Nick Lanciano was looking for a hero when Superman swept in and saved the day.
As a 10-year-old boy growing up on Wilder Street in South Philly in the late 1970s, Lanciano went to the movie theater to see the Man of Steel. He knew at that moment that he wanted to create his own superheroes on film.
“That whole thing started when I was about 10,” Lanciano, now 51, said. “I saw Superman and I knew after seeing Christopher Reeve, I wanted to make movies.”
Lanciano Productions was born that day.
Young Nick didn’t quite have the startup to pay for expensive equipment and supplies, so he took matters into his own hands, starting a neighborhood newspaper with some friends to raise money. He also raked in a few extra coins by creating a movie theater in his mother’s basement, where he would show short films on a projector screen for a small fee.
“Back then, you needed film,” he said. “There were no video tapes. They were like $30 a cartridge, and you got three minutes of film. We were kids and didn’t have any money for that so we came up with the idea of starting a newspaper and charging a nickel for it. We’d do headlines on trees falling and things like that. Believe it or not, people would buy it.”
The paper sold in a corner store at 12th and Dickinson, and Lanciano started making amateur movies with an 8mm camera. Soon, he was on his path to making a name in the movie industry.
Just recently, Lanciano’s film “Coffee with God” appeared on Amazon Prime and is currently circulating in 65 territories worldwide. Lanciano co-wrote, directed, edited and even starred in the 90-minute film that stands as his proudest work, despite walking a tightrope of an approximate $4,000 budget.
“The reason we’re so proud is because there was hardly any money in this,” he said. “And it’s beating out other movies in film festivals that have $400,000 budgets.”
The movie was an official selection at several film festivals and won the Audience Award at the 2019 Cutting Edge International Film Festival and the Silver Award at the Christian Family Film Festival.
The movie tells the story of Jack (played by Lanciano), who is friends with God and speaks to him while they casually sip coffee. Jack is sent to meet strangers and carry out God’s work with the ability to heal people and relay messages from God himself.
Jack questions his own faith when he struggles to heal a sick young girl named Emma, who is portrayed by Lanciano’s daughter Meah, a talented 2020 high school graduate of the Girard Academic Music Program.
“The original idea of this film was to make a short movie for my daughter, who is an actress and a singer,” he said. “But as I started writing it, and as I started thinking of it as helping people, it just blew into a full feature.”
Meah was 13 when they started shooting the movie, marking nearly four years to complete the task, but it was worth the wait. “Coffee with God” is very different from Lanciano’s earlier films, which include “9th & Bay” (2009) and “Purgatory” (2011).
The “9th & Bay” movie featured scenes shot in South Philadelphia and won an award at the Myrtle Beach International Film Festival while being shown in 50 movie theaters nationwide.
“People loved it and they still watch it today,” Lanciano said. “But there were so many mistakes and camera issues and quality issues. It was just something to get us started.”
“Coffee with God” broke through different boundaries. It features an uplifting theme and isn’t as religious as the title might suggest.
“It’s not a hokey Christian movie,” he said. “Anyone could watch this whether you believe in God or not.”
Filmed in Swarthmore, Perkasie and Bethlehem, “Coffee with God” also includes a talented supporting cast that became close during the lengthy filming and was forced to cope with tragedy afterward. The movie is dedicated to actors Wayne Shearer and Trisha Graybill, who both passed away from cancer before the movie was released.
Shearer, who acted a minor role, was diagnosed with cancer after he departed from the set. Graybill, who played a starring role as Emma’s foster parent, fought through her diagnosis throughout production and was treasured as a spark plug on the tougher days of shooting the movie. She died in April 2019 after a five-year battle with lung cancer at the age of 40.
“I tear up when I talk about her because she was always Miss positive and telling us how great this was going to be,” Lanciano said. “She’d show up sick on set and would just push it. She was a truly amazing person, and we became really close friends.”
Lanciano Productions continues to brainstorm ideas for new movies while taking on other forms of local business in videography, including weddings, real estate videos and music videos, using the income to fund what Lanciano calls a “very expensive passion” of filmmaking.
Lanciano said more movie projects are in the planning stages, including an idea for a sequel to “Coffee with God.” He’d like to carry the same momentum and the same type of theme into his next project.
“My films going forward will be that kind of a movie,” Lanciano said. “They will be uplifting and positive. I want them to help people and make them feel good again.”
Sort of like Superman saving the day.