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Stephen Dwyer’s road movie

By Stephen Chupaska

Publication: The Day

Published January 01. 2013 4:00AM

I try not to get misty-eyed about the decline of print editions of newspapers and magazines.

But future generations of writers will miss out on what I always found to be a humbling experience in newspapers, a line of work that doesn't lack for its share of humbling experiences.

What I'm getting at is that feeling you get whenever you see your byline on crumpled up newspaper in a trash bin, covered in empty to-go coffee cups and the last few jaundice-colored crumbs from a discarded potato chip bag.

To me that's part of the weird romance of writing for newspapers - that what you're doing is at once permanent and disposable. It's a different kind of kiss, I think, knowing that your work can be easily located on the Internet.

Still, it's a bit of a surprise when a story you thought was long at the recycling facility or stowed away on some hard drive comes and finds you again.

A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from Stephen Dwyer, whom I interviewed about four years ago as part of this newspaper's annual series profiling high school seniors from around the region.

I instantly remembered our talk, which took place on a spring afternoon in one of the student lounges at the Science and Technology Magnet School of Southeastern Connecticut in New London.

Dwyer had been accepted into the film program at New York University and we had a great conversation about movies. I didn't tell him this at the time, but we both trace the start of our passions to the Groton Public Library. I read all the back issues of "Rolling Stone" there; he checked out "The Godfather" on DVD.

Dwyer, 22, whose initial affability masks an intensity about the work of movie-making, is now a semester away from graduating NYU and is trying to raise $7,500 on Indiegogo for his semi-autobiographical student film, "Big World" in which he hopes to explore some recently unearthed parts of his past.

Dwyer, who now sports a mustache Rollie Fingers would be proud of, basically gave me the pitch he gave to NYU, which is partially funding the film and allowing him to use its facilities.

"It's a road movie," Dwyer, who will play the lead in the 20-minute short, told me over coffee at a Brooklyn cafe. But to hear him tell it, the film, which will follow the main character's journey from New York to a sojourn in Indianapolis, then on to Los Angeles.

The film's background plays like a detective story, albeit a highly personal one.

A few years ago, Dwyer sought out his father, who was not part of his life growing up first in Indiana and then in Groton and New London.

While he was still at STMS, Dwyer began the search for his father online and stumbled onto something out of Bill Geist's reports on "CBS Sunday Morning."

It turns out his father made something of a road movie as well.

"I found a YouTube channel of his," Dwyer said. "He's obsessed with that barbecue restaurant Famous Dave's. He went to all the Famous Dave's throughout the country, like 40 of them, and chronicled his journey on YouTube."

From there, Dwyer began to connect with his paternal grandfather in Indiana and his two half-brothers in Los Angeles. He went on a road trip to visit them, even stopping at his old house in Greenwood, the town 20 miles outside of Indianapolis where he lived for a time.

"My handprints are still in concrete there," Dwyer said. "The people there are letting me film in the house."

In a parallel, Dwyer said his next move after graduation is out to California, most likely to San Francisco to get a postgraduate degree and to see where his restlessness takes him.

"I want to go out West," he said. "I can't stay in one place. It's why I want to make my road movie so much. I'm a wanderer."

Stephen Chupaska is a writer who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., and is an occasional contributor to The Day. Email him at schupaska@gmail.com.

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