The Latest in Vermont Film and Television Production Updates
Indie film shoots in Northshire, hopes Vermont gets in the picture
The viability of Vermont as a place to make films and television series got a thorough test drive the past month, as the cast and crew of the independent film “Stormchaser” took up residence in the Northshire and used its homes, vacant buildings, landscapes and roads as backdrops for the action.
The film’s producers and The Vermont Production Council, the Manchester-based organization dedicated to promoting film and television in the Green Mountain State, are hoping the film helps build the state’s reputation as a destination. They’d like to see it kick-start the development of financial incentives and production resources that will convince TV and film productions to bring projects here.
“Stormchaser” had originally targeted upstate New York, which offers tax incentives, as location. But “Stormchaser” writer,. executive producer and director Gretl Claggett, and producer Pamela Cederquist, had established a connection with Vermont Production Council through ITVFest executive director Philip Gilpin Jr., and decided on the Green Mountain State instead. Both women were here last fall for the Jacob Kruger Writing Retreat, held during the festival.
“We were able to find locations and find a little bit of fundraising, so they’re shooting and spending all their money here now,” Gilpin said Saturday, as the crew got ready for its last day of shooting at a vacant commercial building in Taconic Business Park. The production was here for weeks, as advance location scouts were followed by the cast and crew.
Feature films have been made in Southern Vermont before, but it’s been a while. “Baby Boom,” starring Diane Keaton and Sam Shepard, brought Manchester, Peru and Weston to the silver screen in 1987; a year later, “Funny Farm” starred the town of Townshend along with Chevy Chase.
Show me the money
The producers of “Stormchaser” are committed to helping The Vermont Production Council show what the state can offer the industry, as a visually striking four-season backdrop and as a viable location that offers everything filmmakers need, from actors and extras to tradespeople and technical resources. Financing remains a concern, however, as Vermont does not offer tax incentives that are provided by other area states. For example, “Super Troopers 2,” a film released in April about the misadventures of a fictional Vermont police department, was largely shot in Massachusetts.
“We hope to incentivize something to happen to make Vermont a more appealing location, so we can bring more projects here,” said producer Sarah Donnelly, who owns her own production company, Palikari Pictures. “I have another film that we are talking about bringing here which would be with higher budget and name talent, and I would definitely consider Vermont as a filming location.”
“Right now there are no grants or anything in place [in Vermont],” she said.
Vermont might not have a tax credit to draw Hollywood, but it does have two things the producers of “Stormchasers” much appreciated: Welcoming and accommodating residents, and a limitless supply of natural beauty. The film’s producers said residents offered their services as drivers and their homes as shooting locations. They said local hotels and inns worked with the producers to limit housing costs. And they couldn’t say enough nice things about caterer Debbie Sheldon.
“It’s beautiful at every turn. People are more than welcoming and it has been a dream to shoot here,” producer and assistant director Etan Harwayne said. “The natural beauty of the area makes for incredible footage.”
Donnelly and Harwayne both pointed to a driving scene they filmed on Route 30 one evening last week in Pawlet as memorable. Donnelly called it “spectacularly beautiful.”
“It was one of the prettiest ever things I’ve ever seen,” Harwayne said. “The sun was just going down. In front of us [in the distance] was an incredible lightning storm. To our right was one of the brightest crescent moons I’ve ever seen. And behind us a sunset you can’t see anywhere else except Montana.”
Casting call: Equipment, trade skills
As for Vermont’s drawbacks? Some are specific to the equipment needs of the film industry, and some are well-known workforce development issues affecting the economy statewide.
Think of a film crew as a small army on the move. There’s a script and a schedule, but there are also unforeseen circumstances — schedules gone awry, equipment issues, personnel issues, bad weather — that require the team to improvise. In this case, the needs are human and technical resources.
“What I think we need to have is better accessibility to vendors ready and willing to participate in the filmmaking process,” Donnelly said. “We would love to be able to do nothing but hire Vermont locals.”
“We need two things,” Gilpin added. “We need trained crew that live locally. We have some, but we don’t have enough to handle a year-round production yet. That’s education and workforce development.” That includes professional trades such as electricians, plumbers, art designers and caterers, he added.
The second need? “Equipment. Some entrepreneurs in the area need to realize that there’s enough films coming through that it makes sense to open up an equipment rental house for cameras and lenses,” Gilpin said. “Once you have enough trained crew and enough equipment you can shoot anything.”
And much like the kingdom lost for want of a nail, equipment is crucial, especially for independent films shooting on location, Harwayne said. “If you forget even a screw, because they’re proprietary, you have to go back to the rental house, and here that’s just not possible,” he explained.
“A lot of people from outside the industry would love to live and work here. They’ just need to know there’s enough productions happening for them to make the leap,” Gilpin said. “We’re breaking that chicken and egg phase.”
Energy to burn
While the crew was working long hours and faced a long drive north to St. Albans after Saturday night’s shoot, spirits remained high. Claggett may have several festival awards to her credit for her critically acclaimed debut film “Happy Hour,” but she gleefully scampered atop the hood of the used pickup truck that plays a central role in her film to pose for a photo. “I found it on Craigslist at 2 a.m. in Massachusetts,” she said proudly of the slightly rusted 1986 Ford F-150. Like the main character of the film, it’s a battle-tested survivor.
What’s the film about? Claggett describes it as “Blood Simple” or “Raising Arizona” meets “Glengarry Glen Ross” meets “Twister.” The protagonist, Bonnie Blue, works for a company that sells roofing and siding in the wake of destructive storms. Her prized possession is her father’s pickup truck, “Bluebell,” in which she and her dad used to go storm chasing. Through the film, Claggett said, the main character finds her voice, and along the way “there’s a love story, there’s social commentary, there’s disaster capitalism, there’s environmental issues.”
As the impromptu photo shoot dispersed, Gilpin offered an observation about the enthusiasm on display.
“You’ll notice that everyone here is under the age of 40, if not 30,” he said. “Vermont has a jobs crisis and a youth retention crisis? This is the solution.”
Reach Greg Sukiennik at [email protected] or at 802-490-6000.
Filmmakers drawn to Vermont
St. Albans Messenger
Makers of a short, independent film, Stormchaser, will spend three days in St. Albans filming on Walnut Street, Bank Street and Maquam Shore Road starting on Sunday.
If supporters get their way, this could be the first of many film shoots in Franklin County and other parts of Vermont. Among those supporters is former St. Albans City Mayor Liz Gamache who sees film productions as a way to stimulate the local economy – film productions spend money on food and lodging – and provide employment to a wide range of workers.
“This could have some economic development potential and community development potential for St. Albans, and not just for St. Albans, but Franklin County and Northern Vermont,” she said.
Pamela Cederquist, who is producing Stormchaser, said the film ended up shooting here because of “Philip Gilpin with the ITV Festival, followed by Ms. Liz Gamache, who could convince a stone to cry tears.”
Gilpin is the organizer of the Independent Television Festival held in Manchester, Vt., in the fall. Six years ago, he moved the 13-year-old festival from L.A. to Vermont. The week-long festival brings industry executives, producers and directors together.
Writers and producers who came for the festival began asking about filming here, Gilpin said, but Vermont no longer had a film council, so he formed the Vermont Production Commission (VPC). VPC helps producers like Cederquist scout locations, hire local employees while here and connect with officials to arrange for permission to shoot.
“There are a lot of advantages in shooting in Vermont,” said Gilpin. One of the biggest is financial. Food and lodging are often less costly than elsewhere. Location fees are low or non-existent, and there are no required state permits.
But the biggest benefit is that the close relationships in Vermont means the red tape that exists elsewhere isn’t an issue here, according to Gilpin.
Cederquist agreed, pointing to the way Gamache was able to connect her with city officials, local police and location owners.
There’s also the willingness to help such as St. Albans Police Chief Gary Taylor offering to have officers help with parking the production’s large trucks. Those types of small things are “a huge piece to us,” said Cederquist.
March 12, 2018
Adaptive Studios Inks Deal For Scripted ‘Astral’ Series
Adaptive Studios, which recently rebooted HBO’s Project Greenlight with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, has acquired the rights to Astral, a dramatic thriller digital series created by Canadian filmmaker and actress Sonja O’Hara.
O’Hara (Amazon’s Creative Control) is also set to act and direct in the short-form series, a rare inclusion for indie episodic acquisitions. O’Hara, who is a speaker this week on the Indie TV panel at SXSW, said, “This is the time to be a female filmmaker and I’m excited to collaborate with Adaptive Studios to bring this provocative, inclusive, feminist story to life.”
O’Hara landed the overall deal by meeting Adaptive‘s VP of Development, Digital at ITVFest (the Independent Television Festival) in Manchester, Vermont, a boutique festival for the world’s best indie creators and executives, where O’Hara’s previous series Doomsday won “Best Series”. O’Hara previously created and starred in Doomsday, a critically acclaimed web series she made independently (see the first two episodes on Amazon Prime). Her pilot was awarded “Best Series” at ITVFest, HollyWeb Fest and Brooklyn WebFest and was nominated for the 2017 Streamy Award and the 2018 Indie Series Award. She also won “Best Director” at the prestigious New York Television Festival and was chosen as one of the “Ten Filmmakers To Watch” by Independent Magazine.
O’Hara is repped by Elaine M. Rogers of Meister Seelig & Fein and managed by Pulse Films.
Adaptive Studios, the studios behind Coin Heist (Netflix), has made a push into digital content with the launch of The Runner for Verizon’s go90. The upstart studio that has put an emphasis on short-form content for digital platforms, has closed a $16.5 million Series B round of funding, led by AMC Networks with participation from Atwater Capital. Adaptive’s partners to date have included HBO, Netflix, Verizon, Miramax, FX Networks, YouTube Red, Fox Animation, 21 Laps, Lionsgate, Gunpowder & Sky, Bona Fide Production and Blackpills. The series will be executive produced by Perrin Chiles, TJ Barrack, Marc Joubert, Stephen Christensen and Kate Grady.
Famous Filming In New England
Panel Discussion with Dave Wedge, Bobby Farrelly, Jenna Laurenzo, and Kris Meyer
ITVFest October 14, 2017
September 25, 2017
VERMONT PRODUCTION COUNCIL AIMS TO ATTRACT MORE FILM AND TELEVISION PROJECTS
Organization to Foster Film Productions in State
MANCHESTER, VT: “We’ve Greenlit The Green Mountains” boasts the website of the newly-formed Vermont Production Council. The goal of the organization is to identify and promote resources from around the state and to connect them with content creators seeking locations, experienced screenwriters, cinematographers, production accountants, equipment manufactures, and industry professionals of all trades.
Says Jennifer Rutherford of Velocity Media, “Vermont is rich with production resources. Our objective is to streamline the process for outside productions looking to film within the state and ensure they are connected with talented personnel, versatile locations, and rental houses, and are aware of the numerous resources available to them.”
“Vermont is an ideal and idyllic place for film production. It boasts picturesque locations and the diversity of landscapes here satisfy the majority of scenarios that writers portray in their scripts,” adds Sal Tassone, Executive Producer of Los Angeles based Zen Master Films.
One of the VPC’s first initiatives is The Land, a short film created by Velocity Media for the express purpose of demonstrating the ease with which all necessary services, locations, and equipment can be attained for filming. A published comparative budget analysis on the group’s website puts the savings on this production at over 50% what it would have cost to create the same piece with crews in a location like Los Angeles or New York. The VPC will be debuting the project in front of an audience of filmmakers at the Independent Television Festival, an international event being held in Manchester, VT October 11-15.
“The festival is an exciting opportunity to showcase to the television community the accessibility and opportunities that the state offers. There are already a number of productions filming throughout the year who have taken advantage of the people of Vermont’s entrepreneurial attitude,” says the festival’s director and member of the council, Philip Gilpin, Jr. “The support of the festival by the local business community like our presenting sponsor, The Vermont Country Store, has also been driven by a long-term outlook and the goal to attract more productions to the area.”
Gilpin continues, “The aim of ITVFest as a whole is to nurture and provide opportunity for independent series productions. The VPC is a welcome partner for ITVFest and gives us the opportunity to have a year-round economic impact throughout the state. It is a partnership that we hope to grow over time.”
The underlying economic potential of increasing the number of productions in Vermont is a key driver of the VPC. Vermont has long been a community that fosters creative vision and projects like The Cider House Rules, Baby Boom, Funny Farm, and White Christmas provide hundreds, sometimes thousands of jobs, as they require the expertise of individuals in a number of fields, including skilled laborers like electricians and builders.
This month, the Vermont Production Council also debuted an online directory of Vermont-specific filming assets. Located at www.vermontproductioncouncil.com, the directory lists Vermont companies, individuals, and locations already available and ready to work with film productions. Property and business owners and independent contractors are all welcome to submit their information to be listed. Developing services of the Vermont Production Council that will be available to interested filmmakers also include site tours, location scouting, and preferred partner rates with VPC-associated companies.