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Onward and Upwards: Staples grad brings home feature film

Published 1:06 am, Friday, March 26, 2010
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Coming from the words of Jan Wein, the story never fails to generate laughs.

Her son, Daryl, was spending time at their Westport home on a visit back from New York University. She mentioned how other mothers would buy clothes for their sons in college. Not her, though. Daryl would not allow it.

"I said, `How come you don't let me go and buy you stuff?' He's just too independent, so he took me by the arms and he said, `Mom, listen. You did a good job but I'm big now and you're done,'" Jan Wein said. "I go `I'm done?! What do you mean I'm done?'"

`"I'm a big boy I can take care of myself."'

"Honestly I feel like I say that to her all the time," her 26-year-old son said with a chuckle. "She may think that that only happened once. That happens about every time I see her."

It's Daryl Wein's independence -- and relentless drive to be a self-made man -- that has resulted in the first Connecticut premiere of one his movies at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Fairfield Community Theatre. That's when local residents can view the long-time Westport resident's latest effort, Breaking Upwards, an independent narrative film loosely based on what transpired with his girlfriend, Zoe Lister Jones.

A funny idea for a movie

"If it jumps out at me to make it, I'll make anything that's riveting," Daryl Wein said of his work.

In 2007, it was his own story. Lister Jones and Wein had a mutual understanding of the drifting nature of their relationship after dating for more than two years. The two had met as acting students at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, but contemplated the idea of taking days off from being a monogamous couple. So they tried an open relationship.

"They definitely did do this. I remember thinking that it was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard of," Jan Wein said of their arrangement.

"We were communicating about when we would see each other, when we wouldn't see each other. We really couldn't break up," Daryl Wein added. "We still loved each other, but we knew we needed to take some time apart, so at that moment I thought it would make a funny idea for a movie because I thought the way we were going about it was hilarious and hyper-communicative and a lot different than a lot of other break-ups that I've ever heard about from my friends."

Shortly thereafter, Wein and Peter Duchan, a friend from Westport since their days at Staples High School, began writing a script based on what was unfurling, much to the dismay of Lister Jones. At first, she wanted nothing to do with the project. Eventually after the open relationship ended, the need for her character to have fair representation warmed her up to the idea.

"She had her own memories and ideas about what had happened," Daryl Wein said. "We weren't really trying to convince her. It kind of just happened. She knew we were working on it for months, so she was always part of the equation."

From day one, it was obvious that no one but Wein and Lister Jones could play themselves for the sake of believability and realism. The movie's other cast and crew were friends of the couple who had worked in between Broadway plays and other commitments during a three-month period. The sets consisted of all the locations the couple frequented on a daily basis in Manhattan's West Village, including their actual apartment.

When it came to bestowing a name upon the film, Wein relied on the creativity of another former Staples classmate, Toby Burns, to come up with Breaking Upwards.

"I just love it because when you break upwards it's like a positive, hopeful type of direction that you're moving in," Wein said.

After wrapping up the film in November of 2008, Wein submitted it to several acclaimed film festivals, including the 2009 edition of South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. A year earlier at the event, Wein had debuted Sex Positive, a documentary that chronicled AIDS activist Richard Berkowitz. It was there where the Independent Film Channel decided to buy the rights to Breaking Upwards and distribute it nationally. The film has gone on to win a bevy of film festival awards and honors.

Wein first came across the national radar in 2006 with his short, psychological drama Unlocked, which went on to be accepted by the Tribeca Film Festival and more than 20 other festivals.

Where it all began

Before Wein chased his dreams with an unwavering nature, he wore the clothes -- probably purchased by his mother -- of a kid growing up in Westport fascinated by acting, directing and making movies.

Blessed with naturally fluid hand-eye coordination, Wein's first fascination was athletics, especially tennis. He later switched his focus by insisting that his mother register him classes at the Music Theatre of Connecticut, which his parents originally intended for just his younger sister, Erica.

His father, Mitch, opened a whole realm of opportunity by purchasing a Hi8 Sony camcorder when he was in eighth grade. Westport became his playground, his canvas.

"I remember it allowing me to really just do whatever I wanted in terms of creative film work," he said. "I had the whole town at my disposal and no one to really bother me."

While at Staples, Wein became an active member of the theater department under the tutelage of director David Roth. He also "got lost" in a TV production class taught by Jim Honeycutt, spending time after school to edit his own movie projects. One of those endeavors during his junior year was Life as a Train, a 12-minute film based on a boy who constantly rode on a train and lived inside its delusional world. As luck would have it, Wein was able to sneak into a train crash simulation complete with actors. He then centered his film around that footage, captured on his Hi8 camera. The film went on to win several awards at the state level, while whetting his appetite for more.

At the time he wrote the short film, Wein was becoming a frequent commuter on Metro-North while going into New York for meetings and auditions for TV commercials and other projects. Through the help of his father, who works as a copywriter in the advertising agency, he was able to get in touch with agents as a 14-year-old.

"I use to pick him up at Staples and then I'd drive a 100 miles an hour to go to the train station because he had to make the 2:30--3 o'clock train," Jan Wein recalled. "He was afforded a lot of things here and being close to New York made it very good, but he did it all on his own."

Although he has spent most of his life on the East Coast, Daryl Wein was actually born in Santa Monica, Calif., in the hospital his mother was working at during the time. The Weins had moved out west largely in part to their fascination with Hollywood. They lived there for six years before moving to Mount Kisco, N.Y., and then Westport in 1989.

"We just moved to L.A. for a change. ... We just wanted to do something different," she said.

Like thousands of others in his industry, Daryl would love to direct a film with the backing of a major movie studio -- a task that is made easier by living in the Los Angeles area. He takes the long flight west on occasion for meetings with his agent and other endeavors. Would he ever make the same move that his parents did?

"We talk about it, but for now we're staying in New York," he said.

Jan Wein said she hoped that one day soon someone from one of the major L.A. studios would "give him a break."

That would certainly give whole new meaning to the title of his latest film.

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