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Historic Church-Turned DIY Space Houses 'Cult' Film Before Gut Renovation

By Meredith Hoffman | March 1, 2013 8:51am | Updated on March 1, 2013 11:44am

BUSHWICK — After obsessing over cult-themed movies like "Rosemary's Baby" and "Martha Marcy Marlene," recent college graduate Tony Blahd was determined to make his own. Then he gained access to a cavernous, vacant 123-year-old church.

Bushwick Avenue's former St. Mark Evangelical Lutheran Church — whose congregation thrived in the late 1800's and dissolved several years ago — is the scene of Blahd's new feature-length comedy "Rover" about the end of a dying religious sect.

"It's about a cult at the end of its days trying to make a movie about their beliefs," said Blahd, 23, "and they hire this young kid who's a first-time director to help them."

And for Blahd — also a first-time feature film director — the kismet that he had full reign of the massive space came from a deal he and his colleagues made with developers who bought the deconsecrated church. 

Since last January Blahd and his colleagues have been running the company Bobby Redd which hosts parties, concerts and other arts events in the former holy space, until the company Cayuga Capital begins an expected gut renovation to create 99 apartments in the space. 

"Our accountant is one of the members of Bobby Redd," Cayuga Capital's principal Jamie Wiseman said, "so they've been leasing the space from us."

In a few months, Wiseman said, his development company will begin work transforming the building into studio and two-bedroom apartments. Studio apartments will cost about $1900 per month, he predicted.

"We're taking the stained glass out and putting real windows in...and then turning the stained glass into shutters," he said of the renovations. "It's beautiful...and there are very few rental apartments in churches."

But before the construction's beginning, Blahd said he wanted to take advantage of his rare opportunity — so he prepared and shot the film during Hurricane Sandy and the Nor'easter.

"We were all holed up in the church...there's no heat," Blahd recalled of the long hours working amidst the two mega-storms this fall. "It's the only location in the film, except for Little Skips [cafe] where we shot for a day."

Now the film is almost finished with post-production, Blahd said, and has been campaigning on Kickstarter to raise final funds for music scoring, music licenses, visual effects and festival submissions.

"We're a week away from finishing the edit," he said.

And though the movie wasn't shot during any of the space's events, Blahd said he shot part of the trailer at a Burning Man party in December, noting that his lead character dressed up in his "bald cap and gown" like he does in the film.

"I thought he'd stand out," Blahd said, "but everyone was dressed so weird he looked more normal than most."