FALLING snow shrouds the famed CN Tower in a misty white cloak as I gingerly navigate the slippery streets towards one of the most popular Italian restaurants in Toronto.

It is just before 8am on a bitterly cold Monday morning in February as I leave the winter chill behind and enter the Forget About It Supper Club, my eyes dancing over dozens of photographs that line the walls of the small foyer as I take a minute to shake off the snow and remove my coat.

A tall, dark-haired, smiling man features in all of them alongside famous actors, musicians and sports stars. And who can blame him? There’s not many that can say they’ve interviewed the late, great Paul Newman or shared a sofa with Al Pacino. Inside the restaurant is a hubbub of activity as the spacious dining area is cleverly transformed.

A section upstairs will double as a swanky night club, while the lower one will masquerade as a comedy club for the film’s grand finale.


(Upstairs at Frank D'Angelo's restaurant, the Forget About It Supper Club, transformed into a movie set)

At least 30 crew members are busy positioning and adjusting cameras, lights, cables and sound equipment while extras float between a makeshift wardrobe department next to the bar and a buffet table beside the “holding area”.

About 100 extras will be on set today, mostly for the scenes downstairs, it’s a lot of bodies to coordinate, or “wrangle”, as they say in the movie business.

A clear voice rings out as its owner rapidly ascends the stone steps at the far side of the room: “Are we ready yet?” All eyes turn towards the man in charge of this whole production, Frank D’Angelo.

The Italian-Canadian is the writer, producer, director and star of the films that D’Angelo makes through his own company In Your Ear Productions.

In addition, the businessman and entrepreneur hosts his weekly talk series, The Being Frank Show, and co-hosts on web-based entertainment site Next Sports Star. He’s also a successful vocalist, having released more than 15 albums and in his spare time he makes movies, typically, in less than a week.

This one will take just two days: most Hollywood productions take around 45 to 60 days to complete.


(Frank D'Angelo, pictured centre, walking through a scene on The Joke Thief)

Producer Gemma Runaghan says there were two or three weeks of pre-production on D'Angelo's latest project The Joke Thief, mostly coordinating schedules of cast and crew.

“Sometimes we have more time, but we didn’t need it. Everything was organised quickly and it’s just trying to get everyone in the room when we need them,” she explains.

I have noticed that actors – main cast and extras – are only on set for however long they’re needed. There’s very little hanging around, especially for the extras. No mean feat for Manuela Casinha, in charge of wrangling them while adhering to stringent Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) union rules. “When they’re done, they go,” she says, quickly adding, “as long as they’ve eaten and filled out their [union] forms.”

Daniel Baldwin, who stars in The Joke Thief, succinctly puts it: “Frank is like a mad scientist busy gathering his elements together and then he makes magic happen. He directs in a way so that actors don’t have to think about where their mark is or worry about the technical aspects of a scene, they just have to be in that moment, be their character.”

While he’s talking, musician Jerry Caringi, who’s known D’Angelo since they were teenagers and appeared in The Red Maple Leaf (2015), nods vigorously in agreement. “Frank really wants the characters to look and sound as real as possible,” he adds.


(Daniel Baldwin and Alyson Court on the set of The Joke Thief. Picture credit: Alyson Court)

The Joke Thief is enigmatic 58-year-old Frank D'Angelo’s seventh movie in seven years and is his first foray into comedy, albeit with a slightly dark, dramatic twist.

In the film, D'Angelo plays Simon McCabe, a stand-up comedian who has been making people laugh for 35 years. He's always been the life and soul of the party, but now he is tired, miserable and almost washed up because he's never had a lucky break due to his reputation for stealing jokes.

One fateful night, Simon's long-time friend and fellow comedian, Frances (Tony Nardi) convinces comedy club owner, Freddy C (Daniel Badwin), to give Simon some stage time and one last shot at redemption. 

On the ride to the gig, Simon takes us on a whirlwind journey of his life, as he remembers special moments in a series of emotional flashbacks that made him the sad, funny man that he is today.

D'Angelo recorded the soundtrack to the movie only a few weeks prior to shooting the movie and it plays in the background as the crew finish their set up for the night club scene.

“I always start with the soundtrack,” D’Angelo explains when I ask about his creative process. “I go into the booth and listen to the music and sing what’s in my heart. From that I get the idea for the movie and take it from there,” he says, making it sound like anyone can do it. Which they could, if they’re willing to spend a cool $15m (£8.5m).

Despite his lack of formal training in filmmaking, D’Angelo’s passion for storytelling, whether through lyrics or a script, is revolutionising the way movies are being made. And it’s thrilling to watch from my perch at the bar.

“We use six or seven cameras in every scene, there’s no resets for different angles. I’ve got them all covered in one take. We shoot it and move on,” he says while moving cameramen into position and checking the framing.


(Left to right: Ed Hannaford, Frank D'Angelo, Tony Nardi and Alyson Court)

Director of cinematography, Ed Hannaford, has worked with D’Angelo for almost 15 years. “It’s a bit like guerrilla filmmaking. We don’t exactly know how it’s going to work out, but everyone wants to be part of it,” he says.

And they keep coming back.

D’Angelo has worked with the same crew for many years and frequently casts the same actors, including notable Hollywood alumni; James Caan, Daniel Baldwin, Danny Aiello, Tony Nardi, Mira Sorvino, Kris Kristofferson, Daryl Hannah, Eric Roberts, Margot Kidder, John Ashton and the late Robert Loggia.

The Joke Thief marks Baldwin's fifth appearance in a D'Angelo production and despite a blizzard grounding flights out of Toronto Pearson International Airport, this doesn't seem to phase him. "I have an 8am call time tomorrow back in New York City so I've hired a car and will head back once Frank's got all he needs," he says as though the 500 mile roadtrip is no big deal. 

But it's not just Baldwin who makes fitting in a Frank D'Angelo movie a priority. Tony Nardi, Jason Blicker, John Ashton, Alyson Court, Amanda Martinez, Julie McCullough, Art Hindle, Ed Marino, Jack Newman (a huge Still Game fan), Constantine Meglis and Ed the Sock all cleared their schedules to appear in this one. 


(Frank D'Angelo and Tony Nardi on the set of The Joke Thief)

D’Angelo’s organic approach to filmmaking is refreshing and compelling cinema and to date, his movies have notched up 16 awards wins at film festivals around the world.

The Joke Thief is already scheduled for a film festival tour including Toronto, New York, Boston and Los Angeles with an early summer realease date for North American theatres.

Frank D'Angelo's movies are availabe on demand at iTunes, Google Play Store, Amazon and on the In Your Ears Productions website HERE.

The Joke Thief premieres at the Boston International Film Festival on Monday, April 16