Friday May 4, 2012

Some secrets are best to share, like the Berkshires as a budding destination to make a movie.

For the past year, the Berkshire Film and Media Commission has been in talks with filmmaker Swamy Kandan about bringing a script to shoot in Berkshire County. Together, this spring, they are making it happen.

This week, Kandan and his actors and crew began the primary shooting for a psychological thriller film called "The Secret Village," under executive producer Raj T. Rajan MD.

Though only carrying a Screen Actors Guild ultra-low-budget classification (under $200,000), the film stars actors with some well-known credits: Ali Faulkner ("Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn"), Jonathan Bennett ("Mean Girls"), Richard Riehle ("Office Space," "Glory"), Stelio Savante ("Ugly Betty").

Two year's ago, Diane Pearlman, executive director of the Berkshire Film and Media Commission, told The Eagle that, while the region would welcome major motion picture productions, the commission was developed with smaller, independent film and video commercial projects in mind.

This week, she said she couldn't be a happier liaison between the film crew and the community.

"This is what we envisioned. This is happening. We're having a film here, created here, and it's fabulous," said Pearlman.

Kandan said he has also been pleased with the process. "It has gone very well, and I think any genre [of film] that matches this place should definitely come here," he said.

Parts of the crew arrived on March to begin scouting locations, and various cast and crew members will stay in the Berkshires until May 12 or 13.

"We've really got people here from all over. But it's fun, it's close to nature and the people are great. We love it here," said co-producer Sridhar "Sam" Ranganath, who listed film members from as close as New York to as far away as places like Los Angeles, Spain and Italy. Ranganath himself is from New York City via India. The film has also taken on a mix of Berkshire County residents, both paid and unpaid, from caterers to movie extras.

The poster for ‘The Secret Village.’
The poster for ‘The Secret Village.’ (Courtesy photo)

In addition to a cast and crew of about 30 people staying in local homes and hotels and being patrons of local businesses, the film crews have been capturing local venues, indoors and out, such as: Olivia's Overlook, Naumkeag, Stockbridge Cemetery and other parts of Stockbridge; Hancock Shaker Village, as well as locations in Lee, Lenox and Monterey. One additional scene will be filmed in New York City.

Kandan said that post-production of the film will take place in Los Angeles and that he plans on entering the film into the Sundance Film Festival, which takes place in January 2013. The film will also be shopped to other distributors around that time.

On Thursday, the cast and crew shot scenes at Hancock Shaker Village, where the climax of the film takes place.

Key makeup artist Lola Barroso of Zion Artistry took in the atmosphere while she touched up Faulkner's makeup in the Shaker dwelling. "It's picturesque. There's so much history here," Barroso said.

Lead actor Jonathan Bennett said he's already smitten with the scenery. On his first day in town, he said he went on a hike through Kennedy Park and sent copious amount of photos to his mother via his iPhone. Bennett's usually based in L.A., and said he isn't used to such a cold spring. He said it's also helped him get into his role.

"When we first came here, we were staying at The Cornell Inn. It was just getting dark out, and it's near the woods and you had the cold air and the dusk. It stated to get spooky looking. It really put you in the mood of the set," he said.

"It definitely helps a lot," agreed his castmate Mary Karin Duseva.

On Wednesday, filming took place at Sullivan Station restaurant in Lee, where owner Darleen Zradi and her staff were happy to host. She said that her customers didn't even mind that the eatery temporarily closed for lunch that day to accommodate the film schedule.

"It's a lot of work, but it's fun too," she said. In addition to offering the restaurant and a backdrop, director Kandan also hired her on as a caterer, and cast her as a "sharp-tongued" character named Emily, who has a bit of a speaking role.

Windsor resident and local musician Randy Cormier was also cast in the film as an extra, a head waiter, with a brief speaking role. He spent six hours on the set and got to meet film members and got lunch.

"It was kind of a rush, exciting," he said.

Outside of acting, John Kickery of Kickery Creative in Pittsfield; Lisa Mears, artist and manager of Whistler's Inn in Lenox, and Alexa Green, a Pittsfield native and New York University television film student, have also been on set regularly taking still photographs and assisting with the production.

"It's a great networking opportunity with other artists," said Mears.

Green said that in addition to "The Secret Village," she's already heard of a few other film productions being planned for the Berkshires, which has enticed her to stay local for the summer.

Cormier said that having a film, even a small production, is "amazing for the Berkshires. We don't get opportunities like this like they do in a big city all the time. Hopefully, they'll just keep on coming."

To reach Jenn Smith:
jsmith@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6239
On Twitter: @JennSmith_Ink





About the film ...

In "The Secret Village," Bennett's character, Greg (Jonathan Bennett), is an unsuccessful screenwriter who recently broke up with his girlfriend, according to an online description of the film. He ends up meeting Rachel (Ali Faulkner), a beautiful journalist who is researching the effects of ergot poisoning on a community.

Ergot poisoning is a real occurrence caused by the human consumption of rye bread in which has been infected by an ergot-containing fungus, and may cause hallucinations. It is believed by some researchers that it may have caused the hallucinations in some of those involved in the Salem Witch Trials.

In the film, Rachel is researching whether and how ergot poisoning may be affecting another small village with reports of mass hysteria. She and Greg rent a house together, and she shares her research with him. Then, Greg disappears, and Rachel is left alone to uncover the mystery of the village.