I thought I’d bang out a second blog sooner than this–but here goes. I’ve actually got the next one mostly written–so you may see that sooner. We’ll send this a couple more times to everyone — if you’d like to keep receiving the blogs, click here and just write BLOG. You could also send a note to greer@KingdomCounty.org or to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we’ll keep you on the list. Feel free to let me know what you think.
KCP–Behind the Scenes
* Winding up the Season
w/Macbeth, Giselle and funny Ethan Lipton
* Prepping Peter and John for preview dates and Nantucket premiere
* Filming Michael J. Fox in St. J.
As April approaches, I’m mindful that we’ll produce the three final shows in our KCP Northeast Kingdom performance season-and preview my new film, Peter and John in Brattleboro (April 29), Montpelier (April 30), Burlington (May 1), and St. Johnsbury
(May 3) — all during the next month. And we’re laying the groundwork for a Peter and JohnNantucket premiere in late June or early July–followed by the start of our New England barnstorming tour.
There’s a lot to do.
One idea I’ve tried to circulate about our annual Shakespeare performances – adults who attend help in a very direct way to make this exposure possible to students. We’ll pack the house for our Macbeth matinee – but we also need a good turnout for this Thursday evening’s show to help pay the costs.
This is our big annual event for schools and teens from throughout the area. And money is tight at schools. So, attend the 7pm show (Thurs. March 26 at Fuller Hall) if you can-for a memorable night of theater and to help us continue this annual treat. Tickets (starting at $15) and information are here.
Another date coming up soon-Friday, April 10th at the West Newton Cinema for the Boston opening for our film, Northern Borders. Go to westnewtoncinema.com for info and show times. Please spread the word to Boston friends-on Facebook or by phone, email-whatever!
Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick and Bruce Dern in Northern Borders
Previews for my new film, Peter and John
Our Peter and John preview screenings will help us, as we look at making a final round of revisions. We’ve all worked very hard – but there’s some anxiety in all of this. Is our new film any good? The audience always gets the final say–even more than critics (more on that in the next blog). But the preview dates help us prepare for the actual release–in June.
Peter and John tells the story of two brothers whose relationship strains when the younger one receives news of a strange inheritance-and both brothers become interested in the same young woman who arrives on their island. The picture is based on a novel by French writer, Guy de Maupassant and we’ve got a terrific cast including 2014 Golden Globe winner Jacqueline Bisset (Bullitt, Truffaut’s Day for Night); Christian Coulson (The Hours, Harry Potter: Chamber of Secrets, Love is Strange); Diane Guerrero (Orange is the New Black, Jane the Virgin); Shane Patrick Kearns (Blue Collar Boys); and Emmy-winner and Tony nominee Gordon Clapp (NYPD Blue, Matewan, Glengarry Glen Ross on Broadway).
Our Movies from Marlboro Program for College Students
Like my film Northern Borders, Peter and John was made through our KCP/Marlboro College program, Movies from Marlboro, where 20 professionals mentor and collaborate with 32 students from 12 different colleges during a film intensive semester at Marlboro College.
We’re now making plans for our 2016 film intensive, to make Wetware, a noir thriller set in the near future and drawn from Craig Nova’s novel – that Michael Dirda of the Washington Post called, “A haunting, heart-stoppingly exciting, brilliantly structured novel of suspense, ideas, and subtle characterization.”
Students from any college may participate and will receive college credit-and professional film credit-as a “semester away” from their home institution. For more information go to Movies.Marlboro.edu or drop and email to me (email@example.com).
Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival
KCP and I are also working to help launch a cool new film festival that will run August 27-30 in Middlebury, VT. The Middlebury New Film Festival is committed to filmmakers who have made their first or second short or feature length film. In the spirit of KCP’s own work, taking films to every corner of the region, festival winners will be given a public screening in each of the six New England states-as their prize. Filmmakers can submit their films now–and through April 30th. A late entry is possible through June 15th. More information and application links can be found at middfilmfest.org.
I got involved in the festival through a chance meeting, after a screening of my film, Northern Borders in Brandon, VT. During the Q & A, an audience member asked when we’d release the film “for real.” I remarked that this town hall screening-to some 140 people – was very much the real release. I said that our primary commitment is to barnstorm the region.
“But why don’t you work with Hollywood?” the person asked.
Then I made a wise-guy comment that I sometimes let slip out on occasions like this.
“Because Hollywood is run by gangsters,” I said. I expect people to laugh and sometimes they do. But this time only a couple of people snickered.
“The industry keeps all the money. We just prefer to do it this way. It’s labor intensive-and not cheap, to stage screenings in all of these small town dates. But this is our film’s primary audience. It’s more satisfying to play 150 New England cities and towns, on our own, than to simply hand over the film to the industry, where distributors give you one quick round of release and make it impossible to recoup your production cost.”
The Q & A continued.
After the screening, a few people came up to make comments or say hello. One of them, a slender fellow about my age, held out his hand.
“Lloyd Komesar,” he said. I liked your film.”
“Thanks,” I replied. “I appreciate it.”
Lloyd wasn’t finished. “You know that comment you made-that Hollywood is run by gangsters?” I suddenly feared that maybe I’d offended him. “Well, I’m a senior vice-president for distribution at Disney–and you’re right. They would never make a picture like this. “
I laughed. Lloyd laughed. We talked for a few minutes about how hard it is to get the industry to commit to character-driven stories like Northern Borders. I liked Lloyd immediately and appreciated how a Hollywood veteran like him continued to have a deep passion for cinema. I walked with Lloyd and his wife out to their car. I said I hoped we’d meet again.
A few months later, while I was in production for Peter and John on Nantucket, Lloyd wrote from Los Angeles to say he was retiring after many years at Disney. He asked if I’d be willing to meet and talk about a film festival idea he had percolating. We met a few weeks later in Peacham and hammered out ideas and a budget for the festival. Lloyd is doing the heavy lifting, finding sponsors and venues and organizing the application and submission process. He’s a force of nature – and very effective. He asked me to serve as artistic director, in charge of reviewing submissions and curating the festival. I’m excited that we’ll focus on emerging filmmakers. We’ll also stage some special screenings and events. More information is at middfilmfest.org.
Recording Peter and John picture and sound on a mostly windy day
Final Film Tweaks
I’m working to prepare Peter and John for just four Vermont preview screenings that will allow us to take a long final look at the film — with audiences. Then we’ll make any final changes before the official “premiere” scheduled for late June.
I probably shouldn’t admit it but I’ve tweaked every film I’ve made, after these preview dates. The picture takes on a new life when it’s exposed to an audience. I see things I haven’t seen before – and I become tuned to how each audience responds, minute-to-minute. Comments are always helpful, but I can also just feel it in the air, even though every audience is different. But that’s good, too.
Final changes can be costly, especially during the glory days of celluloid, when negatives had to be re-cut, whole reels re-printed, and sound elements re-cast to provide a seamless whole. In today’s digital age it may cost $3,000 to make adjustments. Using film, it could easily require $40,000 or more.
Michael J. Fox and Bill Raymond in Where the Rivers Flow North
Michael J. Fox Survives the Cut-In Japan
After our preview screenings for my first feature film, Where the Rivers Flow North, I removed a scene with Michael J. Fox. It was staged outside of the stately old St. Johnsbury train station, where power company boss Clayton Farnsworth (Fox) sits in the classic blue car of his local manager, Wayne Quinn (Bill Raymond). Farnsworth chews Quinn out for failing to evict logger Noel Lord from the power company’s land. We played the scene for comedy and everybody did a good job.
In the scene, Farnsworth asks Quinn to count the days he has spent, trying but failing to evict Lord from land that the power company desperately needs in order to complete its new power dam. Company executive Quinn stammers, trying to defend himself. But he can’t get a word in edgewise.
“But…but…but…Mr. Farnsworth,” says Quinn.
“No more buts!” screams Fox’s Farnsworth, as he storms out of the 1927 Packard, slams the door, crosses over to the driver’s side, and yanks Quinn out of his seat.
“The but-men are all in Boston!”
With Quinn now standing helpless, outside his car, Farnsworth skids out and speeds off. In the process of filming the scene, with a thousand people watching from Railroad Street, by Anthony’s Restaurant, Michael J. Fox floored the accelerator and stripped the old car’s gears, shutting down production. But ace mechanic James Warden came onto the set, worked for an hour, and performed a miracle, repairing the ancient fabric gear system in time to get us rolling again.
Despite the hours spent by 75 crew members and cast, we cut the railroad station scene after our preview screenings. It was simply a distraction. We needed to move the narrative forward to its dramatic conclusion. And the scene’s comic tone was fun-but too broad to match the rest of the picture.
But we had to keep the scene in the international version of film because Japanese buyers insisted on at least 12 minutes of screen time for Michael J. Fox. This was the key condition for their $300,000 purchase of Japanese rights. We’d used the money for the production and couldn’t give it back-so we presented the film to the Japanese with the non-essential Michael J. Fox scene included-and no one complained.
Governor Howard Dean also came to St. Johnsbury that day to appear, with his kids, as an extra in the Michael J. Fox scene. The Governor also got cut out of the film. I fretted about how I’d break the news to him, as we prepared to premiere the picture in January 1993 on all 9 screens at Burlington’s Palace Theater. I knew that Governor Dean planned to be there.
On the day of the show, I nervously waited at the Burlington theater for the highly anticipated last minute arrival of film prints shipped from our New York lab. Snow was falling outside. The Palace Theater had this elaborate system where we could play the film on all nine screens – with just three prints. The projection room looked like a matrix of clothes lines strung outside a New York tenement, with ribbons of film running across the huge space, from one projector to the next.
When the film shipment finally arrived, just three hours before show time, I noticed that one reel from one of the three prints was missing. It was Reel 4 – the one that, in the earlier version, included the now-deleted scene with Michael J. Fox at the train station. I sent a staff person racing back to the Kingdom to grab Reel 4 from one old film print we had in the office-one that still included the deleted scene. Down to the wire before the start of the show, we added the old reel 4 and seated Governor Dean in one of the two theaters, on that night only, where his scene with Michael J. Fox would be screened. Unless he happened by chance to slip into a theater showing Where the Rivers Flow North in Tokyo or Osaka. Governor Dean was pleased.
Peter and John student crew at work – to diffuse light
Final Preparations for Peter and John
I still have a lot to do to get Peter and John ready for our April and May preview screenings. We’re mostly focused on sound work-building some twenty layers of dialogue, footsteps, music, re-recorded lines, wind and wave sounds (we filmed on Nantucket). We work on a Foley stage to create hundreds of nuanced sounds – even the rustle of clothing when an actor leans in or plinks his pewter cup against the side of a plate. Foreign markets require a sound track that has no dialogue on it, so international buyers can dub local voices. So, they require a fully filled soundtrack where every step and each sound exists on its own, unattached to any dialogue.
A young former Marlboro student, Evan Schwenterly, is in charge of sound design-and he’s already been working on it for ten weeks. We filmed on Nantucket where we had to contend with 40 mile-per-hour winds on some days. Also, ocean sounds, choppy waters, and airplanes flying overhead. All of these sounds spoiled actor performances for our 1872 period film.
As a result of these non-period sounds, we’ve had to re-record more than 200 lines of actors’ dialogue, most of it fine for performance. This can be a challenge-to get an actor to capture the moment of on-set performance or emotion while looking at a projected image of himself or herself on screen. And they have to do it perfectly in synch with the projected image.
Oh, and I forgot one more wrinkle. Our lead actress is experiencing a severe and extended case of laryngitis, where she has not been able to re-record her needed lines for the past month and has been ordered by doctors not to use her voice for at least another month. Stay tuned.
We’re at the end of our 2013-14 season, but we’ve still got three of our eight shows slated to take the stage. For starters, we’ve got the Acting Company and Guthrie Theater performing Macbeth (Thurs. March 26th-Fuller Hall); The Russian National Ballet performing the classic French dance, Giselle (Thurs. April 9-Lyndon Institute); and Obie-winning satirist and playwright, Ethan Lipton and His Orchestra, performing his hilarious and entertaining ode to unemployment, No Place to Go (7:30pm, Saturday, May 2nd at Twilight Theater, Lyndon State College).
I first brought The Acting Company to the Northeast Kingdom in 1982, when they performed Merry Wives of Windsor in St. Johnsbury. I think I first read about The Acting Company in novelist Ann Beattie’s richly detailed fiction. It was the perfect place for fresh Julliard and Yale Rep grads of my generation to land for a year of touring the country, to work with America’s finest theater directors and designers. Kevin Kline, Patti Lupone, Rainn Wilson, Frances Conroy and many others got their start at the Acting Company, which was founded by legendary producer John Houseman who collaborated with Orson Welles during the Depression-era Federal Theater Project, through Welles’ production of Citizen Kane. Houseman later played the starring role in both the film and TV series, The Paper Chase.
The Acting Company’s collaboration with The Guthrie Theater was a smart move aimed at ensuring its continuation in a tough economic climate. Both companies have won Tony Awards-and the Minneapolis-based Guthrie’s firm footing as the upper mid-west’s premiere troupe guarantees a steady stream of top acting talent.
Sadly, this hybrid troupe will not tour next year. I hope they will get back on the road-no other classic theater of this caliber is available in the United States. We always look forward to bringing them to St. Johnsbury-where we also stage a daytime show for 800 area high school students. They will perform Macbeth to the public at 7pm, March 26th at Fuller Hall. Click here for Macbeth tickets that start at $15.
Our April 9th date for the classic French ballet, Giselle, also marks at least a pause in our five-year string of performances by Russian dancers. I feel we’ve presented their most important repertoire-so we’ll take a break next year, in favor of the fabulous Jessica Lang Dance classically-trained American dancers performing more contemporary ballets. But Giselle promises to be a treat, with more than 40 dancers on stage.
Nobody knows about Ethan Lipton-but this is the kind of show where I hope people will take my word for it-or just respond to lead NY Times theater critic Ben Brantley, who called Lipton’s show, No Place To Go, “One of the ten most galvanizing moments on stage – in 2014.” I’ve seen it-it’s lots of fun.
In No Place to Go, Ethan Lipton spins an ironic riff on his life as a struggling playwright whose day job as a permanent part-time temp worker gets outsourced to Mars. Nearly everything is true, except the Mars part and a funny bit about sitting in a waiting room about to be interviewed for a playwriting grant. I’ll let you guess what happens. Lipton’s cool rhythmic talking-blues is backed-up by three first-class jazz players who hit all the right notes. Part love letter to his co-workers, part query to the universe, part protest to company and country, No Place to Go delivers an irreverent and personal musical ode to the unemployed. Click here for Ethan Lipton tickets that start at $14.