'Between Wars' Follows a Veteran Into the World of Illegal MMA Fighting

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Michael Imperioli stars in "Between Wars."

PHILADELPHIA - If you were under the Market Frankford El last summer watching a bunch of people who claimed to be shooting a movie, it's confirmed - they really were shooting a movie. It's the ultra low-budget "Between Wars," available to stream this week, co-starring Michael Imperioli of "The Sopranos."

Rapper Boskoe 100 and Harley Flanagan, front man for hardcore rock band the Cro-Mags, also have roles in the movie.

"Between Wars" is the passion project of New Yorker Tom Phillips, who shot half the movie in Philadelphia because he needed a place to shoot without permits with locations that could substitute for the Bronx, and because some of his cast members and collaborators were Philly people.

That includes lead actor Shaun Paul Costello, who plays Franny Malloy, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan who comes home with PTSD and has trouble making ends meet.

He is drawn into the world of illegal underground UFC matches, to the chagrin of his VA counselor (Imperioli) who is trying to get Malloy to get his life in order, and to break the bad habits that keep getting him into trouble.

The movie may remind you a little bit of "Warrior," which was set in Philadelphia and filmed elsewhere (payback!), and also of "The Town," which Phillips said was "definitely an influence."

Mostly, though, it's based on "every crazy neighborhood I grew up in," in the New York metropolitan area.

Draconian New York requires permits to shoot almost everywhere, though, so Phillips shot half his movie last summer in various neighborhoods of laissez-faire Philadelphia.

"If you're not shooting in (Center City), you don't need permits. At least that's what we were told. I hope it's true. Anyway, that's what we did," Phillips said.

He drove around with his crew looking for places that were Bronx-like. The elevated train was essential, and Fishtown/Kensington was perfect.

"We were in Fishtown for a lot of stuff, we were near Temple, the parks, the playgrounds, anywhere we could get a good shot," Phillips said. "We shot anywhere we could. At night we would driving around, and we'd say, 'Let's stop right here.' "

The weather was brutal, he said, but the people were supportive. "It was during a heat wave last summer. It was over a hundred degrees. But people were great, nobody complained, nobody called the cops on us or bothered us, in fact, people really rallied around us, it was great." he said.

The support went both ways. "We shared the wealth. We put a lot of money into bars and restaurants," Phillips said.

That didn't show up in the film's budget _ roughly $10,000 rounded up from friends and benefactors. He borrowed the production's lone camera from Costello, for whom the film was a chance to hone skills learned at Playhouse West in West Philadelphia.

Costello, who grew up playing roller hockey in what he called the "Frankford Valley" section near Bridesburg, said (via email) he caught the acting bug as a teen working summers at a live virtual reality game in Wildwood, where a live actor was part of the show.

He read Phillips' script 10 years ago and stuck with the production through many iterations and false starts, before he and Phillips said, "Let's just make the damn thing ourselves."

Which they did, drawing on what Phillips called a loose coalition of artists who work in New York, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles, including Boskoe 100 and Flanagan.

Costello said the Philadelphia production headquarters was his house in Port Richmond, where he had up to 25 folks staying during the Philadelphia shoot.

He knew it was be a grueling physical test, and worked out in the heat in his backyard to get ready. "My preparation was the only way I could get through the shoot without being miserable," he said.

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The movie can be purchased through the Vimeo platform, and may expand to other services in the coming weeks.

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This article is written by By Gary Thompson from The Philadelphia Inquirer and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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