Caytha Jentis has written, produced and directed a number of award-winning features including “Bad Parents” starring Janeane Garofalo and Cheri Oteri and “And Then Came Love” starring Vanessa Williams and Eartha Kitt. Starting on
Thursday night September 9 you can catch the premiere of her new micro web series, “The Other F Word”, on Amazon. It’s an outrageous and clever series that follows a group of women friends navigating the surprises and realities of mid life, when their children move out and on.
While Caytha has lived in many different places on both coasts, she feels she is finally fulfilling her destiny by now having an Upper West Side address. If you haven’t run in to her around the neighborhood, she’ll be hosting a screening of the series on Tuesday, September 27th. You can find details at nywift.org.
Oh, and when you do see Caytha around the neighborhood, you can ask her to explain the bear!
Why the West side, Caytha?
I feel like I’ve always had this romantic fantasy with the Upper West Side. We had lived in LA and then on the Upper East Side originally when we moved here but then raised our kids in New Jersey.
And I actually love the theater. I feel like I see more plays than I do movies or even TV shows! So living up here just allows me to be part of that corridor. And also closer to New Jersey, where we still have friends. I’ve always written my characters living on The Upper West Side…even before I did!
And your series has an Upper West Side flavor too, right?
I really feel like this project is its own West Side Story. Through some really interesting word of mouth, I got really great actors for the 4 women. I’ve worked with Reyko (Aylesworth) before and the 3 other ones are these diamond in the rough working actors in New York. Stephanie (Little) lives on 69th Street. And I knew, ideally, that if I could get some names that would help elevate it. I had seen Judy Gold (a “Why The West Side?” alum!) at a New York Women and Film event and so much of her humor is about mid life and feminist issues and so many other relatable things and I knew I wanted her involved. I just went to her agent cold and I was lucky enough to have her interested! Her response was: “I believe in this!” Then my casting director approached Steve Guttenberg (Upper West Sider) and he came on and Michael Boatman (Upper West Sider) who I had worked with before on my other films said yes too! And my editor and so many others in the crew all live here.
I wanted this to be like my Woody Allen version of New York. About how, you know, we lived here when we were younger and then we moved to LA, raised our kids in New Jersey but I’d always been pining to get back and I thought it would be really cool to do a show about New York through those eyes. You know, a woman at that stage, coming back. I have this scene that’s in Central Park, it’s one of my favorites because as a viewer, you’re not sure when or where she’s going to run into somebody. And I, like my character, have this new dog group. And that’s what it was really like for me. When I first came back I would be walking my dog and see all these little groups and you’re not sure which of them, or if, you’ll be asked to join. And it was remarkable to me how much it reminded of me of when you first have kids and you’re pushing your stroller in the playground wondering which will be your mommy group. Except now it’s a doggy group! And it takes a little while but then you find your group and now I’m like: “Oh my God! I’m never moving. I have my morning doggy group!” Oh, and we’re doing our premiere at The Goddard Community Arts Center. Which also makes it part of my West Side Story! I love what they’re all about and I wanted to try and support them and the neighborhood with this. So I’ve been here like two and half years, which I know, based on reading some of your other interviews, doesn’t give me the history they have, but I love it with the same passion!
How fun to get someone with a relatively fresh perspective on living up here! So what, so far, do you like about the neighborhood?
Central Park is such a draw and the diversity. I really embrace that. And especially in the building I’m living in, it feels so economically, ethnically diverse. Just really reflective of so many groups. The sidewalks are wide up here too, which I love, it’s quiet, and it’s green!
What are some of the worst parts of life up here?
I mean, knock on wood, I haven’t found any yet! I really haven’t. And I love that I can take the subways at any hour of the night and get back here and feel very safe.
What are some of your favorite places to go up here?
I would say, I really enjoy Edgar’s Cafe [on Amsterdam between 91st and 92nd]. And I like Gennaro’s, which I’ve read here that other people like as well. Oh, and Polpette! Who doesn’t like a delicious meatball? I like The Milling Room too. I’ll do some drinks there on occasion! And Earth Café on 97th is a great place that I’ll have my neighborhood meetings at some times. But I do love that there are these kind of great neighborhoody places and then at the same time, we also have up here what I kind of refer to as the Route 17 of New Jersey. You know just over on Columbus and 97th now I can just skip up to HomeGoods or Modell’s or those bigger kinds of places.
Do you have a regular routine in the neighborhood?
I’ve got the 6:45 a.m. dog walk with my dog squad in Central Park and running the reservoir in the park. That’s my other thing!
You’re the first person to mention the reservoir! Other folks have mentioned running the lower loop or Riverside, but you can claim the reservoir!
Oh, I totally own that! Every single one of my scripts seems to have somebody running the reservoir and now I get to actually do it! And then sometimes I will go to Gabriella’s and do some writing, but as much as I respond to structure, as a creative person, each day kind of takes on it’s own identity.
What do you think is different about living in this neighborhood compared to others?
I do think there is something special about the people who live up here. As different as we all are I really feel a sense of community. The openness of space really speaks to me as well. It’s amazing to me the open spaces that have been allowed to exist. Like the West Side Community Garden between 89th & 90th St. in the middle of the block between Amsterdam and Columbus. The tulips there are so gorgeous and I just love that that place is here! And I just learned that David Duchovny lives around the corner! How great is that? And what other neighborhood can claim that?
Could you describe what a typical West sider is like?
I look against the norm so I really don’t think I would stereotype people in this neighborhood. And maybe it’s because I haven’t lived here that long to have the reference to do it, but I feel there isn’t a stereotype that stands out to me. You can see the Hasidic Jews across the street from projects. So what’s typical? You hear so many different languages and see elements of so many different cultures. So that’s kind of what I gravitate to more – the uniqueness of my neighbors.
So has Zabar’s become a part of your life up here yet? Can I ask the “If stuck on a desert island what one thing would you have to have?”
I do love Zabar’s. Everybody always brings it up when I say I live here now, but I’ve got to say, I think I’m more of a Mani’s person (Mani Market on Columbus & 94th) and I’m happy that Trader Joe’s is coming in up here!
Has there been anything about living up here that has surprised you or you weren’t expecting?
I think I would have to say all the things you discover in Central Park. Especially the northern part. All the wildlife and ponds and streams and you don’t see a building or anything. You’re really just one with nature. It was really an incredible discovery. Oh, and I’m also on this softball team now that I joined through The Writer’s Guild and we play in the south side of the park which is just incredible to me. Those fields right in the center of the city! So I set this goal for myself that I would try and do everything in the park. So last year I went to one of the Good Morning America concerts. I saw Luke Bryan at 7am! And Shakespeare In The Park was on the list, and some Summerstages, I ran some races and now my softball team!
When they declare “Caytha Jentis Day” on the Upper West Side, how would you like people to celebrate?
A block party! One of my favorite things to do actually is to host a party and tell everybody to bring their most fascinating or interesting person. So I would do that for the whole West side so I can meet new people at my own party. And it would be “bring your own”. Everybody bring food that’s personal to them…whether it’s homemade or store bought. No pressure to cook from me here!
To read all of our “Why the West Side” columns, click here.