A taste of Hollywood in Brattleboro
BRATTLEBORO -- A long way from the cubicles and corridors of the hit TV show "The Office" and even farther from the entertainment hubs of New York and Los Angeles, David Koechner found himself in Brattleboro this week doing a project for the sheer love of it.
Koechner, an actor and comedian best known as Todd Packer in "The Office" and Champ Kind in the "Anchorman" films, was in town to film "110 Llandaff," an indie film written and directed by New England Youth Theatre teacher and director Jane Baker, and featuring more than a dozen NEYT actors and actresses.
It also stars Koechner and Paula Pell, a writer and actress whose credits include "Saturday Night Live," "30 Rock" and "Parks & Recreation." Koechner and Apell, along with producer, Roberta Munroe, a veteran of the Sundance Film Festival, and other professionals on the crew, carved out time in their schedules for filming on locations on Putney Road and Spruce Street this week because ...
Well, because they believe in the project.
"I read the script, and I was crying after the first page, and I said ‘I'm in,'" said Koechner, during a brief break from filming in Wednesday's blistering heat. "It's such a sweet, touching story. I felt compelled to do it."
Ditto for Apell, who had the added enticement of a chance to act with Koechner. The two had met on a project in 1995 and become friends but had never acted together until now.
"I heard that David Koechner would be my husband (in the film) and that clinched it for me," said Pell, journeying to Vermont for the first time.
Partly autiobiographical, "110 Llandaff" is set on July 4, 1975 and follows Mary "Jo" Parker, a 13-year-old tomboy, fifth of seven in a large Catholic family. Two of her brothers suffer from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and use wheelchairs, and "Jo" is struggling with feelings of self-discovery around her own sexuality, while her parents (Koechner and Pell) try to hold this dysfunctional family together with an odd mix of humor and stifling silence.
"It's a little bittersweet. It's a lot of reliving some difficult things," said Baker of the experience of filming scenes based on her childhood.
Still, she was glad that this project, which began when she started working on memoirs of her childhood a decade ago and evolved into the script, was coming to fruition, aided by $40,000 from an indiegogo crowdfunding campaign,
The project also had timely help from some friends in the entertainment industry, including Tina Fey.
It also benefits from Brattleboro, which has supplied not only a ready-made talent pool of polished actors -- the NEYT kids were shown to casting agents from New York City and approved for the project -- as well as from the wider community, which has provided everything from a groovy purple VW bus, retro furniture and period props to food for a hungry cast and crew.
"It's unusual to get this much community support for the project," said Koechner.
Amy's Bakery, Anon's, the Brattleboro Food Co-op, Commonwealth Dairy, Hardy Foard Catering, Fireworks, Leader Distribution Systems, Mocha Joe's, New England House, Peter Havens, Price Chopper, Sharon Myers Fine Catering, Shin La, The Marina, The Works, Top of the Hill Grill, Vermont Country Deli, Wendy's and Whetstone Station all contributed food. The Glennons and Tylers donated their houses, and countless others have stepped up.
"We just had a lot of support locally from Brattleboro. ... I think the entire town rallied around the film," said Munroe, who like Koechner and Pell was drawn to become producer because of Baker's script and the way she pitched it. "I thought it was funny and poignant, and I thought it was a super project."
Integral to making the project work are the young actors from NEYT, who have stepped into the hard work of making a film (with permission from administrators to miss a week of school) and handled themselves like pros.
"Yesterday, we shot in a van all day. All the kids, they had their lines down better than me," said Pell. "They're really sweet sweethearts."
"They're all really good," agreed Koechner.
Carrying a big load is 13-year-old Cassie Dunn, who plays "Jo," the character based on her friend and teacher Jane Baker.
"I'm very honored to play her. ... I have been friends with Jane a long time," said Dunn, who admits to being a bit nervous playing scenes alongside Koechner and Pell. "I'm a little bit scared of both of them because they're both so amazing."
Still, she wouldn't trade their eye-opening experience for any other.
"It's amazing how much goes into building a set. It's way more difficult than I ever expected it to be," she said of the 11- and 12-hour shooting days.
On Tuesday they spent seven hours shooting a scene that will run about a minute in the final cut. On Wednesday, in the heat, crew members rushed in to hold umbrellas to shield the actors from the sun as they waited on set outdoors at a picnic table between takes.
Koechner and Pell were expected to be in town for four days. When done, the 40-minute indie film will be presented for showing at festivals with the hope of enticing financial backers, for development as a film or television series.
In the meantime, there is still money to be raised. For more information and to become a backer, visit www.110llandaff.com.
Jon Potter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 149.
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