Filming Close (or Maybe a Bit Too Close) to Home

By Christina Eliopoulos

My hometown of Asbury Park is 1.25 miles square: bounded by the ocean and the historic boardwalk on one side, wide tree-lined streets with gingerbread homes with wraparound porches and a quaint Main Street in the middle, and bordered by three picturesque lakes. A beach town in the off season — quiet, dreamy, with wide open vistas. I imagined it as the ideal setting for my first narrative short.

My film Tonight and Every Night tells the story of an older gentleman suffering from dementia who comes to the aid of a lonely and lost little boy. We had six days to film a short-ways-down-the-road trip movie with some heavy emotional scenes, and combined with an extended sequence of a fantasy late night talk show within the main’s character’s fractured mind. With such an ambitious project featuring a child actor no less, on a shoe-string (naturally) budget, and a (full disclosure) bad case of the newbie jitters, part of me was yearning for the safety of home. So before you plan your triumphant homecoming to scout locations, here are a few words of caution and consolation.

Caution: There is no “under the radar.”

Don’t think you can slip into town unnoticed. Your mother will have already told everybodythe mail carrier, her hairdresser, the mother of the guy who dumped you in ninth grade, the church ladies. Mothers are, in relative terms, more cost-effective than a publicist or a community liaison. And they work hard. My mom’s friend heard that a reporter and news crew from a local TV station were in town chasing a story. Circling City Hall in her friend’s car, Mom pitched the crew with tidbits such as “She’s in the shower right now, but she can get dressed and come meet you” and “My daughter has a camera too, but yours looks bigger. So you probably make more money than she does.”

Caution: It’s like Facebook.

In that everyone from high school and distant relatives just pop up unexpectedly. Except that they pop up in person, on set, to show you the photos of their pets, husband, kids, boat, and last vacation…that are already on Facebook. One acquaintance showed up at the beach just as we were scrambling to get in that last shot before we lost light. This gentleman corralled the Art Director and asked him, “Hey, I heard Christina is making a film, here. What is it called?”

Baywatch,” said my Art Director, straight-faced. “You just missed Zac Efron.”

Consolation: Governance by the people.

When friends in the Police and Fire Department swing by to give your grip truck, camera van and RV an “unofficial” escort from one location to another, it’s very reassuring. Also, for a brief shining moment, you and your happy crew will be the hottest ticket in town. The mayor and members of the city council will come to set and pose for pictures with you. The next day a photo of yourself — sleep-deprived and wan visage, hair like a hornet’s nest, in a sweat-stained shirt and tattered jeans weighed down by a makeshift Batman belt for your cell phone, walkie and sides — will appear in the local paper. And yet your hometown friends will very sweetly lie and tell you how lovely you look.

Consolation: Extra special extras.

Your hometown neighbors and their friends and coworkers will work as extras — cheerfully — for a sandwich and soda. In fact, a neighborhood restaurant surprised us by delivering hot dogs and hamburgers to set to feed all of us.

Consolation: Prop shop always open.

Folks in town will happily and graciously open their homes and in some cases, their closets to you. Need some last minute/ finishing touches for wardrobe for our lead actress? Time to shop Mom’s collection of costume jewelry. Looking for props? The art department borrowed several dozen charming garden gnomes, statues, wind chimes, pinwheels and lawn ornaments from the front yard of my neighbor’s home to decorate out one of our locations. Planning for our climactic final scene, we discovered that the front porch of the home of my elementary school classmate was a perfect location. She even invited us to set up tables in her back yard so we could feed our cast and crew dinner.

Making make believe is difficult and costly. So heading home, where encouragement and support is offered so freely, was easily the right choice.

 

 

Christina Eliopoulos is a writer/director. Tonight and Every Night is fiscally sponsored by NYWIFT. Donate to her IndieGoGo campaign.

 

 

 

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