Three music industry veterans get a chance to flex new creative muscles thanks to the upcoming inspirational film The Thursday night club: Legendary rock drummer/songwriter Carmine Appice contributes Christian songs he wrote for the film; Disco icon Gloria Gaynor opens a new chapter as an actress; and award-winning New York radio personality Valerie Smaldone makes her bow as a feature film director.
“They told me what it was about and I loved the whole idea,” says Gaynor billboard of the film, which is scheduled for release in November. The two-time Grammy winner, best known for her signature Hot 100 anthem, “I Will Survive,” portrays Dr. Poitier, a doctor treating a bone marrow patient. “The basic message is to give back. The film is about realizing that humanity is one family and we need to start behaving like one.”
The Thursday night club follows five college friends who meet an inspirational man whose legacy of giving inspires them to change their lives, with each character seeing a sign from God that guides them to help others. The Thursday night club started out as a podcast before becoming a film. “Steve Manchester wrote this little novella, a Christmas Carol, and around December 2019, [Story Plant Entertainment Company] put it out as a podcast and it worked very, very well,” says Smaldone, who also serves as executive producer. “The next idea was to do it The Thursday night club into a movie because it really resonated with audiences. Then came the pandemic.”
In August 2020, Smaldone began collaborating with Story Plant, a publishing company founded in 2008 that has expanded into podcasts, films, and other media. Smaldone, a five-time Billboard Award winner and New York radio legend who previously held No. 1 and hosted Mittags on WLTW, began producing a docu-series about how Americans are responding to COVID. “That was my first production with them. We developed a new product, but we really wanted to come back to it The Thursday night club,” she says. “I became executive producer on the film, but during development our director had to leave for other projects. He couldn’t live up to his commitment. So, literally right before we started filming, I took on the role of director and went to New Milford, Connecticut where we all hunkered down for a rather cold March [and shot] the film in three weeks.”
The Thursday night club will air on November 1st on Pure Flix Entertainment. Plans to air on other streaming networks were discussed at press time, and the film will also be licensed to churches and religious institutions. Story Plant will also provide an accompanying workbook based on the principles of the film for churches and other institutions to use as a teaching tool. “The workbook takes principles from the film that are based on the Bible, where churches can use them as study guides and conversation pieces in Sunday school—not just in churches, but in colleges, high schools, retreats, and aged care facilities,” says Smaldone. “The aim of this film is to show that there is kindness, that one should look outside of oneself. Are you not just concerned with your career, your phone and your contacts, but how can you help someone else? The film is about looking beyond yourself, paying something up front, just being kind to others and, in a larger spiritual sense, looking for signs to surround and guide us.”
Appice liked the positive message. He got involved The Thursday night club when Smaldone visited him and his wife at their vacation home in the Caribbean and he shared new music with his longtime friend. “I had written the song ‘Jesus Forever,’ and I played it,” says Appice, who has worked with Ozzy Osbourne, Jeff Beck, Vanilla Fudge, and Rod Stewart, of whom he most recently co-wrote “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” and “Young Turks” with.
Appice began writing faith-based songs after experiencing a medical scare. He was returning from a European tour in 2018 when the plane made an emergency landing, taking him to a small hospital in the Azores. “Nobody spoke much English and at one point they grabbed my nose and beat me unconscious for it,” he says of the doctors trying to stop the near-fatal bleeding from his nose. “When I woke up in this big room everything was black with a little light in the corner. I thought I had died. I grabbed my cross and prayed to Jesus, “Get me out of here. Please help me’ . . . When they took me back to New York they took out the bandage and said 24 more hours with that bandage in my nose I would have been dead because it was infected. That was definitely God watching over me. So I started listening to the Bible. I’m not a Christian to force it on people, but I pray for people.”
Appice now resides in Florida and is active in his local church. His newfound faith inspired him to write Christian music. When Smaldone started looking for songs for the film, she approached Appice and he was happy to find an outlet for his songs. “I didn’t know anyone to get a Christian record deal,” says Appice, who also continues his activities in rock music. “When Valerie called me and said, ‘You have these Christian songs that I know you write, could I hear them? Because we have a movie that I’m directing and I might like to put her in the movie. I thought, ‘Okay. This is perfect!'”
The Thursday night club includes Jesus Forever, Gamechanger and Oh My Lord. The veteran drummer hired Florida-based worship leader Rory Comtois to provide lead vocals. “I love all three songs because they mean something to me,” says Appice. “I go to church every Sunday; even when I’m on the road, I watch it online.”
Along with upbeat music and an inspirational message, Smaldone says they’re using a key plot point in the film – one of the main characters saving a child’s life through a bone marrow donation – to help a worthy organization. “We work with Be the Match, a national bone marrow registry, to promote each other’s entities,” she says. “We have included all the information about Be the Match in our workbook on how to register as a donor. There is a tremendous need for people to be included in this registry as it is difficult to get people together for bone marrow and stem cell donations, especially children, and it is really difficult to get them to thrive if they don’t have these life-saving ones have elements. So working with Be the Match is fantastic.”
Smaldone even recruited actual bone marrow donor Michael Mushaw to act in the film as head of the donor registry. “I cast a young man who wasn’t an actor,” she says. “He’s a project manager for a construction company in Connecticut, and I found him searching for bone marrow donors in Connecticut. He showed up because he’d gotten a lot of press. He was a young man who played football for Central Connecticut State University, and through a program that came to his coach, they just said, ‘You guys need to be put on this register. You must register.” He wiped with a cotton swab, and it matched a little girl in Virginia. NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt and United States today picked it up. I found out where he worked. I called him and said, “Hey, Mike, you don’t know me, but I’m a producer/director and I’d like to see you in my movie,” and he said, “Okay, that’s great. I want to spread the word about the bone marrow donation, so there’s that element that we’re very proud of.”
With a screenplay by Manchester and Lou Aronica, The Thursday night club The cast includes the leads Racquel Jean-Louis as Izzy, Mae Claire as Ava, Johan Gran as Kevin, Max Katz as Randy and Amanda Talero as Jesse. “We really wanted to have a diverse, inclusive cast, so we have these wonderful young actors,” says Smaldone. “We cast via Zoom because it was still the pandemic and we couldn’t see anyone in person. They were instrumental in that The Thursday night club Chemistry had to be. You had to be young. You had to have enthusiasm. I think we found the right people to cast.”
Smaldone is enjoying her foray into film and this exciting new chapter in her career. “When I left the train station at the end of 2007, I began a new journey in my life,” she says. “I decided I wanted to take a little more responsibility for the content. I didn’t just want to say words or not produce the content, I wanted to have creative control. I’ve done so many things all media and entertainment related over the last 15 years. I do a lot of live announcements for awards shows or conferences, charity events, but I’ve always had this desire to be in charge, to be in control of a project. It’s one of the most exciting things you can do. It is very rewarding to see your project come to life and people enjoy. With this film, I feel like my journey really got me where I needed to be. We continue to produce and plan the next step. But right now my focus is on getting this film out to as many people as possible. We are very proud of it and very excited to spread this message.”
Smaldone hopes that in addition to serving up an entertaining film, they can encourage others to seek opportunities to make a difference in their communities. “We will have a place on the site where you can join the Thursday Night Club and there will be a tab where you can post your project: ‘I do this and that in this community.’ That’s part of our plan.”