HARTFORD ——Joe Young Jr. peered into the empty Bank of America tower, a heartache for the city with its vacant 26 floors right in the middle of Main Street, and smiled.
The cash has long been hauled out. The bank tellers and corporate offices moved a block away to CityPlace I.
"It's a blessing," said Young, 47, the Hartford-born cartoonist, animator and businessman who has added author and filmmaker to his resumé. "Everything's just falling into place."
In a sound stage 2 miles away is a 15-foot-high Trojan horse awaiting its cinematic debut. The wooden prop will be wheeled into the former bank building at 777 Main St. next month, and there will be actors, a bank robbery and a police chase that will end at the Colt Gateway — scenes from "Diamond Ruff," Young's movie based on his novel about a Hartford con man.
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Director Alec Asten and a local production crew plan to start shooting the full-length independent movie in just three weeks, beginning on Sept. 6, for $200,000.
They said they'll film inside the bank tower at a small cost while it sits on the market. And Young has been renting a sound stage on Weston Street, the site of a recent casting call and the crew's production meetings, at a bargain rate thanks largely to his connections, although the shaky economy also plays a role, he said.
Young credits the downturn with bringing him closer to finishing a project that has dominated his life for the past three years.
City and state film officials have endorsed the production, which Young considers a PG-13 morality tale with "Pulp Fiction" swagger. A couple of supporting actors from HBO's "The Wire" have signed on for lead roles.
"It's so much pressure. You've got to shoot certain scenes in a certain amount of time, and you don't know if something is going to break down," said Young as he walked downtown. "I do love those challenges, but it's scary at the same time."
"I never celebrate too early," Young added. "I may promote too early, but I never celebrate too early."
'Take A Chance'
In the world of Diamond Ruff, a late-twentysomething with a downtown Hartford penthouse and an addiction to money, the mind is more potent than a gun, the con is theater, and there are no qualms about using the Bible as a muse for one's greed.
"Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you," Ruff says, quoting Matthew 7:7.
Ruff, to be played by actor Fredro Starr, was orphaned at 7 when his drug-addicted parents were shot and killed on Christmas. A gifted boy from the city's North End, he attended Milner Elementary School and would slip into a library at night to read the classics and sneak into museums to admire the great works.
Learning from masters, as Ruff puts it, honed his ability to "artistically create and manipulate opportunity."
After the bank robbery — local law enforcement and state police don't exactly shine in that plot turn — Ruff eventually meets a preacher, Trek Woods, played by Dennis L.A. White, who tries to persuade Ruff to use his mind for good.