When Jason Alvino was a teenager, he would ask his fellow Franklin Square residents to come and see his band, Potty Mouth, perform around town. Now, as an adult, he is once again asking his neighbors to come and see his work.
His new horror film, “Itsy Bitsy,” will screen on Aug. 22 at the Bow Tie Cinemas on Hempstead Turnpike — the same theater where he watched “A Nightmare on Elm Street” in 1984, which sparked his lifelong interest in terrifying films. “It all started here,” Alvino, now 45, said.
He recalled watching the “creature-feature” films popular in the 1980s at the classic Art Deco theater, which was then known as Franklin Twin. The films, he said, helped him connect to the outside world and inspired him to pursue a career in makeup and special effects.
“If I didn’t go to the theater and see those movies, I wouldn’t be here,” he noted.
Alvino started his career in the early 2000s as a makeup artist for Wicked EFX in Brooklyn. But, he said, the company was struggling to earn a profit, and he moved to Burbank, Calif., where he helped make the special effects for films such as “TRON: Legacy” as a Quantum Creations FX employee.
While working for Quantum in 2010, he suffered a relapse of penphigus — an autoimmune disorder that causes blistering skin, caused partially by the fumes from the makeup and prosthetics he was working with. The setback prompted Alvino to leave the special effects industry and find a new creative outlet.
He tried photography and screenwriting for wealthy people with specific ideas to earn money. “I was writing, even though I didn’t realize I was working towards being a full-time screenwriter,” Alvino said, adding that it was one of the few jobs he could do in the field that wouldn’t cause his condition to flare up. “In a weird, weird way, the penphigus started dictating my future,” he said.
The first film he wrote was also inspired by his condition. It was about an invisible man in a modern world, which Alvino said he wanted to be when he had penphigus.
“If you knew him, you could see how it’s really an emotional story for him,” said Micah Gallo, the director of “Itsy Bitsy.” Alvino told Gallo about the idea, but Gallo said it was too scientific for him.
Instead, Alvino started writing the invisible man film with Paul Solet about 10 years ago, and went through “dozens of drafts” for Oscar-winning filmmaker Darren Aronofsky, who provided the duo with tips for the screenplay. About two years ago, Alvino and Solet sold the screen rights to a production company.
“He’s one of the most imaginative people I’ve ever met,” Solet said of Alvino. “He has the essential thing for a screenwriter to have, which is tenacity.”
Around the same time that he was working on the invisible man project, Gallo told Alvino about his own idea for a film — a spider the size of a dog terrorizing a family.
He wanted it to be in the style of a Steven Spielberg movie, he said, and financed it himself because they did not have the support of a film studio. “It’s pretty crazy how that one came about by sheer force of the director,” Alvino recounted.
To produce “Itsy Bitsy,” Alvino telecommuted from his Franklin Square home to rewrite his original draft. Once that was finished, Gallo created puppets with interchangeable parts for different shots of the spider, and commissioned “Nightmare on Elm Street” poster artist Matthew Peak to design “Itsy Bitsy’s” poster.
“The fact that we did it on such a low budget, I don’t think we knew what we were getting into,” Gallo said, “but we made it somehow.”