'A new level for the arts in Brattleboro'
BRATTLEBORO -- Somewhere, rising out of the fog of memory and the magic of movie-making, Spruce Street shot back in time 38 years and moved 300 miles away on Monday afternoon.
For an hour Monday, Spruce became Llandaff Street in a suburb outside of Philadelphia in 1975, where it formed the backdrop for a day that forever changed the life of a teenage girl.
But this was only what it was to those who knew the story. To passers-by, it looked like a bunch of Brattleboro kids having a good time and playing street hockey so badly that one observer said, "That was maybe the worst thing I've ever seen."
That comment came from Jane Baker, and she was only teasing. In truth, it's a lucky time for Baker, who is very close to having a dream come true.
To get there, she needed the help of the dozen or so New England Youth Theatre actors who were impersonating street hockey players from 1975. To get there, she also needs your help, and you'll find out how in a minute or two.
Baker and the NEYT kids were rehearsing a scene from "110 Llandaff," a 40-minute film that will be shot in Brattleboro from Sept. 9-14. Written by Baker and based on her own childhood in a colorfully dysfunctional Catholic family, the film has already attracted the attention of significant entertainment industry players.
Like who, for instance?
Like actor David Koechner, whom you might know as Todd Packer on NBC's "The Office" or Champ Kind in the "Anchorman" movies.
Like Paula Pell, a writer for "Saturday Night Live" and "30 Rock," who has also acted in those shows and on "Parks & Recreation."
They have agreed to play the parents in "110 Llandaff."
Roberta Marie Munroe, filmmaker, international short film expert and author of the book "How Not to Make a Short Film: Secrets from a Sundance Programmer," has come on board as producer.
And there's a role for you to play, too. The film is currently in the midst of a crowdsourced fundraising campaign through Indiegogo. In the two weeks from Aug. 20 to Sept. 2, they must raise $40,000. As of Wednesday afternoon, with six days to go, they were more than halfway to the goal with $20,701. To give to the project, click on www.indiegogo.com and search for 110 Llandaff.
It's a curious time for Baker and the friends and supporters who are pulling for the film to get made and succeed. On the one hand, there's a lot of work that needs to happen and a lot of money still to be raised -- all in a short time.
On the other hand, there are magical things happening that seem to predestine success.
For one, there is David Koechner's involvement. Through some happy accident of social media, Baker was friends with Koechner's wife on Facebook. When Koechner's wife posted a picture of David, Baker spotted it and messaged her that she had a script, and she had David in mind for the role of the father.
Koechner's wife said to send the script, and she would ask David to read it. Not long after, Baker got a call from David Koechner.
"He said, ‘I'm in. I want to do it. I read the script, and I cried on Page 1,'" Baker recalled.
Through mutual friends in the entertainment industry, Baker got Pell and Munroe to jump in with equal eagerness.
This kind of thing never happens in the entertainment biz, Baker pointed out. Doors don't just open like that. Scripts don't get greenlighted that easily.
"I just think it's the one lucky thing that will happen to me," said Baker. "Actually, I've had a lot of lucky things happen to me, but maybe everybody gets one super lucky thing."
And there's a lot of good fortune to spread around. Eighteen New England Youth Theatre actors have landed roles in the film, and all were selected not by Baker and her pals but by New York casting agents who agreed they were perfect for the part.
"It's really showing the high caliber that NEYT is at," said Doran Hamm, an NEYT alumnus and teacher who came on board as production assistant for the film. "It's a new level for the arts in Brattleboro."
"I would love for Brattleboro to be a film destination," added Sandy Klein, a colleague at NEYT and close friend of Baker's, who is working on the film and has been impressed by the community support that has come forward in a short amount of time.
The genesis of the film dates back more than a decade, when Baker writing down the stories of her childhood and her family shortly after her Mom died. She wanted to capture these stories so her children would know them. Later, when her son Sam was very sick for a time, she redoubled her efforts, in part because it helped her keep going through a tough time.
Initially written as memoir, the writing turned, at the recommendation of friends who read it, into a script that Baker described as "pretty autobiographical and pretty close to the truth."
Set on July 4, 1975, "110 Llandaff" follows Mary "Jo" Parker, a 13-year-old tomboy, fifth of seven in a large Catholic family. Her two wheelchair-bound brothers suffer from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, while her parents hold together a dysfunctional family with a mix of humor and silence. Against the background of this hilarious and painful life, Jo must confront the self-discovery of her feelings for another girl and the shocking discovery of the severity of her brothers' terminal condition.
"That's the kind of family I grew up in, but that's not the kind of family I want," said Baker. "Basically, it is a comedy, because that's how we dealt with everything. ... It's a serious subject. There are lots of serious subjects to it, but it's told through my eyes ... and through my eyes, things were pretty funny."
The circumstances are distinct, but the dynamics of a funny, dysfunctional family are more universal.
"I think it's a universal theme that you kind of tream the people that you love the most the worst," said Baker. "I think the universal theme is that everybody feels like an outsider."
Baker has spun those themes into a tale Hamm called "a beautiful dark comedy. ... I read the script and I could see why all these actors would want to do it."
Now it's set for filming from Sept. 9-14, as long as people come through on Indiegogo with the funding.
"My hope is that the film stands on its own as a satisfying story," said Baker.
Beyond that, the hope is a larger life.
"What I see in this is a pilot for a television series," said Klein.
The filmmakers are still looking for three or four vintage 1970s autos, and other volunteers for behind-the-scenes work are still needed.
To volunteer, call Sandy Klein at 802-579-3044.
To donate to the project, visit www.indiegogo.com/projects/110-llandaff-a-short-film-starring-david-koechner-and-paula-pell/x/4463769.
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