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From Ohio University and ‘Relative Obscurity,’ filmmaker Jeff Rosenberg has found Hollywood success

A parked car squeezed between two buses.
A scene from 'Relative Obscurity' >>>

It’s not that often a homework assignment turns into a feature film, but if you raise the curtain on filmmaker Jeff Rosenberg’s Relative Obscurity, that's what you'll discover.

Rosenberg was sitting in class at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, when his international theater professor, Dr. Esiaba Irobi, shared with the class a quote from author and essayist Franz Fanon: "Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover it’s mission, betray it, or fulfill it. Dr. Irobi then asked the class to respond to the quote in written words – essay, poem, whatever struck their heart.

“I wrote a 100-page screenplay,” says Rosenberg. From that screenplay, Rosenberg, a native of Shaker Heights, Ohio, set about turning words into pictures. The writer enlisted friends and business associates, including John Swartz, producer, Devin Doyle, director of photography, and editor Spencer Houck. Together they founded Par-T-Com Productions.

Once the group secured Hollywood talent – Larisa Oleynik (10 Things I Hate About You; Malcolm in the Middle) and Owiso Odera (Numb3rs, Dirt) – the film took on a life of its own.

The film premiered at the Cleveland International Film Festival in 2008. 

We spoke with Rosenberg back in 2007, and since then, his career has blossomed. Rosenberg, now a successful writer and director and a prolific second unit director. As a second unit director, Rosenberg has worked on well-known shows such as Veep, The Good Place, Hacks and Platonic

In 2021, he directed and co-wrote (with Laura Jacqmin) We Broke Up, a romantic comedy starring Aya Cash (The Boys) and William Jackson Harper (The Good Place).

Here's our 2007 chat with Rosenberg about Relative Obscurity

Filmmaker Jeff Rosenberg in 2007
Filmmaker Jeff Rosenberg behind-the-scenes on 'Relative Obscurity'

MMM
: What’s Relative Obscurity all about?

Jeff Rosenberg (JR): Essentially the movie is a small-town character piece about seven college students on the verge of graduation, trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives.

The film takes place in early September 2001. Freshmen throughout the country, exhilarated by their newfound independence, embrace life away from home.

Now, three years later, seven students struggle to find their individuality amidst an apathetic and isolated generation. As they drift in and out of each others' lives, they fight to discover their calling as they build and break the relationships that have defined who they are.

MMM: It’s no secret you attracted Hollywood talent. Can you tell us how you managed that?

JR: The majority of the cast are friends of mine from the Ohio University School of Theater. While the concept of casting friends might seem amateurish, I think this helped the most in forming a level of professionalism on screen. We knew we wouldn’t be able to afford flying an entire cast in from Hollywood, and our budget would be better served on technical specs if we cast the movie locally.

I was comfortable working with the actors I knew and they were all comfortable working with me, as we’d done theater together for several years. Luckily for us, Ohio University has a top-notch theater program that was extremely generous and supportive throughout the entire process.

Besides the OU faction, we did set out to cast three specific parts from outside the school. However, never in my wildest dreams, would I have imagined that part coming together so well.

Our first choice for the lead role of Claire, Larisa Oleynik, signed on to the project almost immediately after reading the script. And she does an absolutely amazing job in the film. I think her fans will be thoroughly impressed by her dramatic range and how much she’s matured as a performer.

We were also lucky enough to find Owiso Odera, who plays the role of Cofi. He’s amazing. Working with Larisa and Owiso was an honor and quite an affirmation of how well our cast and crew had come together.

Rounding out the cast was one of my all-time favorite character actors, Jack Kehler (Big Lebowski, Love Liza), who was simply awesome to work with.

Director Jeff Rosenberg
Rosenberg on set in the late 2010s

MMM
: By any standard, this was a major endeavor. What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?

JR: Our biggest challenge came from our tight schedule. We shot for 26 straight days in the middle of an Ohio winter. While a budgetary necessity, this obviously drained our overworked crew. The fact that we all still remain friends is a testament to their dedication.

MMM: How long did it take you to make the film, pre-production through post-production? What was simpler than you thought? What was more difficult?

JR: That is an unanswerable question, as post-production still isn’t completely done!

I wrote the first draft in Fall 2003, and pre-production really kicked into high gear late summer 2005. We shot the movie December 2005 and have been dealing with post-production ever since.

Production was the most enjoyable part for me, to finally realize what had been in my head for so long. But post-production also has had many rewards. They’re just of a much smaller and meticulous nature.

Rosenberg, center, directing 'We Broke Up's' William Jackson Harper and Aya Cash
Rosenberg, center, directing 'We Broke Up's' William Jackson Harper and Aya Cash

MMM
: Give us some technical specs. What’d you shoot on and with?

JR: We shot on the Sony CineAlta F900 and edited on Adobe Premiere.

MMM: What’s the next project for you and Par-T-Com?

JR: Hmmm. Not sure yet.

MMM: Why do you think it’s important to attract, develop and produce feature film projects in the Midwest?

JR: It’s extremely important to nurture the Midwestern filmmaking tradition. I am very proud of where I come from and will continue to write stories that take place in Ohio. 

As an artist, I believe it’s so important to stay true to where you come from and remain true within yourself, that I can confidently say that I’ll continue making Ohio-based films as long as I’m making films. I’ll just need to travel back home for them, now that I’ve moved to Los Angeles.

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