Famous faces find focus behind lens

More actors taking on director duties

When a well-known actor or musician gets the greenlight to direct a movie, the news is often met with a sneer — if not outright envy — by the filmmaking community.

This year’s Tribeca Film Festival has so many famous faces getting behind the camera that it has devoted an entire panel (titled “Bringing Home the Bacon,” with female hyphenates) to the phenomenon. But if you’re thinking these novice helmers didn’t have to struggle before getting their shot, you may want to reconsider.

Mary Stuart Masterson, the ’80s bratpacker who recently had a recurring role on “Law & Order: SVU,” has been actively pursuing directing a film for the past 15 years. “I had a project in the early ’90s that almost got set up a number of times,” recalls Masterson. “It would fall through, I’d take an acting job, then go back to trying to get it made. Unfortunately it never happened.”

But Masterson made enough connections to be hired by Showtime to make a science-fiction short in 2001. Six years later, she finally got an offer to direct a feature, “The Cake Eaters,” a small-town drama starring Bruce Dern and Aaron Stanford. Masterson is currently putting together her own production company.

Fred Durst, best known as the front man of the punk-rap group Limp Bizkit, sold more than 30 million records but insists getting behind the camera was his plan all along. “I didn’t intend to be a rock star or play in a band,” says Durst. “I thought I’d get a group together, then just start directing videos for the songs as a way to get people interested (in) making a movie with me.”

Durst’s strategy eventually paid off. He recently completed his first feature, “The Education of Charlie Banks,” a coming-of-age drama about a college student who gets a surprise visit from his hometown nemesis. “Making this film just completely changed my understanding of what directing is all about,” says Durst. “I’m extremely grateful that I got a chance get my hands dirty and finally do it.”

Kevin Connolly, who’s currently enjoying high visibility as a thesp on HBO’s hit series “Entourage,” arrives at Tribeca with an impressive directing resume. He first got behind the camera in his early 20s (he’s now 33), helming several episodes of the TV sitcom “Unhappily Ever After.” In 2003, his short “Whatever We Do,” starring Tim Roth, Robert Downey Jr., Zooey Deschanel and Amanda Peet, screened at Sundance.

“Gardener of Eden,” Connolly’s directorial feature debut, will screen in competition at Tribeca. The pic is a dark comedy about an aimless twentysomething whose life changes after he catches a serial rapist.

“It was a long process, but I guess it always takes more time than you think,” says Connolly, who at one point was attached to direct “Alpha Dog” but had to drop out due to a scheduling conflict with “Entourage.” “Not only did the experience make me appreciate directing more, I think it also made me a better actor.”

Other thesps who either produced, directed or wrote pics being screened at this year’s fest include Diego Luna (“Chavez”), Eva Mendes (“Live!”), Julie Delpy (“Deux jours a Paris”), Julia Stiles (“Raving”) and Rosario Dawson (“Descent”).

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