A beginning one will have trouble getting out of their minds days after experiencing it. An ending that will be able to draw tears from the most composed soul. What bridges this gap is two dynamic performances that emit a piercing dialogue. Guess that means “Leave” brings in the total package.

When a flick starts out on such an emotional high, it’s usually a chore for them to maintain that level. The brutal opening in “Leave” is followed by an entrancing performance from co-star & co-writer Frank John Hughes. One may not be familiar with his work, but you’ll want to be after hanging on his every word in this feature.

Under the steady guidance of director Robert Celestino, this dialogue driven thriller maintains an intensity that will suffocate the audience. Just when there is very little air left, a gripping emotional ending finishes the job.

Everyone involved instinctively knew what the other one was doing in this story; which premiered at the Gasparilla International Film Festival this past March. Similar to watching a band where all the musicians are on the same rhythmic ride. Speaking of a band, the irony of that term is how this independent piece came to fruition.

In 2000, Frank John Hughes and Rick Gomez met in boot-camp. The two actors landed coveted roles in the now Golden Globe winning World War II television mini-series “Band of Brothers”. After literally spending a year in the trenches, the two formed a bond that led to their cherished friendship and partnership today. The multiple award-winning series – who had the likes of Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg executive producing a few episodes – opened more doors for both Hughes and Gomez. Who after experiencing the rigors of this incredible project together, wanted to work on something that was their own.

Enter in Tony To. Tony was another executive producer on “Band of Brothers”, and called Hughes after production was just about to wrap. Tony told Hughes that when he returned to the states, Hanks wanted to have a meeting with him to develop some projects. Hughes thought he was on the receiving end of the worst prank ever…

“I’m thinking this is one of the cruelest practical jokes you ever get in your life.”

Well it wasn’t. Hughes called Hanks’ company Playtone, and his call was forwarded right to the man himself. After meeting with Hanks, he asked Hughes to come to him with screenplays and/or projects. Hughes described it as a mentoring process, where Hanks has been “pushing” him to become a better writer and producer over these last ten years. Gomez also has a similar relationship with Hanks, and both of them have worked with the accomplished actor in a variety of projects since their time on BOB.

Fast-forward to 2007, Hughes had an idea for a film he just couldn’t get out of his head. He called Gomez right before the holidays and told him to hear him out; if Gomez still has the story in his head after the holidays, Hughes insisted they come together and start writing it. The call came in; Gomez obviously couldn’t get the story out of his head; and the “brotherly” duo hammered out the story, for what is now “Leave,” in about three weeks time.

With a script ready to go, Hughes knew right away who would be directing this project. His longtime friend and colleague Robert Celestino. The two grew up in film together according to Hughes. Both having ties in Yonkers, New York led to a relationship that has spanned 24 years on both a personal and professional level. For those just learning about the independent film scene via this article, it’s always about relationships. As will become more evident when the fourth horseman of this posse gets introduced.

Celestino and Hughes have worked together on several projects over the years. A common practice in the indie film sector is when one finds a crew that clicks, they ride it out for as long as they can. Celestino praises Hughes endlessly (and vice versa). So when he was presented with the script for “Leave,” agreeing to helm the project boiled down to a couple of criteria’s: A solid script for sure. And the other, is the element that has kept these two veterans plugging away in this arena together…Laughter. Celestino candidly sums it up…

“I’m really at the stage of my career, that if I can’t laugh, I don’t want to do it.”

Besides having a great mutual respect for each others’ artistic abilities, the two thrive on enjoying the moment of creating.

Having been on numerous production sets, the common denominator that is flowing throughout a project is the established relationships one finds within the crew. Arguably, despite the prowess of the “Leave” script, the final product would have not elicited the proper emotional response from the audience if the people behind it failed to have a true camaraderie.

Celestino mentioned that a few of the scenes “surprised” him while shooting this flick. He was referring to the performances of Gomez and Hughes, and wondered if they knew how amazing they were doing. Coincidentally, the viewer will have a similar to response as the story opens up.

When Hughes and Gomez engage in a walking-on-egg-shells type of dialogue, the movie quietly reaches a sustained fevered pitch. At this point, the trivial subject matter transforms into a life or death situation for the audience to take in. The incredible thing about this occurrence is that it relies purely on the dialogue from the opposite-end-of-the-spectrum personas between Gomez and Hughes‘s characters. Celestino’s timely cuts in projecting these feelings through the lens to the viewer is breath-taking to watch.

Yet none of this would have been accomplished without the final piece of the puzzle. The above mentioned fourth horseman Michael Hagerty. An actor and producer in his own right, Hagerty has been in the business for twenty years. He’s learned the ropes on how to get things done. But he’ll be the first to tell you that he has more to soak up despite having a decent run in the industry. When he was first approached about Leave a couple years back, he encountered a new experience. Enter in Richard Speight Jr.

Richard Speight Jr. is another member of the Band of Brothers alumni. Speight and Hagerty were on the prowl looking to get financing for Speight’s latest work. Around that time, Hughes asked Speight to weigh in on the “Leave” script, and what Speight did afterwards is considered a rarity in the business.

Speight called in Hagerty and introduced him to Hughes. He also told Hagerty to call off the search for money for his own respective project and start working with Hughes, Gomez and Celestino. Hagerty recalls being a bit shocked by this…

“I’ve never had that happened before. You never turn someone else onto your money guy. That just goes to show you how great all these guys are from Band.”

Indeed they are. Just as a reporter would never give another reporter their sources, one would never think of passing along their money contacts in the independent film industry. Fighting for money is a daily activity in this challenging realm. It represents the life-force for the majority of indie filmmakers in order to continue on with their career. With Speight believing in Hughes’ script and his fellow brothers, his selfless act enabled Hughes, Gomez, Celestino and Hagerty to come together under the banner of Visualeyes Productions and turn Leave into a reality. And moviegoers will benefit from this act of kindness.

After debuting at GIFF 2011 in Tampa, Florida, “Leave” has officially started its film festival run. It has already drummed up interest at the upcoming Cannes Film Market for international theatrical rights. The piece has also been submitted to Hanks’ Playtone and their feedback has been priceless to the guys who were originally brought together on Band of Brothers. Hughes describes it as a, “privilege” to have a company of Playtone’s stature, take a look and provide notes on this independent feature. But make no mistakes, this is their (Hughes, Gomez, Celestino, Hagerty) baby. And they’re ready to take on the successes and/or failures that come with it.

This critic sees, well, saw, a success.

Either way, this is a success story for all levels of independent filmmaking, no matter how “Leave” is critically received down the road. If one can learn anything from this journey, value the people and relationships you come across in the industry. Just as all these brothers banded together (BOB alum Ron Livingston makes a cameo as well) in one form or another, this passionate display is vital in the nurturing of quality filmmaking.

Whether it’s a random person one meets on a new set (ex. Hughes and Celestino), or someone that has the cache of a Tom Hanks (whose tiny push helped propel Hughes to enhance his writing skills), filmmakers need each other to accomplish great things. Hence, “Leave”.

Report by Joe Belcastro

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By Joe Belcastro

Joe Belcastro is an established movie critic in Tampa, Florida. As a member of the Florida Film Critics Circle, most of his time is spent reviewing upcoming movies. He also covers news pertaining to the film industry, on both a local and national level as well as conducting interviews. To contact Joe Belcastro regarding a story or with general questions about his services, please e-mail him and/or follow him on Twiiter @TheWritingDemon.

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