Can you make it as a filmmaker in Western New York?
Ken Cosentino did and he’s confident others with a passion for making movies can turn their dreams into reality, too.
Cosentino made his first movie with no experience and no formal training. He has made dozens of short films and full-length movies so far and he continues to work on scripts and plans for future projects through his own film production company - White Lion Studios, LLC - which he runs with his wife, Elizabeth, out of their home in Niagara Falls.
“I do not have a rich uncle,” Cosentino said. “I have not had anything handed to me. We have built this on our backs. If we can do it, anybody can do it.”
Cosentino, 30, is a self-taught filmmaker who never attended film school. He picked up his first camera when he was 10 and started his path into the movie business five years later when he came an apprentice for Fred Calandrelli, a freelance director, producer and videographer who may be best known in the Falls for his creative commercial work promoting George’s Appliance on Pine Avenue.
“At that time, I was dabbling with special effects makeup and I really wanted to be a special effects artist. That was my goal. He just kind of introduced me to the world of television and he was also the first person to believe in me. It got me on set. It was my first experience being on actual film set. That’s big because you get to see how professionals work,” Cosentino said.
From there, Cosentino did some special effects and makeup work as part of local theater projects before deciding that he preferred making his own movies more than working on someone else’s films.
In 2008, the year he graduated from Niagara Falls High School, he received $500 from the Joseph Argy Scholarship. He used the money to make his first movie - a film called “Break the Sky,” which he said he produced in a week.
“There was really no script,” he said. “The money basically bought us pizza and lights for our camera.”
In December 2008, the movie played to a large audience at the Laemmle Theatre on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, California.
Cosentino said it was one of his first real brushes with big-time filmmaking and the experience inspired him to keep pursuing his dream of being a movie-maker.
“I got to go out there and watched my movie play in the theater. I got to rub some elbows with other filmmakers,” he said.
Cosentino attended Niagara County Community College after high school when he decided to pursue filmmaking full-time. He said he made hundreds of short films during that period and, in 2009, he started work on “Crimson: The Motion Picture,” which was filmed out of a rented studio at the Niagara Falls Arts and Cultural Center in the Falls. The movie, which premiered in 2012, was distributed in stores and was available in video on demand.
“We put a lot of our own money and effort into it. That solidified our place as professional filmmakers in the region,” he said.
In 2012, Troma Entertainment, an independent film studio known for its unique brand of horror, sci-fi and action movies, hired Cosentino to produce a documentary on the making of “Return to Return to Class of Nuke ‘Em High.” Cosentino was also hired that year to serve as a digital imaging technician for “Battledogs,” a film produced by The Asylum studio. Cosentino worked for Asylum as a first assistant director on the movie “Atlantic Rim” in 2013.
In 2018, the nationally syndicated television series, Off Beat Cinema, aired his movie, “Attack of the Killer Shrews!,” which is a remake of the 1959 cult classic “The Killer Shrews” and which featured Falls Councilman Bill Kennedy in a lead role as “Sheriff Blake.”
Between 2013 and 2016, Cosentino worked on several more movie productions, including “The American Side,” “Dead Inside” and “Wolf House.”
Cosentino hopes his success will inspire others, especially young people living in and around Niagara Falls, to consider pursuing careers in the movie business.
“Every time I went out to Hollywood, they’d say ‘he’s from Buffalo’ and I’d have to correct them and say ‘no, I’m from Niagara Falls, New York,” Cosentino said. “My dream is to be able to see kids from the Black Box at the high school, NCCC film festival, NACC film programs and others get recognition from what they’ve done.
“If we can do it here, without ever leaving, then there’s a chance for anybody who wants to be a professional actor or director or anybody in the industry to do it right here. It should give people hope,” he added.
For more information about Cosentino, his movies and his work, visit www.whitelionstudios.net or visit the studio’s Facebook page.
Mark Scheer is the regional news director for the Niagara Gazette and Lockport Union-Sun & Journal newspapers. He can be reached by telephone at 282-2311, ext. 2250.