Filmmaking duo -- local brothers -- work on new project
FRANCONIA, N.H. -- A little more than a year ago, Aaron Sharff of Dummerston, Vt., and his brother Billy Sharff of Cornish set out to write their second screen play together.
"It had to be set in the country since our first was set in the city," Aaron joked.
The duo decided to focus on what the mood is like from autumn through spring in New England.
Last year with massive snowfall and constant temperatures well below freezing it was easy to understand why someone would shutter themselves in, Billy said.
Then, piece-by-piece, the story began to develop, a character at a time. The film chronicles the life of an American poet named Eugene, who is reflecting on the key decisions and indecisions of his life.
"His wife is dead, his daughter can't stand him, and he doesn't have many friends," Billy said.
Aaron described the project as "an ensemble film that spans three major different times in Eugene's life."
Played by English actor David Warner, 70, Eugene moved to northern New England and became somewhat of a recluse, Aaron said.
While they were casting various roles for the film, Aaron and Billy said after spending so much time with their script they knew who would work and who wouldn't.
"There was a feeling," Aaron said. "When we got to casting we just knew who could and couldn't fit this or that role."
When Warner auditioned for the role the brothers already knew he was the right choice to play the version of Eugene at the end of his life.
"David was amazing," Billy said. "To see in the space, among the woods in New England was incredible. Without him we wouldn't have this movie. Maybe he'll finally get knighted for this."
The subject of a well-regarded author moving to a rural area hasn't been part of mainstream Hollywood and the brothers say they like it that way.
"It's nice to be making a film that hasn't been over done," Billy said. "Something that's not stock subject matter."
The project began after the brothers began reading pieces from authors who chose seclusion after success.
"We wanted to figure out what made something last so long, why it was worth reading and retained it values years later," Aaron said.
When they started looking for locations to shoot the rural atmosphere that inspired some of Frost's most critically acclaimed works became the ideal location.
"The Frost Place was an exciting natural step because our main character is a poet and has many similarities to Frost," Billy said. "There's so much art and creativity in this area."
Maudelle Driskell, executive director of the Frost Place, wrote in a statement that the board is thrilled to have the exposure the film will bring to this historic home that Frost and his family lived in from 1915 to 1920 and also spent 19 summers.
Aaron and Billy began writing the script to "Shakespeare's Daughter" about a year ago and began filming in October. Instead of rushing to get the film done, the Sharff brothers are taking a "classical" approach to filmmaking.
Even during the writing process the two brothers made sure that nothing was put into the film unless it was essential to the story.
"We'd take a scene, character or idea and work on it until we just couldn't anymore and pass it off to the other," Aaron said. "It really helped to prevent writers block and keep things fresh."
Billy said they were writing up until they filming last October and were even making adjustments and re-writes between takes if they didn't like a certain line or felt like something wasn't natural.
"It's nice to never have to pretend that the script is in its final version," he said.
The film hasn't been without its ups and downs however.
On Wednesday, the brothers had scheduled to shoot winter scenes at the Frost Place yet there was a key piece missing, snow.
With near record high-temperatures and minimal precipitation the landscape of the Frost Place looks more like April than February, but that hasn't deterred the brother's spirit for filmmaking or their passion for telling stories.
The caretaker for the Frost Place, Dan Fowler and his wife, Mary Fowler, have been volunteering their time to help the brothers with their film and even helped to move chunks of snow to the right place. "We're having the time of our life," Dan said.
The Fowlers, who own the adjacent property to the Frost Place, said they've been amazed by the brothers' professionalism.
Aaron and Billy say they owe everything to their cast, the crew that's been willing to work for next to nothing, the community of Franconia and the dozens of volunteers.
"We're constantly faced by massive, unpredictable challenges," Billy said. "But we wouldn't be very good filmmakers if we couldn't overcome them."
Josh Stilts can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311 ext. 273.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.