intimacy shared by Gatwick and Shore sets the stage for tension and intrigue that will leave viewers aching to find out how it all gets resolved. All DeCubellis will say is pay attention: “Trust” employs some slick narrative techniques that will take audiences around some corners they might not see coming.
“I thought it was very clever how the story was told; a very unusual narrative technique, with some surprises,” he says. “That honestly, is what I responded to the most.”
Gatwick is played in the film by Victoria Justice, who gained notoriety as a child star on the Nickelodeon series “Victorious,” which ran from 2010 to 2013. Actor Matthew Daddario stars as Shore, and his outside woman – Amy in the film – is actress Katherine McNamara. Daddario and McNamara are both veterans of the supernatural drama “Shadowhunters,” a Freeform TV property that ended a four-year run in 2019.
For movie-going boomers, the cast may not have the easy familiarity of Adrien Briody, but DeCubellis says that in the ecosystem of the new media, the “Trust” ensemble comes with a formidable fan base that will give the film a built-in jump-start at the box office. As a result of her previous work, for example, Justice has a following of about 20 million, and that’s just on Instagram.
“The truth of it is this cast resonates a lot more with the audience that we’re going for than you might realize,” he says. “This is the perfect cast for that audience, and they’re great together.”
While DeCubellis managed to elude the lockdown to shoot raw footage for the picture, he wasn’t spared the pains of the pandemic when it came to editing. Once indoor gatherings became unworkable, he was forced to short-circuit the usual process, which normally takes place in a group setting where people can talk face-to-face.
Not surprisingly, the solution was provided by technology, in the form of a software product called Evercast. It allows multiple editors to work together from different locations by joining in a virtual studio where they can watch footage, consult and execute cuts and splices. It’s like Zoom for movie-makers and, as DeCubellis tells it, about as much fun.
“The preference is to be in the same room,” he says. “It’s just a different kind of conversation when you’re physically in the same space.”
Making “Trust” during the pandemic got about as close to normal when he was mixing in the sound track. That couldn’t be done remotely and required him to be physically in a studio, wearing a mask and keeping socially distant. The colorization was also done in a studio, but the colorist wasn’t there – he was working remotely, from New Jersey.
The best part about working from home, says DeCubellis, was spending more time with his wife, Diane, and children, Sophia, 20, and Atticus, 16. His children both had cameos in the film, appearing as extras. Sophia also got some experience as a production assistant.
“I’m really grateful for that time,” he says. “It’s really fun to be able to share the process with them.”
A graduate of Bishop Feehan High School in Attleboro, DeCubellis says it would come as no surprise to his former classmates and teachers, if they don’t know already, that he is working as a filmmaker. He was one then, too.
Some of his fondest memories of his high school years revolve around the community access program at the UA Columbia cablevision studio in Attleboro. He can’t help but break out laughing when he recalls using teachers and classmates as talent in no-budget sci-fi flicks he made while he was still attending Feehan. They had no money to buy costumes or props, so they made “trash-bag togas” and borrowed a lizard from a pet shop at Lincoln Mall.
DeCubellis can’t quite pinpoint the origin of his passion for the screen, but he remembers being particularly intrigued by the mechanics of film for as long as he can remember. When he was just 7 years old, he was borrowing books from the library about stuntmen and movie-making how-tos.
He moved away from Pawtucket for the first time to attend New York University, where he earned a degree in film and TV production, and has never looked back. Now residing in Westchester, just outside of New York City, DeCubellis has settled into a cycle of working in television as he hunts for his next film project. His experience in managing a production set makes him a sought-after commodity for all kinds of work, from commercial advertisements to true crime.
It seems the gods of filmcraft have been smiling on DeCubellis after all, but they started long before the pandemic.
“I’ve had a lucky career to be able to do a little bit of everything,” he says.
Follow Russ Olivo on twitter @russolivo