Ever since his childhood spent in the Village of Kings Point, Morris S. Levy has held onto a distinct impression of Great Neck’s nine villages.
“When (comedian) Alan King was here when I was young the town was like ‘Hollywood East,’” Levy said. “Alan King was a big star, hosting the Academy Awards. He was a top Hollywood star and he was right in our back yard.”
Now a 50-year-old father of three who has produced nine feature films including “Affluenza,” which earlier this month shot in several locations around Great Neck, Levy said he is trying to keep the peninsula’s Tinseltown heritage alive.
“I started and educated myself in the film business from scratch,” said Levy, who resides in Kings Point with his wife Esther and their daughters Renée, Joyce and Victoria.
“There are a lot of good guys from Great Neck in Hollywood that are running studios,” he added. “I’m trying to bring a little bit back to (Great Neck).”
Aside from “Affluenza,” which is being directed by another Kings Point product in Kevin Asch, Levy said he has produced three other movies that were at least shot partially in Great Neck.
The 2008 comedy Levy produced called “Harold,” which starred Cuba Gooding Jr., was shot entirely in Great Neck.
Levy’s 2006 film “Kiss Me Again” and the 2011 comedy “A Novel Romance” also had several scenes each shot in locations around the peninsula.
“Kiss Me Again” starred Jeremy London, along with Saturday Night Live alums Darrell Hammond and Fred Armisen, while “A Novel Romance” featured performances from “American Pie” actress Shannon Elizabeth and “Police Academy” series star Steve Guttenberg.
“I’m from there and I like shooting there because I’m from there,” Levy said of Great Neck.”I like to bring things to the area.”
A little advice from King, who Levy said was a “close family friend” before the comedian’s death in 2004, also helped him to realize how opportunistic filming in Great Neck could be for a budding movie producer.
Levy said King was able to persuade the producers and director of the 1971 action film “The Anderson Tapes” to shoot part of the movie in Great Neck.
King starred in the film alongside Sean Connery and Dyan Cannon.
“His theory was if I’m going to shoot a movie, I’d rather do it in my back yard,” Levy recalled of King. “I thought that’s a great idea.”
Before producing movies, Levy said he owned and promoted night clubs in the 1980s and worked as a principle in the New York City clothing company Morsly Inc.
“I used to own a clothing company,” Levy said. “We just finished that business up after a long time in December.”
In addition to his work as a producer, Levy said he currently also works in real estate.
“I went from clothing and film to real estate and film,” said Levy, whose production company is called Mega Films.
In 2005, Levy made his first foray into filmmaking as a producer of a short film called “Little Black Dress,” which starred actress Rosario Dawson.
Levy produced “Kiss Me Again,” his first full length feature film in 2006. He then produced a pair of films a year later, called “The Ten” starring Paul Rudd and “Descent,” which featured Dawson.
“I started from scratch,” he said. “Alan King, who was a very close friend of ours, gave me some information and then what I did was I reached out to a lot of the guys in Hollywood from Great Neck.”
What Levy calls Hollywood’s “Great Neck connection” also led to his involvement with “Affluenza.”
“I heard about this project from three of four different people in Hollywood who grew up in Great Neck,” Levy recalled. “They said ‘Did you read this script called ‘Great Neck?’”
Although he was not initially interested in the film project he would eventually produce as “Affluenza,” Levy said he began to be interested in making the movie about a year ago.
“I was in L.A. at the SoHo House and a friend of mine introduced me to this other guy from Great Neck, who happened to be the director’s manager,” Levy recalled. “He said ‘you’ve gotta meet my director. He’s doing a movie about Great Neck.’”
That director was Asch, who received critical acclaim for his 2010 independent film “Holly Rollers” starring Jesse Eisenberg.
“I said I’d meet him,” Levy said of Asch. “In my head, I said I wasn’t doing it, let me meet with him and I’ll be nice and cordial.”
But following the meeting, Levy said he quickly became convinced to make the movie.
“I met with him and we got along real well,” Levy said. “I love the way his vision was of the project. I thought about it and I read the script and my wife read it and I said ‘I’m going to get involved with it.’”
“Affluenza” is set in Great Neck during the final weeks of the summer leading up to the “financial meltdown of 2008,” the film’s listing on imdb.com said.
The movie is inspired by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel “The Great Gatsby,” which was supposedly set in Great Neck.
“This film is ‘The Great Gatsby’ for a younger generation,” Levy said. “What place better to have it than Great Neck?”
Filming on “Affluenza” began earlier this summer at sites across Long Island and New York City.
Crews started filming in Great Neck in three locations in the Village of Great Neck Plaza on Aug. 2.
The Great Neck Plaza shoot began with a scene inside Jewelry Paradise at 38 Middle Neck Road. Crews later moved to film at locations near the Long Island Rail Road’s North Station Plaza and on the bridge near the train depot on Barstow Road.
Last Monday, Asch shot the final Great Neck scenes of “Affluenza” at the Great Neck Park District’s Steppingstone Park in Kings Point.
“I think the director’s great,” Levy said. “He’s doing a great, great job. We were having our hiccups like every film does, but the dailies that I’m watching look great. I think it’s going to be a great film.”
“Affluenza” stars Guttenberg, along with Gregg Sulkin, Grant Gustin, Ben Rosenfield, Nicola Peltz and Samantha Mathis.
Sulkin previously starred in the Disney Channel television show “Wizards of Place,” while Gustin was featured prominently in the Fox hit “Glee.”
For Levy, the chance to work with Guttenberg on another film has been special.
“Steve Guttenberg is the best,” Levy said. “I did a film with him a couple years ago called ‘A Novel Romance.’ That was in theaters. We did well with it. He was the star.”
“I think he really likes being a part of this,” he added of Guttenberg. “He loves the kids. He loves anything that’s good. He’s very picky, but he loves something that’s good.”
Although “Affluenza” has yet to wrap up shooting, Levy said he expects big things for the movie. The producer said he plans to enter “Affluenza” into the Sundance Film Festival.
“I’ve had films there before, (Asch has) had one,” Levy said of “Holly Rollers”. “Hopefully, we’ll go there and we’ll sell out of there and maybe the distributor will get it into theaters by hopefully next summer or next fall.”
Like “Holly Rollers,” Levy said he expects “Affluenza” to do well at Sundance and in theaters.
“‘Holly Rollers’ was in theaters and it was a very critically-acclaimed film and that’s when Jesse Eisenberg really took off,” Levy said. “This, we expect the same type of thing. I think we’ll get hopefully a better distribution than ‘Holly Rollers’ because the biggest market is 16 to 35 and this film hits right there.”
Levy said he expects “Affluenza” to be released in theaters sometime in 2013.
Along with “Affluenza” Levy is also currently producing a documentary about the financing of films called “Seduced and Abandoned,” which is currently being filmed. He is also slated to produce a future biopic called “Undefeated: The Rocky Marciano Story.”
Let us know what you think by tweeting @theislandnow1 using #morrislevykpfilming