Filmaker's art lifts ailing family members

— Photo submitted by Rich Akullian

On set at the hospital: Rich Akullian, left, films part of his independent film, The CulDeSack Kids, at the hospital, so his father, Richard Akullian, who had part of his leg amputated due to diabetes complications, could participate, playing a character called Big Foot Dick. Paidrag Bond, to Richard Akullian’s left, plays a member of the Suburbia Sasquatch Scouts, and Thomas Murray, right, Akullian’s cousin, helped write and produce the film.

— Photo submitted by Rich Akullian

Take one: Richard Akullian, front left, and his cousin, Thomas Murray, front right, collaborate to film The CulDeSack Kids, an independent project that will be screened at the Guilderland Public Library on Jan. 23. In the back, from left to right, are the three main characters — Massimo Giacona, PJ Gallagher, and Jackson VanDerwerken.

— Photo submitted by Rich Akullian

On camera: John Kenific, behind the camera, films a scene of The CulDeSack Kids, with Ashley Bienvenue and Kayla Huba. Thomas Murray and Eric Shovah, members of the production crew, observe in the background.

GUILDERLAND — A Guilderland native is showing his first independent film project, The CulDeSack Kids, inspired by growing up in suburban New York in the 1990s, to audiences at the Guilderland Public Library.

Richard Akullian, who calls himself a “Guilderland guy through and through,” so much so that his nickname in college was “Guild,” said that, while he always enjoyed being creative, it wasn’t until high school that he became interested in the film industry.

He took what he thought would be a “blow-off class” called “Cinema as Literature,” and found himself so interested in the topic that he dedicated extra time to his projects.

After graduating from Guilderland High School, Akullian attended the state’s University at Geneseo, where, he said, he skipped classes to do freestyle film writing.

“Videos were really the only things I liked to work on and I didn’t have a lot of mentors in that space,” he said.

After college, he said, he “floated around for a while,” working in sales, before landing a job at a company called Autotask, where he became the social media coordinator. When the employee in charge of video production left the company, Akullian volunteered to take on some projects.

“All of a sudden I had access to video resources, and started doing more and more projects,” he said.

Akullian decided he wanted to chase his dreams, and, in July, shortly after his father had been hospitalized with a severe infection due to diabetes complications, Akullian decided to quit his job and focus on becoming an independent filmmaker.

He had thought about making a documentary with his father, who believes in Bigfoot and is a regular on national broadcasts about Sasquatch, but the plans changed due to his father’s illness.

One night in June, Akullian was watching a sports broadcast, and someone referred to a colleague as a “cul-de-sac kid.”

“I immediately sat up and started writing,” he said. “I thought, ‘What if there was a clique called the Culdesack Kids?’”

Cliques were a force in his young life, he said, and he was part of one. He based his three main characters on himself as a teenager, and his friends.

The beginning of the main characters’ last names — Andrew Culver, Scotty DeCrescente, and Steven Sackley — form the word “Culdesack.”

The boys are 13, and, said Akullian, they “talk about girls and cars and think they know everything.”

There’s a complementary clique made up of girls, called “The Scrunchies.”

Each character represents a person that he said anyone who has “come of age” can relate to — the overly confident adolescent boy, the athlete, the rich kid, the classically pretty girl, the girl who always follows the crowd, and the awkward girl who grows into her looks and confidence.

“It’s got a lot of classic storylines that we’ve refreshed,” said Akullian. “It’s a lot of nostalgia.”

Akullian assembled a cast and crew of friends, family, and colleagues.

His cousin, Thomas Murray, struggled when he was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy at age 14, and was forced to give up sports. Murray found a second calling, though, as an actor, and Akullian immediately turned to him for assistance with his film.

Murray had made such a good impression on people during his times in the hospital that Make-A-Wish provided him with a video production kit, and he helped Akullian with acting, directing, editing, and shooting.

Akullian’s former boss connected him with his son, a student at the Berklee College of Music, and his band, which provided the soundtrack for the film.

Most importantly for Akullian, his father was still able to be part of the project. His father’s name is also Richard, and the two created a character for Culdesack Kids named Bigfoot Dick, the leader of the Suburbia Squatch Scouts.

“The project really helped keep his spirits up,” said Akullian.

He rounded out the rest of the cast by holding open auditions at local libraries.

At the Guilderland Public Library, Director Timothy Wiles connected Akullian with Mark Curiale, the public information officer, who offered to hold a screening of the project when it is finished.

Akullian set a goal of finishing by Feb. 1, 2015, and will have achieved that goal when the screening is held at the library on Jan. 23 at 7 p.m.

The screening will begin with a five-minute introduction about Akullian and the project, and then feature a 30-minute pilot episode.

“We filmed it in a way that it could either be a series of episodes of a full-length film,” said Akullian.

On Jan. 23, the pilot will be shown, with the idea that it will be continued.

“The key will be me trying to get it out to the right network to see if we can get some production help, or to get more funding to continue shooting it ourselves,” said Akullian.

After the screening, Akullian plans to launch some fund-raisers, and 10 percent of the money raised will be split between the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the American Diabetes Association.

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