Writer and director John Budion’s film “Rockaway” started with a script, a dream and loads of determination. Over four years after Budion started writing it, he landed a distributor, and now the film is being streamed in 150 countries.
“It’s definitely been an adventure,” Budion said. “There are ups and downs, but the ups completely make anything you had to battle through worth going through and coming out on the other end. I’ve been lucky to have the support of friends and family and the Village of East Rockaway along the entire ride.”
The film — based on Budion’s real-life experiences growing up and making friends in East Rockaway — had a long festival run in late 2017 and 2018, earning several top accolades along the way. Budion leveraged that success to land a distribution deal with Gravitas Ventures, a global entertainment distribution company that connects filmmakers with consumers across hundreds of media platforms around the world, according to its website.
“Rockaway,” set in East Rockaway during the summer of 1994, chronicles characters based on Budion (played by Maxwell Apple) and his friends and family. Budion is in elementary school, and his brother Anthony (Keidrich Sellati) is on the verge of adolescence. It is narrated from the present-day perspective of an adult John Budion, played by Frankie J. Alvarez, but the emotional weight of the film is carried mostly by its young cast. The movie — which was mainly filmed in East Rockaway during the summer of 2016 — follows the Budions as they plot revenge against their abusive father.
Through Gravitas, “Rockaway” began streaming on Jan. 8 on more than 50 outlets, including iTunes and Amazon Prime, in countries around the world, and is also available on DVD and Blu-ray at major retailers, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Best Buy and Walmart.
In addition to the Gravitas deal, Budion’s film also had a limited theatrical release with independent distributor Paladin, which screened “Rockaway” in theaters in New York City six times per day from Jan. 11 to 18. The New York City showings were special for cast member Tanner Flood, who plays Brian in the film, because he grew up in Northport. Flood, who turns 16 on March 31, said he was happy that Budion was able to realize his dream of landing a distribution deal for “Rockaway” and that he had the opportunity to make lifelong friends with his fellow cast members.
“There’s nothing that feels better than seeing this film that you filmed at home coming together and then getting to watch it at home and you see other people talking about it,” Flood said.
The film recently received a positive review in The New Yorker, and Budion encouraged those who enjoyed the film to head to Rotten Tomatoes and iMDB to leave reviews.
The distribution deals came shortly after the film was screened at the Montclair Film Society, a part of a New Jersey film festival organized by comedian Stephen Colbert and his wife, Evelyn McGee-Colberts.
“It’s been really humbling,” Budion said. “I wake up some days and I usually have an agenda of things I have to get done for ‘Rockaway,’ and now I wake up and I’m like, ‘I think it’s on to the next thing. We made a film. We got it out there.’”
Next up is a project with writer Meaghan Cleary, whom Budion met at the Jersey Shore Film Festival last August. After reading her screenplay for “Latchkey Kids,” he said he was very impressed with her work and agreed to direct the movie and noted that he hoped to begin casting and filming by the end of the year.
Before “Rockaway,” Budion had never written a film and had mostly worked as a visual effects artist on projects like “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Zoolander 2,” so he said the prospect of seeing a film he wrote and directed on the marquee of a New York City theater was previously unimaginable.
“I didn’t go to school for screenwriting or for film in general,” he said. “Seeing ‘Rockaway’ on a marquee in a major theater in New York City with films like ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was something I could never dream of.”