by Lou Mancinelli
Nature is a theme filmmaker and Chestnut Hill College adjunct professor Neal Dhand, an Abington native, employs in his work. “I think it’s a subtle thing,” said Dhand.
One way it’s expressed in Dhand’s filmmaking is through framing a shot. Imagine the picture: two characters in the bottom left, facing right, one aiming a gun at the back of the other’s head, standing atop a snow-ploughed field stretched across the expanse of the screen, with the barren trees just as wide behind them. But the characters, field and trees take up only the bottom third of the shot, with the majority being a pale gray sky.
The above-mentioned shot is one visitors to the “Second Story Man” website will see. “Second Story Man” is Dhand’s first feature film, soon to be released on Amazon and Netflix. Last year it was an “official selection” at the Shanghai International Film Festival and the Indie Spirit Film Festival, among others.
This June, Philadelphia served as the backdrop for a number of scenes in Dhand’s most recent film, “Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday.” In the short film, two 20-somethings chance across a bag of money, which forces the question, to keep or not to keep. The scene is shot at the Hyperion Bank, just east of 2nd and Girard Streets. Eventually someone gets killed, and the suspense is born.
Dhand also filmed scenes at a warehouse located at 5th Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue, Nina’s Trattoria at 910 S. 9th St. in the Italian Market (the neighborhood in which he now resides) as well as sites in Abington and Horsham.
City life is the reason Dhand returned to Philadelphia. He graduated from St. Joseph’s Prep in 2001 and moved to the Windy City to study interdisciplinary studies at the University of Chicago (’05). Four years later he earned his master’s degree in film and animation at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in upstate New York.
In New York, Dhand, 29, taught the history of film — film noir, neo-Italian realism, blaxploitation, etc. — as well as screenwriting and production at Ithaca College and the University of Rochester. He moved to Philadelphia last year to be close to friends and family. He also serves as adjunct professor in various capacities related to film and writing at Temple University, Ursinus College, Pennsylvania College of Art & Design and as the co-programmer at Cinémathèque Internationale of Philadelphia.
“Philly’s like that underdog city in a sense that it wants to be like New York and wants to be recognized but doesn’t want to be exactly like New York because it’s Philly,” Dhand said.
In 2007, while living in Rochester, he created a production company, Discreet Charm Productions (DCP), with friend Scott Lancer, who is also one of Dhand’s two producers. The DCP team has produced six short films, five music videos and one feature-length film.
Independent film studios face the obstacles of access to resources and capital. Dhand has created shorter films with the hope of attracting attention and demonstrating that his films are as credible as those produced by larger studios.
“If you want to get your film to a larger audience, you’re vying for the attention of everyone from actors to producers to distributors to film festival programmers,” he said. “Separating yourself and proving that you have a worthwhile aesthetic is no easy task.”
Dhand, also a movie critic for Montgomery Newspapers, said he is a writer and director first, and an editor second. He started writing short stories and poetry in elementary school. “I didn’t become a film nerd until college,” he said.
He tends to write in an over-caffeinated state late at night, and when he finishes a script, he workshops it through a group of friends, writers and filmmakers whose opinions he trusts. He said they sometimes offer harsh criticism. Grief, revenge and loss are the themes he’s delved into most.
These themes can be introduced and echoed in various ways and accentuated at key moments, such as suggesting characters’ remoteness when considered within the expanse of the world around them. For example, in a wide shot with the characters featured in the bottom left, where the overwhelming sense is a force of nature that is almost more important than the action on the screen.