Attorney Anthony Desiato has already toured the country with his acclaimed indie film, My Comic Shop DocumentARy, receiving accolades and media attention for his efforts as a comic-fan-turned-moviemaker.
Now Desiato is giving away the documentary, free of charge, to other comic fans and movie-lovers. The film, which was featured in multiple film festivals — as well as The New York Times, New York Daily News and even Newsarama — is streaming live, beginning today, at Desiato's website: flatsquirrelproductions.com.
"I've been fortunate the past couple of years because [the film] had a bunch of screenings," Desiato told Newsarama. "But it was really important to me, at this point, to just get it out there and make it as accessible as possible — and hopefully generate some interest for the spin-off."
Desiato made the movie at age 24, while he was in law school, spending his summer filming at the "Alternate Realities" comic shop where he'd not only been shopping for years, but had worked part time since high school. The budget for the film was what Desiato calls "tiny" because it was self-funded by the law student, and he wrote, shot and edited the entire thing between his first and second years of law school, over the summer.
After Desiato completed the indie documentary, it started getting attention, to the surprise of the multiple comics fans who appeared in the movie. "When I told people I was going to do this, everyone was very supportive, but I don't think they really knew what to expect," Desiato said. "And to be fair, neither did I. But I think I rather exceeded people's low expectations. They were pleasantly surprised by what I was able to accomplish with so little."
The movie focuses on the store owner, Steve Oto, who was also a lawyer before he opened the Scarsdale, N.Y., store in 1992. By highlighting both Oto's accomplishments and disappointments since opening the store — as well as some oddball sayings he calls "Otoisms" — the movie exposes the colorful world that's emerged within the store. "It's really his arc that carries the viewer through the movie, and his complicated relationship with the store," Desiato said.
"I was a real estate attorney in Manhattan," Oto told Newsarama. "I didn't enjoy practicing law at all. [Opening a comic shop] was a release. But like anything else, it kind of sours after awhile. Sometimes I think I maybe should have stayed an attorney and continued to make six figures."
[topically, Oto discusses Free Comic Book Day, or as he calls it - "Freeloader Day" - in a clip from My Comic Shop DocumentARy.]
My Comic Shop DocumentARy also focuses on the camaraderie that has developed between the customers, who consider the people at the comic shop to be like a second family.
Oto said that's what makes this film different from most of the other TV shows and movies about "comic book people."
"The focus is not so much on comic books or superheroes, but the people who come in and out of here," Oto said. "They're not all crazy, but there are certainly a lot of eccentric people. And it makes entertaining viewing.
"But there is that camaraderie here — these guys go to each other's weddings and funerals," he said. "It's not a clubhouse, but more like an extended family for a lot of these guys, and girls too. It's a little different from your average retail store. That's what makes this place a little bit different."
Desiato said that's really the central theme of the movie and what drove him to make the film — in fact, the capital "AR" in his movie's title pays homage to the store's name.
The movie itself is divided into vignettes, focusing on everything from customers' man caves to their propensity for rants (with one humorous bit in particular focusing on frustration about Captain America's costume). But the dramatic through-line that connects everything in the film is Oto.
"The film is really about the community of people at the store, but Steve is a very large part of that," Desiato said. "His whole idea of whether or not he wants to continue to do this is something that runs throughout the film and sort of brings everything together. "
Now that Desiato has graduated from law school — and has passed the New York bar — he's working at his law school's admissions office. But he's also still making movies.
"I actually started a series of short films with some friends from law school," he said. "That's the other aspect of my life — the law school side — so I did a couple of short films. Those are on my website as well.
"I'm currently editing a spin-off to My Comic Shop DocumentARy, and it focuses on someone who, I think it's fair to say, was one of the breakout characters of the film," Desiato said. "I guess the best way to describe him is colorful, cranky, bombastic, and politically incorrect.
"For almost four decades, he operated a booth at the Empire State Flea Market, where he sold comic books, autographs, sport memorabilia," he said. "And I filmed him for My Comic Shop DocumentARy, but recently, the flea market closed. So we did this spin-off focusing on him, and chronicling his last days and weeks at the flea market. The same humor that was in the original film is still present, but there's a slightly different tone, given the circumstances of the film."
Desiato is hoping that interest in the release today of My Comic Shop DocumentARy as a free, streaming movie for the public will also drum up interest in its spin-off.
"I want people to see [the free film] and enjoy it, but my hope is that it could be a resume for myself," he said. "This is something I'd like to continue to do. My hope is that maybe the right person will watch this and it might potentially lead to something."
For access to My Comic Shop DocumentARy and other films by Desiato, visit flatsquirrelproductions.com.