When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Lucas A. Ferrara somewhat unexpectedly became a film producer – a side avocation to his successful career as a New York real estate lawyer at Newman Ferrara LLP.
A longtime GMHC supporter, Ferrara made his first feature film, Makeup, a major sponsor of our Drag Royale benefit on Oct. 5, saying he saw a natural tie-in to the casino night with a twist, which featured five NYC drag queens.
“I thought Drag Royale was perfect for Makeup to support,” says Ferrara, because the film addresses “gender identity, self-acceptance, friendship – and breaking through toxic masculinity. Hopefully, it’s a strong message that people will find inspiring and moving.”
The Los Angeles Times called Makeup “a thoughtfully offbeat, odd-couple dramedy,” about an unlikely friendship that develops between two London roommates: “… the fussy French food critic Sacha (Hugo André, who directed the film) and the macho stockbroker Dan (Will Masheter, who co-wrote the script with André) – who aren’t as different as they may seem. Initially wary around each other, the two bond over Dan’s secret life as a cross-dressing burlesque performer, in this low-key, but moving story about men finding a space to be themselves.”
Makeup was released in late June on major streaming platforms after garnering numerous awards on the independent film festival circuit, including the 2021 Jury Award for Best Drama at the Paris International Film Awards and Best Feature Film at Europe Film Festival (UK).
Ferrara has gone on to produce over 170 shorts, as well as an array of feature films – including The Manor of Darkness, a horror film set in the English countryside, and 5,000 Space Aliens, an animated Warholian bombardment of 5,000 found images. “Imagine meeting a space alien. Now imagine meeting one space alien every second,” says the film’s promo.
5,000 Space Aliens is also winning awards, including Best Feature at the Medusa Underground Film Festival. Directed by Scott Bateman, it will be available for digital download on all major streaming platforms, including Apple and Amazon, starting Nov. 21.
GMHC talked to Lucas about Makeup and his later-in-life reinvention as a film producer.
The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
GMHC: How did you become a film producer?
Lucas A. Ferrara: The world sort of came to a stop in March 2020 when COVID-19 was unleashed. Everybody had to shelter in place, and remember, Trump was president, George Floyd was murdered, and Black Lives Matter protests were in full swing – the U.S. was in a bit of chaos. So there I was, trapped in my home, trying to figure out what I could do to make a difference.
I went online and found myself going to crowdfunding pages to support people engaged in various endeavors. I was attracted to the movie pitches, which were predominantly from young people. Lo and behold, one project was Makeup by Hugo André, a young man in his 20’s looking to fund his first feature film.
I found the project compelling and ahead of its time in the exploration of gender identity and self-acceptance. Remember, in 2020 transgender issues were not at the forefront as they are today. I decided to participate in the crowdfunding endeavor – and it eventually became a feature film with a distribution deal. It was a three-year voyage that resulted in a critically well-received and controversial piece of art.
It brought me so much joy to break out of my decades-long routine as a lawyer and get to work with young people. I was having so much fun that I started dabbling in a bunch of other projects. Before I knew it, that had become about 170 films — and counting!
What attracted you to filmmaking after almost 35 years as a successful NYC real estate lawyer?
The COVID lockdown pushed me to get out of my routine. I’d been comfortable as a lawyer, but I’ve had a love for the arts since I was a child. I’ve always admired actors and creatives – and what it takes to make a play or a movie.
As a youngster, I wanted to go into the arts, but I’m first-generation American. My parents immigrated from Italy in the 1950’s, and they preferred that I become a lawyer. That’s the path I took, so for the last 30-plus years I’ve felt a void – like something was missing. I’m grateful that I’ve now been able to realize a dream that I denied myself so many decades ago.
How have you had the money – and the time – to produce 170 shorts, along with the feature films? How involved are you as a producer?
Keep in mind that most of the shorts are only 15 to 20 minutes and the funding has been spread over a three-year period. For the shorts, my investment has ranged from three to five figures, and my level of involvement has varied from simply writing a check to assisting with project and story development, to post-production work, like editing.
For Makeup, I prefer not to disclose the budget, but keep in mind that it’s a low-budget independent film – not a Hollywood movie. It shows you don’t need a million dollars to make a beautiful film and share a message with the world — that’s Hollywood nonsense. These young people have taught me that you can create art relatively inexpensively and realize people’s dreams in the process.
Travel was banned when Makeup was filming because of the pandemic, so it wasn’t possible to be on set in London. I could watch what was happening live via Zoom and give input as circumstances warranted. Now, I’m much more proactive. For The Manor of Darkness, I’m going to London in December to be on set, so my role will be more traditional, as far as meeting with actors and having input on script changes.
Tell us about The Manor of Darkness and your other upcoming feature film, 5,000 Space Aliens?
My first horror film, tentatively called The Manor of Darkness, is about a bunch of people who pose as filmmakers, but whose real goal is to purloin jewels supposedly hidden in an English manor in the countryside. Things happen as they engage in the heist – I don’t want to give too much away, but let’s just say it’s quite frightening.
I’m also really excited about 5,000 Space Aliens. I’d characterize it as Warholian pop art that comes alive on screen, using found footage to create 5,000 one-second shots of animated characters. It’s a unique, groundbreaking work of art created by one man, Scott Bateman, who directed, did the animation, and scored it – all from his home in upstate New York during COVID. At the festivals, they played it on the sides of buildings as an ambient art piece, which worked beautifully. It’s very weird, quirky, and different.
Here’s a spoiler alert: For 5,000 Space Aliens, it’s really 4,999 space aliens, since one of them is Lucas A. Ferrara. The challenge is to find me! When I started crowdfunding films, one guy said he’d put my photo on the wall in a room in the film. That idea caught on. So, in many of my films, you may find me somewhere.
There’s no guarantee that you’ll make any return on these films, so why do it?
Many of these 170 projects have returned nothing financially, but that’s not the reason I participated. There is no consistent source of funding for indie filmmakers, so many young people are struggling. I wanted to help. I’ve received a real sense of fulfillment by making a difference in people’s lives and seeing them develop professionally. Many are like family. They send regular updates about their progress and emails thanking me, which has been very rewarding.
For Makeup, I loved the controversial idea around gender identity. It shouldn’t be controversial, but it is. For 5,000 Space Aliens, I liked that it was animation geared for adults, and for the horror film – why not scare people? These films are like children. They all have different strengths and weaknesses – and they all bring me great joy.