His inspiration for a movie came to him while driving to and from classes at Onondaga Community College. Chris Steinberger had just seen a local band named “Scarlet Ending,” loved their sound and bought their music. “I kept listening to this one song over and over and began to visualize a scene. There was this ballroom and this thief who was trying to steal something and someone who was trying to stop her. Thinking about that scene led to other scenes and ultimately a movie!”
The movie Steinberger refers to is “Iris,” a feature-length action thriller which will premiere Friday, April 22 at 7 p.m. at the Palace Theatre in Eastwood three years after filming started. The ballroom scene he envisioned on his commute to OCC appears about 20 minutes into the movie.
Steinberger’s inspiration for making movies came early and he freely admits it wasn’t from watching a classic. He credits the 2001 comedy “Rush Hour 2” starring Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker with putting him on the path to cinematography. “It’s filled with action and fun and it’s not trying to be anything other than itself. I’ve always wanted to make things that are entertaining. It doesn’t have to be an art. I want to make movies that people can have fun with and enjoy.”
While attending East Syracuse Minoa High School, Steinberger was part of a team of students who made a public service announcement video which showed the dangers of texting while driving. The video was entered in a statewide contest sponsored by NYCM Insurance and won a $15,000 prize for the school district.
As Steinberger was graduating in 2012 he was also considering college choices. He looked at private schools but wound up selecting OCC. “It was the option that had the most value. I could go somewhere and pay $60,000 but I wanted to start a business. I didn’t want to start $300,000 in debt.”
Steinberger entered OCC as an Electronic Media Communications (EMC) major and loved the atmosphere. “It was like a community. Every student had to know each other because we relied on one another to get things done.”
2012 was also a landmark year for Steinberger because he was hired to work as a production assistant during the filming of the movie Adult Word in Syracuse. Steinberger had made a short film titled “Pendulum” and thought he had a good handle on how things worked. His long days on the set of Adult World were very eye-opening. “Through watching the director I learned what I was doing wrong. It was an invaluable experience for me.”
After completing his work toward an EMC degree Steinberger began pursuing a second degree in Business Administration. Outside class he was learning business by generating revenue for Iris. He did it through Kickstarter, the world’s largest funding platform for creative projects. Steinberger posted a movie trailer, pitched his project and hoped for the best. “It was the hardest thing I ever had to do. Trying to raise the money we needed was nerve-wracking.” Steinberger hit his goal of more than $6,000, money he would use to pay for food and equipment while filming.
Throughout the filming process Steinberger leaned heavily on people whom he had met along the way. Some behind-the-scenes people who worked on Adult World joined him on Iris. Several OCC students played significant roles as well including lead actress Michelle Hunter who is currently enrolled in the EMC program. The lead actor, Patrick Kelly, is an OCC alum who earned a Psychology degree.
From start to finish Steinberger’s closest co-worker has been Megan Piechowicz. They were introduced to each other while attending ESM by Media teacher Michael Ferris. “He told me, ‘Chris wrote this film. He’s very creative and you’re very organized. Maybe you could both work together and help each other out,’” said Piechowicz. After meeting they collaborated on the short film “Pendulum.”
Steinberger and Piechowicz have been inseparable since then. She worked as a producer on all of his movies and as an event planner for the premiere. “Our relationship is very similar to what happens between producers and directors. Chris has these brilliant ideas and he’s got to get them done and he’s so excited. That’s when I say, ‘Let’s figure out how to do it and if we can do it and then we’ll do it.’”
Piechowicz is also an OCC student. She’s majoring in Business Administration with minors in Women’s Studies and Honors. She’s a member of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa and is on track to graduate this summer. “This whole Iris project has been amazing. When Chris first told me about it I was only 16. It started with a couple of kids talking and the finished product is pretty amazing!”
Steinberger finished work on his two OCC degrees in December. Now he’s pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business through SUNY Delhi’s program which is offered in OCC’s Regional Higher Education Center. “I love the SUNY Delhi program. What I’m learning is cool and I love that I can take classes here at OCC without moving.”
You can reserve tickets to the April 22 premiere at www.watchworksstudios.com. Below is the trailer to the movie. What began three years ago “with a couple of kids talking” has turned into a remarkable finished product.