“I’m a New Yorker and I’ve wanted to direct movies since I was a very little kid, so getting the chance to shoot a big movie in my hometown was a dream come true,” said “Isn’t It Romantic” writer and director Todd Strauss-Schulson, a native Forest Hills resident and a Kew-Forest School graduate who now lives in Los Angeles
As a kid, the 38-year-old Strauss-Schulson could see the Midway Theatre marquee on Queens Boulevard from his Park Briar apartment window, and always knew that he wanted to become a director.
“I would freak out on Fridays and cry and point out the window because I knew they would change posters and the Midway Theatre marquee,” he said. “I would go bananas until my mother would finally put me in a stroller and walk me to the theater so I could look at the new words and pictures.
“It’s very exciting,” he said of seeing his film on that same marquee. “I saw ‘Big,’ ‘Back to the Future II,’ ‘Batman’ and ‘Jurassic Park’ at that theater. All movies that were very inspiring.”
His junior high and high school years were marked by an obsession with movies.
“When I was a kid, all I wanted was to become was a movie director,” Strauss-Schulson said. “After months of relentless pestering, my grandfather bought me a giant VHS Sylvania video camera for my Bar Mitzvah, and I spent the next seven years making a movie a day after school.
“I lived next to a West Coast Video store and made it my mission to watch all the movies,” he added. “I would get my haircut at the Queens Boulevard barber shop where they shot the Morrie’s Wig shop commercial from ‘Goodfellas.’”
Familiar scenes in the movie are Corona’s commercial district along 103rd Street near Roosevelt Avenue and Eddie’s Sweet Shop at 105-29 Metropolitan Avenue.
Actors Liam Hemsworth, who portrays Blake, and Rebel Wilson, who portrays Natalie, sat between the cast-iron swivel stools on the marble and wooden counter of the classic ice cream parlor in Forest Hills.
“Todd Strauss-Schulson told us that he always came to Eddie's Sweet Shop as a child and always wanted to make a movie here,” said owner Angelina Citrano. “The director, crew, and cast were wonderful and very gracious to all of our neighbors who were outside watching, as well as our family and friends that were here that night.”
The film stars Natalie as an architect who is knocked unconscious during a subway mugging and awakes to find herself in another universe. Skeptical about love, her worst nightmare comes true when she begins experiencing her own life as the leading lady in a romantic comedy.
“Liam Hemsworth and Rebel Wilson were very sweet to everyone, and did not hesitate to stop and take a picture with everyone who asked or talk to the people outside,” said Citrano. “Now that the movie is released, we love hearing our customers come in and say that they saw it and loved seeing our shop in the film.”
Strauss-Schulson created a storyboard of both characters at the counter, along with vantage points of lighting including the moonlight through the stained glass window, the vintage fridge behind the counter offering a glow, and the headlights from the street.
That inspired production designer Carl Sprague to create a dreamy scene reminiscent of his work on the film “La La Land.”
“I fought for that scene and location,” Strauss-Schulson said. “I would eat there all the time as a kid. I remember being 10 years old and thinking ‘one day, I’m gonna shoot a movie in here.’”
In preparation, Strauss-Schulson watched every romantic comedy made between 1988 and 2007.
“I sat in my apartment for two weeks and truly watched every one of them,” he said. “I went a little insane, but my heart grew more and more tender by the day. Obviously, I have seen romantic comedies before, but wanted to become an expert. I can teach a course on them.
“The idea was to crack the code and see what patterns, symbols and images were used over and over again,” Strauss-Schulson continued. “I wanted to sort of break the genome of the genre and isolate the textures to rebuild them into something modern and fresh for our movie. I always thought of ‘Isn’t It Romantic’ like pop art, like a Koons or Lichtenstein, using familiar pop forms to subvert and deepen.”
Strauss-Schulson’s also directed “A Very Harold & Kumar 3-D Christmas” in 2011, which features a scene of Kumar and Adrian driving on Austin Street and Ascan Avenue.
“I set this goal for myself to direct a movie before I turned 30,” he said. “I directed that movie when I was 29 and turned 30 on set, so I made it just under the wire.”