Ray Harrington — Bangor native, New England School of Communications graduate, acclaimed standup comedian, and, now, filmmaker. Harrington, 32, lives in Providence, Rhode Island with his wife and young son now, but Bangor area comedy and movie fans probably remember him as the guy that hosted the midnight movie premieres at Bangor Mall Cinemas from 2007-2010. Harrington will return to the movie theater where he worked for all those years this Sunday, for a screening of his brand new comedic documentary, “Be a Man,” an exploration of masculinity and manliness in the contemporary world. It’s very funny — as to be expected with a funny guy — but it’s also serious about asking the question “What does it mean to be a man?” Harrington, who directed the movie and is its primary star, shot the film on a tiny budget of $11,000. The screening is set for 7 p.m. Sunday, June 28 at Bangor Mall Cinemas; admission is $10 and will help Harrington take the movie to film festivals and get distribution. He spoke to the BDN/Culture Shock about movie making, being a dad and Batman vs. Superman.
What compelled you to make a movie exploring the concept of masculinity in the modern world?
My wife and I had been talking about starting a family, and I was worried about what that meant. My friend and fellow comedian, Derek and I had been having so many conversations about taking that next step in life. At one point, we were on the phone and I was saying that, with no father or male role models growing up, I had no idea what a man being a dad looked like. I remember saying “I don’t know how to be a dad. I don’t even know how to be a man.” And that was the moment we both realized how much that idea or ideal has changed in society, especially with the ever-shifting cultural landscape of gender and identity. I really wrestle with what masculinity is. I’m a man who was raised solely by women. What does manliness mean to me? I think in a lot of ways, the film helped me through my wife’s pregnancy and later, when my son was sick in the hospital. It allowed me to take my fears and concerns and anxiety and exhaust it in this insane process of making a film on a micro-budget.
What Maine connections are there in the movie? What names might locals here recognize?
Kyle Kinane has some wonderfully funny insights throughout the film. Bobby Kelly, April Macie, Kurt Metzger, Doug Stanhope, they all have some great input. And Tom Wilson, aka Biff from “Back To The Future,” is fantastic in the film! I mean, he’s a big part of my absolute favorite film and he’s so insightful here, it’s just wonderful. Steve Rannazzisi from “The League” is hilarious and is an expert on the new dad experience. And of course, [boxer] Vinny Pazienza shows me how to box, though it’s really just me getting hit really hard. But I have to say, for a Maine connection, it’s behind the camera the most. My director of photography, Joe Giordano is a NESCOM graduate as well. We met in college and worked together on a few projects. So when I had the idea for this documentary, I knew Joe was the guy I wanted behind the camera. In a lot of ways, Bangor and NESCOM have so much to do with how well we worked together.
What’s the biggest thing you learned about filmmaking in general — and about making a feature length film on an $11,000 budget?
Over the course of shooting and editing this film, my biggest takeaway is how much you can do with a passionate team. I mean, there were hurtles to the process, mainly the fact that I was both the subject of the documentary, in front of the camera and experiencing things that ranged from uncomfortable really personal, and I was also the director. That meant being as present and honest as possible during shooting, but also being clear and focused behind the scenes. Without the very small team we had working on this, it would have been impossible. Everyone had to shoot footage. Everyone was behind a camera at some point. As for the budget? Everyone said it couldn’t be done for the money we were spending. I was talking to another comedian turned filmmaker who had just sold his film to Netflix and when I told him the final costs on the film, he was shocked. He just yelled, “My graphics cost more than that!” That makes me so proud of what we made.
What’s next for the movie?
The screening in Bangor is only the second screening we’ve done. I wanted so much to bring the film to Bangor so I’m delighted that it’s finally done and we’re able to have it play at the theater I used to work for. With the money we raise from these small advance screenings, we’ll be able to hit the film festival circuit over the year and start looking at what our distribution options are. Our goal is for the film to be seen by as many people as possible. I’ve had people come up to me and tell me they had a similar upbringing or tell me about their own experience with their father and it means so much to me.
OK, finally, as a movie fan and former host at Bangor Mall Cinemas, which movie do you think will be more disappointing — “Batman v. Superman,” or the new Star Wars?
Ah! Hard decision. Star Wars has a much bigger legacy to live up to, but has also seen it’s fair share of dashed expectations with the prequels so I think it might be ok. I don’t think anyone is looking at it as a guaranteed great movie. There’s hope for it, but hesitant hope. Hope that remembers Jar Jar. But “Batman v. Superman” is just… I don’t know. I’m not expecting anything great, but I do love the Frank Miller comics… Frankly, I’m just reaching my limit of superhero movies. I’m a comic book reader, always will be. Love them. But my eyes are starting to glaze over at the sight of another reboot or remake or sequel with someone flying through the air and leveling cities.