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Onur Tukel launches ‘Abby Singer/Songwriter’ at the Brooklyn Film Festival

Living on video: Bushwick filmmaker stars as himself in new flick

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Talk about a meta narrative.

A Bushwick indie filmmaker is releasing a new semi-fictional movie about his attempt to revive the career of a ’90s indie rocker with a series of music videos. The project started out with the real-life movie-maker creating real music videos for the real-life musician. But somewhere along the way, the pair decided the story of them making the clips was just as interesting as the clips themselves, so they turned the whole story into a feature film and cast themselves in the starring roles, said the creator.

“No one wants to watch 75 minutes of music videos, especially of an aging ex-rock star that no one has ever heard of,” said Onur Tukel, the writer, director, and co-star of “Abby Singer/Son­gerwriter,” which premieres at the Brooklyn Film Festival on June 3 and 4.

Tukel’s co-star and co-conspirator is Jaime Block, a leading member of New York’s ’90s anti-folk scene who left the music industry for a job on Wall Street in the early 2000s after his label dropped him.

Block was working on his first album in 10 years — 2013’s “Whitecaps on the Hudson” — when he and Turkel, who had directed a few music videos for him in the past, reconnected over coffee. Wanting to do something “audacious,” the pair decided to make a music video for every song on the record, Tukel said.

They worked on the videos for over a year and then began shooting promo material, in which Tukel and Block walked around Brooklyn “pow-wowing about the creative process.” But the footage was so good, the pair decided it was worthy of the big screen.

“It ended up being pretty funny, so we kept shooting,” said Tukel. “We’re very similar — obstinate, ornery, driven, yet unsure. At some point, we decided to cross the Rubicon and make a feature film out of all this content.”

The duo then spent two years shooting scenes to connect all the content, creating a film that blurs the line between fact and fiction, Tukel said. The two men share the same names and backgrounds as their on-screen personas, and the storylines are plucked from their real lives — Tukel’s character moved to New York to make movies, and Block’s character is a financial adviser and musician who is trying to make a new album after a 10-year break — but they also poke fun at themselves as “man children,” Tukel said.

“We’re definitely way too old to behave the way we do in the movie,” he said. “We both come off as petulant children.”

The music videos themselves are weird and hilarious, said Tukel, featuring dollhouses, vampires, clowns, schizophrenia, insomnia, Occupy Wall Street, and a masked misadventure in Brooklyn Heights.

But ultimately, the film isn’t about the music videos at all, he said. It’s really a “coming-of-middle-age” story following two guys in their 40s who are trying to create art while battling the uncertainty of an increasingly indifferent audience — and the hilarity that ensues.

“‘Abby Singer/Son­gwriter’ wasn’t made to celebrate Block’s work. It’s about the pain of the creative process,” said Tukel. “Yes, making music and film is gratifying, but often it’s just brutal. We tried to extract comedy out of this.”

“Abby Singer/Son­gwriter” at the Brooklyn Film Festival at Windmill Studios [287 Kent Ave. between S. First and S. Second streets in Williamsburg, (718) 384–7300, www.brooklynfilmfestival.org]. June 3 at 10:30 pm. $13; and Nitehawk Cinema [136 Metropolitan Ave. between Wythe Avenue and Berry Street in Williamsburg, (718) 384–7300, www.brooklynfilmfestival.org]. June 4 at 11 pm. $13.

Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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