20 years ago this summer, Frank Balun, a grandfather, World War II veteran, and avid gardener, trapped and killed a rat that had been eating his prized tomatoes. When word got back to Lee Bernstein, Executive Director of the Associated Humane Society and ASPCA Captain, he cited Frank for animal cruelty for “needlessly abusing a rodent.” Frank was ordered to appear in court, where he faced six months in jail and a $1,250 fine.
Newspapers from London to Australia picked up the story as a media frenzy ensued with every major news network covering the spectacle. While Frank was heralded as a hero by the NJ Pest Control Association, Lee was lampooned on late-night shows, chastised on editorial pages, abandoned by animal-rights advocates and targeted by protesters.
Combining present day interviews and archival news footage, the documentary short THE RAT SLAYER OF HILLSIDE NJ tells the dramatic story of Frank Balun and Lee Bernstein and the case that pitted them against each other and would eventually come to define their personal legacies.
For the past year and a half, we have approached the story from every angle, tracking down the seven living witnesses who were directly involved in the case. In Frank’s corner we have the former Hillside health department director, the criminal defense attorney who took the case pro bono, and two close family friends -- one of whom was with him on the fateful day back in August ‘94. In Lee’s corner we have the current Executive Director of the Associated Humane Societies, his ex-wife and mother of his children, and the former Hillside municipal prosecutor.
WHERE YOU COME IN
After nearly two years, we are almost at the finish line. But we need your help. Since both Frank and Lee passed away prior to the filming, the use of archival footage is essential to telling their story. Unfortunately licensing this footage is extremely expensive. It costs $25 - $50 per second ($1500 - $3000 per minute)! We will need a minimum of $5,000 to license the footage for the film. We cannot move forward with the release of the documentary until the fees are paid to the networks. This is where you come in! With your support, we can bring this quintessential Jersey tale to the screen.
WHO WE ARE
Andrew Keogh Ruotolo | Director Andrew was born and raised in the Garden State. After studying film at Occidental College in Los Angeles, he worked as a corporate videographer at a communications firm, where he cut his teeth filming sit-down interviews with executives, authors and CEO’s. He currently works at a feature film production company in Hoboken, NJ. His previous short documentary PORTRAIT OF AN OLD TOY MAN screened at festivals across the state, including the Montclair Film Festival, Lighthouse International Film Fest and Rahway International Film Festival (winner - Best Documentary 2013).
Andrew Lessner | Producer Andrew returned to New York City after spending two years in Los Angeles, where he earned a master’s degree in marketing and finance from Loyola Marymount University. During this time, he also worked in acquisitions, marketing and sales for an independent film company. He currently works in the broadcast industry. He previously worked with Ruotolo as a producer on PORTRAIT OF AN OLD TOY MAN.
Michael Angelo Covino | Producer Michael is a producer, director and writer, as well as creative partner at Unbundled Underground, a commercial and film production company. He produced the feature film ABSENCE (2013), which was distributed worldwide by Cinedigm and is currently in post-production on the feature film KEEP IN TOUCH, which he wrote and produced. He was also a producer on PORTRAIT OF AN OLD TOY MAN. You might recognize him from his viral videos (The Real Fruit Ninja).
Sean Devaney | DP Almost born in the back of a New York City cab, save for a police escort, Sean has had a fascination with the dramatic since day one. Growing up in the ‘burbs of NJ, brothers and neighbors were conned into becoming actors for his early projects. Having not put the camera down since, Sean returned to NYC to attend Tisch School of The Arts at NYU, graduating with a BFA in film production. He has directed a wide range of content, including several short films which have screened at festivals around the world, and starred actors such as Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis.
Zach Kuperstein | DP A New York-based cinematographer, and graduate of NYU, Tisch School of the Arts. He has shot several award-winning short films, including CAUGHT, a Student Academy Award Finalist. His work includes music videos in a variety of genres, and commercials for companies including Sony, The Economist, and Republic Records. His documentary and television work has been featured on the Discovery Channel, PBS, Bio Channel, History Channel and at Tribeca Film Festival.
Risks and challenges
THE RAT SLAYER OF HILLSIDE NJ has finished filming, thereby eliminating many of risks and challenges associated with making a movie.
The biggest challenge we face as independent filmmakers is being able to raise enough funds to license the archival footage from the networks and rights-holders.
Once the licensing fees are paid, the film will be submitted to film festivals nationwide. If we are fortunate enough to exceed our Kickstarter goal, the additional funds will go to other post-production costs and festival submissions.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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