“I’ll take it all, I’ll take any title that you can give me,” said screenwriter, producer and actor Jeff Auer with a laugh as he discussed his latest venture, “The Incoherents.”
To better understand the concept and process behind its origin of this feature film (see trailer below), which Auer calls a “rock ‘n’ roll comedy,” one must know about his background. He is an actor and voice-over artist by trade.
“I’m kind of a fake musician,” he said with a laugh. “I’m like the drummer that keeps exploding, but I’m an actor first and foremost. I’ve been working in TV, film, theater, commercials and voice-overs in New York for over 20 years and ‘The Incoherents’ is the first feature-length script I’ve ever written.
“I grew up loving rock ‘n’ roll, (am) still loving rock ‘n’ roll, and I’ve always wanted to make a movie about rock ‘n’ roll. ‘The Incoherents’ is my version of a rock ‘n’ roll movie.
“My family is originally from The Bronx. I was born in The Bronx and when I was 4 years old, we moved to Island Heights in Ocean County, N.J. So all of my formative years were spent in Jersey, my parents still live there, all of my cousins who I’m very close to still live there, and I have a lot of good friends especially in the Belmar and Monmouth County area, so I’m still very tied to what’s going on down there even though I live in Brooklyn now.”
Those Jersey ties led directly to the location choices for the production. Maxwell’s Tavern (formerly known as Maxwell’s) in Hoboken and other northern New Jersey locales, as well as Princeton, were utilized to give the movie a feeling of authenticity.
“One of the co-producers, Charles Kirby, his mother lives in Princeton and we needed a suburban house for my character and, lo and behold, his mom’s house was perfect. So we camped down there and shot there for three days. The only problem was, the day before we shot there was a humongous blizzard (laughs), so there was snow everywhere and the film was set in spring, so we had to make sure the cameras never actually saw outside, All part of the magic that is film-making.”
So what exactly is “The Incoherents” all about?
“The film is based on an experience I had with some old college friends of mine,” said Auer. “We started a band even though only one of us could play an instrument, and we called that band The Incoherents.
“As sort of a fun side project, we would write songs over email. Guys would send lyrics and riffs. And right when we started this kind of a fake band, one guy picked up the guitar, and another, bass. My friend Tim already knew how to play guitar and it just started from there. We just had a good time with it and we recorded songs with this guy in Chicago … The only reason we had went there was to have a few beers and a laugh and because this guy worked with John Lennon and Cher. So clearly him working with The Incoherents was not the top day of his professional career (laughs), but it was a fun creative outlet and we wrote more songs and recorded in New York and Boston and made an album.
“Then we had a disagreement with one song and that was the end of it. So, in the time-honored tradition of artistic differences, we decided not to do it anymore because we were friends and obviously the friendship was more important.
“Then a friend of mine suggested that I write a screenplay about it. I did and that band was called The Incoherents and so the film is called ‘The Incoherents.’
“In the film, my character broke the band up in the mid-’90s, right as the band was starting to gain some traction, because he got nervous about what the future might hold if they never made it and he decided that he wanted a more stable life with his then-girlfriend, now wife, a character named Liz who is played by Kate Arrington (‘Ray Donovan,’ ‘Billions,’ ‘The Good Wife’). So, he’s living this sort of drab suburban corporate existence as a paralegal and he doesn’t have much going on other than work and married life, and his marriage is a bit stagnant. He’s got a couple of kids but he still has this burning desire to play music and ‘make it’ or whatever that might be, and he decides to get the band back together.”
Rounding out the experienced cast seemed to be an easy task, given Auer’s connections in the industry. But in order to give it the proper vibe, they had to choose the right musicians to complement the script.
“Annette O’Toole, who people may remember from her movies in the early ’80s … she was in ’48 Hours’ and ‘Superman III’ and she was also in ‘Smallville’ … so she’s had a long career in film, the stage and television. She plays the manager of the band’s rehearsal studio … We also have Amy Carlson, who is a longtime regular on ‘Blue Bloods.’ We also have some cameo appearances by musicians like Chris Barron from The Spin Doctors, Richard Barone of The Bongos, who were a well-known band that came out of Hoboken in the ’80s. We also have Stew making a cameo. Stew is a guy who won a Tony Award for his musical, ‘Passing Strange.’ We have Joe Hurley who plays in an Irish rock band called Rogue’s March, another guy named Jimmy Gnecco from another New Jersey band called Ours, he makes an appearance and plays in the film.
“There’s also a great up-and-coming rock blues artist named Fiona Silver out of New York who also appears and performs in the film. Alex (Emanuel), who is a co-star and co-producer … he wrote all the music, produced and arranged all of the original music we made for the film and I wrote the lyrics. He wanted to cast as many musicians as possible in the film to create an authenticity to it and it seems to have worked. One of the compliments that we’ve been getting about the film is that it does feel authentic to the time and place of what we were trying to accomplish.”
You may think the film is based on Auer’s own life, if even loosely, But he says that is not necessarily the case.
“Very little of it, actually, other than the fact that I did work as a paralegal and I am married with two kids. But the main character’s journey is much, much different from mine. …
“I was a bit of a wayward soul when I was younger. I wasn’t super-focused; I didn’t start acting until I was 27. And this is a guy who was focused in college, was a good musician, he met the woman that he was going to spend the rest of his life with in college. He was a very focused guy early on who, unfortunately, lost confidence in his artistic abilities in his early 20s. Whereas I started my artistic journey when I was in my late 20s. I would say Alex, who plays Jimmy, gauges a little closer to what he went through because in the film we make a joke about how he played in 21 different bands, and Alex did bounce around with quite a few bands in the Lower East Side scene in the late ’80s, ’90s, and the ’00s, some of whom got close but it’s a tough, tough biz. …
“Like I said, I’m not a musician. I can kind of carry a tune, so I made myself the lead of this band. But just like any artistic endeavor, it is so hard. I live it every day with my career. Every day it’s a grind, every day you’ve got to hustle, hustle, hustle, and there’s very few people in the arts who can kick back and relax and be okay with the living that they made. For most of us it’s a constant grind but we love it. That’s what we’re here for.”
Auer says they had very little in the way of finances but are very happy with the results and continue to be pleasantly surprised at how well the film has been received.
“We were the ‘Best Homegrown Feature’ in the 2019 Garden State Film Festival,” he said. “We played at The Paramount Theatre (in Asbury Park), which was a pretty incredible experience because I have seen concerts there and that is a beautiful, beautiful old theater. We had a great long weekend in Asbury Park; the festival went virtual this year but I would recommend that anybody go and check it out because Asbury Park is a great town.
“We also won ‘Best Feature’ awards at several festivals throughout the country in 2019 and shortly after that we got a distribution deal with Gravitas Ventures and here we are! We’re available all over. We’re on Video On Demand, Apple TV, Amazon, Vimeo, Google Play. Wherever you can get on demand movies, we are there.
“We are a small, small movie so it’s not like Paramount or Warner Bros. was knocking down our doors, looking for us to be the next big feature. … we’re just very fortunate to get a deal (and) really excited that it happened.”
Words such as “authentic” and “real” have been thrown about when speaking of the film because to many, especially musicians, it mirrors their lives or triggers memories of the struggles any performer goes through. One day you’re a young artist struggling to be heard as you reach for notoriety, and the next, you’re a middle-aged adult trying to recapture those moments. Auer says they’ve all heard the comparisons and are very glad that this work has struck a chord, so to speak.
“We’ll get messages from people on Facebook who have seen the trailers or the movie and they’ll say, ‘This is my life,’ and though it’s a completely made-up story, it’s been pretty exciting that there are people and fans that do relate to what the story is. Part of what people like about the film is that it’s about following your dreams, following that inner thing in you that you have to pursue or you’ll be miserable. Quite honestly, it doesn’t matter whether you’re playing in front of five or 50,000 people, it’s about the act. Some of the best acting I’ve ever done has been in these little plays in downtown New York in front of seven people. Some of my favorite memories are being in that moment where there might only be a few people in the theater, but they’re engaged, and they are into what you’re doing, and that’s just as exciting as a big crowd.”
Are there plans for a sequel?
“Well, we have worked on the idea of a TV show, because a lot of people have asked us. I won’t spoil the movie if you’re going to rent it, but the ending is a bit open-ended about what could happen next. We’ve had a bunch of people ask us, what happens next? Alex, (director and co-producer) Jared (Barel) and I are starting to work on a TV series and I’ve written a pilot. We’ll see where the movie takes us and if it’s successful and there’s interest, we’d love to have a TV show poppin’.”
For more about “The Incoherents,” visit theincoherents.com.
We need your help!
CONTRIBUTE TO NJARTS.NET
Since launching in September 2014, NJArts.net, a 501(c)(3) organization, has become one of the most important media outlets for the Garden State arts scene. And it has always offered its content without a subscription fee, or a paywall. Its continued existence depends on support from members of that scene, and the state’s arts lovers. Please consider making a contribution of $20, or any other amount, to NJArts.net via PayPal, or by sending a check made out to NJArts.net to 11 Skytop Terrace, Montclair, NJ 07043.