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A ‘reel life’ story from Melrose

The team behind the film “Overdrawn’’: actor Curtis Laniani,  writer and producer Rob Azevedo, and director Mike Azevedo, Rob’s brother.

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

The team behind the film “Overdrawn’’: actor Curtis Laniani,  writer and producer Rob Azevedo, and director Mike Azevedo, Rob’s brother.

Rob Azevedo’s vision for “Overdrawn” came from real life.

“Before the bubble burst, I watched as people kept spending,” he says. “I knew the pipe dream was going to end. I saw my friends blast off into six-figure incomes.” 

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Then came October 2008. The financial market nose dived. People lost their homes, their jobs. Credit was crushed, along with egos.

“People blamed the banks,” Azevedo says. “But if you get into a knife fight, you expect to get cut.” 

Rob, 42, a 1988 graduate of Melrose High, wrote and produced “Overdrawn,” which was directed by his brother Mike, 50, a 1980 Melrose High grad and director at a website design company in Dover, N.H.

A 30-minute comedic drama about the aftermath of the financial meltdown and its effect on three people,  “Overdrawn” was selected from among 200 films  submitted, from as far away as Australia and Japan,  to compete as one of 60 in the 2012 Somewhat North of Boston film festival,  to be held Thursday through next Sunday at the Red River Theatres in Concord, N.H.  Curtis Laniani, Rob’s Melrose High classmate,  stars in the movie.

“It’s not like we grew up in this artistic family, where we put on plays and stuff,” Mike Azevedo says, trying to recall the source of the creative paths he and his brother have taken since leaving Melrose. “But our dad loved the movies.” 

‘It’s not like we grew up in this artistic family, where we put on plays and stuff. But our dad loved the movies.’

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And Rob Azevedo Sr.’s sons love making them.

The brothers are composed, yet anxious, about the outcome of this year’s SNOB festival for good reason. This is the third consecutive year that one of Rob’s films has been selected for the annual competition. His first two films won awards.

In 2010, “Heavy Seven,” about the premise that a person’s life is made up of seven significant moments, won SNOB’s Best Short Drama.  Last year, “Muddy,” an eight-minute short about a suburban man’s fantasies of living a life less ordinary,  won two SNOB awards: Best of Fest and Best Short Comedy. 

Not bad for someone with a lack of formal training.  “I got into [filmmaking] by just doing it,” Rob says. “I didn’t read a ‘Filmmaking for Dummies’ book or take any classes.” 

But he has an innate talent for telling a story, no matter the venue. In addition to filmmaking, Rob, a Manchester, N.H., resident,  is a columnist for three New Hampshire newspapers.  He also cohosts “Granite State of Mind,” a radio show on WNHN-FM (94.7). 

“It’s like he was born with a brain that’s stimulated by what words and pictures can do,” explains Mike, now living in Amesbury, who’s worked in all aspects of television, plus documentary films and interactive media. “Rob’s honed a voice and has a vision.” 

Within three days, he penned “Overdrawn,” a story about three characters all eager to get their piece of the pie during the booming, easy credit years: Wedgie, a landscaper played by Eric Laplante of Manchester, N.H., who overextends himself, buying too many trucks and hiring too many guys for his business; Ed, a restaurant manager-turned-realtor, played by Laniani, who as he makes more money buys more real estate; and Sue, Ed’s wife, a hard-working administrator who changes as more money comes into their lives, played by Pam Dube of Manchester, N.H.

The fictional story hit close to home for many Rob knew. “Friends asked, ‘Are you writing about me?’ he says. “It wasn’t about anyone specific.” 

Revealing hard nuggets of truth in his stories that resonate with audiences is one key to Rob’s award-winning storytelling.

Finding the right director is another. Paul Serafini,  a Daytime Emmy Award-winning director/producer and nine-time national Daytime Emmy nominee,  directed “Heavy Seven.” Tom Kearney of Concord, N.H., directed “Muddy.”  Last spring, Mike, who had narrated “Heavy Seven,” in which their father starred,  asked Rob Jr. if he could direct “Overdrawn.”

“I had a good sense of the story arc Rob was telling,” Mike says. “As a writer, you’re trusting a director to understand what you are trying to say. And although our styles are different in a lot of ways — we’d be on the phone, explaining things with different words, but basically saying the same thing — Rob would be like ‘Yes! I knew you’d get it!’ ” 

As director, Mike focused on hitting tight deadlines, filming enough content for the story to survive the editing process, and figuring out how to tell the story in only 30 minutes.

Beginning Memorial Day,  the brothers partnered with Adam Flaherty of Anchor Line in Portsmouth, N.H., to film and edit “Overdrawn.” By September, the mission was accomplished, in time to submit the film to both SNOB and the New Hampshire Film Festival held last month.

“Adam’s got a great eye for composition,” Mike says. “It couldn’t have happened without him.” 

Many of the scenes were shot outdoors, infusing a kinetic energy to the film. When Flaherty wasn’t available to shoot scenes around Melrose, Mike leaned on Serafini to help. “There’s a real generosity in this [Boston] network, to contribute talents and advice,” he says, that isn’t as available, based on his experience, in Los Angeles or New York. 

Managing the performances of the three actors, all of whom have full-time jobs, was another responsibility. Mike applauds Laniani’s performance, which called for a range of emotions. “Curtis nailed it every time,” he says. 

Laniani, 42, a general contractor by day  who lives in Wenham, has pursued acting gigs over the years as well. This month, he will appear in an HBTV backyard renovation show.  Laniani reached out via Facebook after “Heavy Seven” to congratulate Rob, adding, “Let me know if you’re ever looking for an actor.”  Within three weeks, Rob responded. “It was the lead role,” Laniani says. 

Films are made, says Rob, “on absolute shoestring budgets.” For “Muddy,” he spent $835  of his own money — “and $35 of that was on pizza.”  “Overdrawn” cost him $2,000. 

Winning at festivals doesn’t translate to a return on investment in kind.

“You win laurels,” says Jay Doherty,  SNOB’s executive director  and an architect in Concord,  who views every entry for all four categories: documentary, comedy, drama, and animation.  Voting, he explains, is left up to the audience, like the People’s Choice Awards.

“There’s not a cash prize; it’s more prestige. Winning helps get into other festivals,” Doherty says. “We’ll see if Rob can have his third win here.” 

For more information, go to www.snobfilmfestival.com.

Kathy Shiels Tully can be reached at kathyshielstully@gmail.com.
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