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The Reel Queens: Making the ‘Mask’

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For the past six years, Astoria’s Elias Plagianos has been in the family construction business, but a labor of love on which he worked during that same period of time has yielded multiple awards and put a new Queens filmmaker on the map.

Plagianos, 30, has worked with his family’s Red Hook, Brooklyn-based home renovation company since 2003. The filmmaker, who has lived in Astoria for the past four years, was born in western Queens, but his family moved to Saudi Arabia and then Greece before returning to the borough.

In college, Plagianos began making short films and, in 1999, he directed a 10-minute film about two men who find themselves indebted to the Mafia. The film debuted on the Internet and laid the groundwork for the director’s first feature, “The Crimson Mask.”

Plagianos began expanding his short film into a feature-length script in 2003 and shot the film throughout Astoria, Long Island City, Red Hook and Manhattan in May 2008.

“It took me six years to write and three weeks to shoot,” he said. “We had no money at all. Every time I’d show my script somewhere, they’d say they wanted to fund it, but they wanted to change too much in the script. I wanted it to be my own film, so I spent my savings, used credit cards and friends chipped in.”

The completed film ended up costing less than $200,000.

“The Crimson Mask” follows the stories of two men, a white-collar worker from Manhattan and a blue-collar worker from Brooklyn, who owe money to the mob after having lived beyond their means.

“They owe a lot of money and they wind up getting involved in this ritualistic ancient fight to break free from their debt,” Plagianos said. “The reason I think the film works is that you don’t know who to root for because they both have such negative traits, but they are traits we all have. They are relatable.”

The film stars Robert Clohessy, who has previously worked on “Law & Order,” “Oz” and the film “Across the Universe,” and Joshua Burrow, who was featured on “Law & Order” and “Sex & the City.”

“The Crimson Mask” has picked up 10 awards at eight film festivals, including Best Feature at the Long Island International Film Expo and the Hoboken International Film Festival in New Jersey, as well as the Festival Prize at the Twin Rivers Media Festival in Ashville, N.C. This fall, Plagianos will screen the film at a Disneyland festival in Los Angeles, as well as at smaller venues in Kansas, Oklahoma and other states across the nation.

The director eventually hopes to score a distributor that will play the film in independent theaters later this year and release it on DVD in the winter. He said he will determine whether to write and direct a second film on his debut’s success.

“Hopefully, it will justify me making a second film,” he said. “I would love to do it again, but I don’t know if I could do it under the same circumstances. I’d only make another film if someone funded it for me. On this film, my job title was director, producer, craft services, everything.”

Plagianos said his college major was communications and that he took classes in which he made short films, but he never had actual training in filmmaking. His first day on the set of “The Crimson Mask” was a crash course, he said.

“The first day of shooting was the greatest day of my life and also the worst one,” he said. “The first week was like learning a new language. The second week was my cast and crew learning my language. The third week was smooth sailing.”

Although he began writing the screenplay six years ago, his film is timely in that it depicts characters who suffer after having attempted to lead lifestyles they could not afford, he said.

“I never thought the economy would have gotten this awful,” he said of the current climate in the United States. “In a weird way, it’s good for the film, but bad for the U.S.”

The film will play in Astoria at 7 p.m. Sept. 5 during the Tribute to Greek-American Cinema at the Greek Cultural Center at 27-18 Hoyt Ave. South.

For more information about the film, visit thecrimsonmask.com.

Read film reviews by Nathan Duke at criticalconditions.net.

Posted 6:34 pm, October 10, 2011
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