Spotlight on Philly Film: THE TOLLTAKER

Written by Alex Gibson on . Posted in Philly Film, Steve Janas, Tags, The Tolltaker, Tinsel and Tine

By Le Anne Lindsay

The Philadelphia Film Society, in their efforts to support local filmmakers, asked Tinsel & Tine, which shares this interest, to highlight filmmaker Steve Janas, whose short film The Tolltaker debuts this weekend at the New Jersey Film Festival in New Brunswick.

The film, set in the early 1970’s, was shot in locations in and around Philadelphia. It combines live action and animation to tell the story of a young boy (Bobby) in Northeast Philadelphia whose father is MIA in Vietnam, and who is hounded by an evil, subterranean demon intent on stealing away the one thing the boy believes will bring his father home. Because of the animation, it’s taken four years to complete. Much of the animation was done by students at the Art Institute of Philadelphia, with some help from some pros including Monique Ligons, an animator who worked on Richard Linklater’s film [i]A Scanner Darkly[/i], and Mike Enright who teaches animation at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and here at the University of the Arts.

Here’s a link to a two minute video: “The Making of the Animation of The Tolltaker details rotoscoping the animated scenes, shooting live footage of actors in the service tunnels beneath Girard College, and then animating over top.

Janas told me that a possible comparison for the film would be Pan’s Labyrinth. Both movies are about the collision of a child’s life with war’s brutality. In The Tolltaker, the war is a distant, barely comprehensible thing to Bobby. It is something he sees on television and hears about on the radio. He understands it presents a grave danger to his father, but it remains an abstraction to him, and that’s what makes it so terrifying. It’s this helpless dread that fuels the creation of the Tolltaker in Bobby’s world.

Later, Janas humbly admits, “I’m probably flattering myself  by comparing The Tolltaker to Pan’s Labyrinth. However, I’m a huge fan of Guillermo Del Toro, both as a singular visual stylist and as a champion of the gothic and macabre.”  Janas’s other influences are books and movies like Alice In Wonderland, The Chronicles of Narnia, A Wrinkle in Time and directors such as David Lynch and Tim Burton. “Both can author these grotesque, fantastic distortions of reality that I find enchanting.”

At this point The Tolltaker is a 25min short, which you can watch on Vimeo. Click HERE!
Ultimately, Janas is looking to attract the financial backing to make the feature-length version.

For me, the best part about a behind-the-scenes look at a film is learning the journey from idea – to screenplay – to filmmaking – to fruition. The origins of The Tolltaker has one of those interesting journeys, including the sad loss of the person who inspired and wrote the novel the film is based upon – READ MORE.


Bobby Burke is played by Cullen Clancey as an older child, and Cullen’s brother Brian Clancey as a younger child.

Bobby’s mother Judy is played by Margaret Spirito.

Bobby’s grandfather, Paw-Paw, is played by Mark Jacobsen.

Judy’s boyfriend Nick is played by Michael Bradley.

Gary Wheedleman is played by Jan-David Soutar.

The Waitress is played by Kate Black-Reagan.

Grammy is played by Marilyn Yorblick.

Le Anne is a PFS blog contributor. More of her work can be found on her blog, Tinsel & Tine.

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