It takes a village to make a film. Here, NYWIFT member Jane Applegate give thanks to all those who lended a hand – literally and figuratively – over the years.
By Jane Applegate
As the holiday spirit flowed last month, my thoughts turned to angels. Not the winged ones in heaven, but the earth-bound ones who generously support independent filmmakers.
I owe everything to the angels who have supported my low-budget film and TV projects through the years. They not only wrote checks, but provided invaluable blessings in the form of donated props, boats, equipment, carpentry skills, political clout, psychological counseling and most of all, their time.
One of my biggest angels was Connecticut entrepreneur, Don Vaccaro. In 2014, he provided us with free access to his five-acre section of Mistake Island, a remote island located off the coast of Jonesport, Maine.
The rugged island is home to an elegant, unrestored 1800’s-era lighthouse, the perfect setting to shoot To Keep the Light, a period piece written and directed by NYWIFT member Erica Fae. Fae’s months of location scouting led us to Vaccaro, who on a whim one evening, purchased a section of the tiny island via an online real estate auction.
Vaccaro’s generosity enabled us to shoot To Keep the Light (www.tokeepthelight.com) for less than $1 million. In addition to providing the spectacular island, he covered the cost of a construction crew and $63,000 worth of building materials to build the exterior of the lighthouse keeper’s house. Years before, the original keeper’s house had been blasted to bits during a military training exercise.
Jane Applegate at the lighthouse on Mistake Island
Built mainly with cables and bolts, all the siding, lumber, windows and trim were salvaged by the construction crew after the shoot and stored on the island to build a future cottage.
Other Jonesport angels were Joy and Colin Alley. I met Joy in the church across the street from the charming inn we rented to house the crew and use as a key location. I was in the church crying and praying — two things many overwhelmed producers do often. Joy reminded me that her husband, Colin, owned the biggest fishing boat in Jonesport. She said if there was anything they could ever do to help out, please call her anytime.
Captain Colin Alley
A few days later, as the leaden clouds rolled into view, our fantastic line producer, Samantha Knowles, insisted that we get everyone off the island — fast. Harry Fish, captain of our tiny fleet of small fishing boats, told Sam it wasn’t safe for him and his sister to return to the island to fetch us. I called Joy and within an hour, Colin and his fishing boat crew arrived to rescue us and all our gear.
Kent Newton, underwater DP and boat wrangler
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) was another angel. A few weeks before shooting started, we learned that the shrill audio signal generated in the lighthouse blared every two minutes — making it impossible to shoot on the island. As luck would have it, Sen. Collins chaired the committee that oversaw the U.S. Coast Guard. Her office was instrumental in accelerating the switch from the automated signal to a ‘marine-activated’ signal that allowed us to shoot on the island.
Other angels included members of the Jonesport Historical Society, who lent us priceless antiques to outfit the general store and provided access to the original post office for the final scene. Those precious antique gave the film its authentic look and feel.
When my friends heard I was finally getting to produce my ‘dream film’ on the scenic coast of Down East Maine, several volunteered to help out on set. Kent Newton, a former Navy diver and underwater cinematographer with 40 years experience, spent nearly a month working with the camera crew, serving as a safety officer and wrangling boats for various scenes.
Alice Look, a post-production supervisor at a major cable network, spent a week on set, grappling with all the SAG paperwork.
My dear friend, Linda Denny, drove us from New York to Jonesport — shopping for food along the way and then cooking for the cast and crew along with Todd and Butchie, our full-time catering team.
Another close friend, Jay, an experienced DP, spent a week on set helping the crew, while also serving as my bodyguard, therapist and driver.
Two years later, on writer/director Harris Doran’s Beauty Mark shoot, I met Brian, the owner of a downtown Louisville ‘gentlemen’s club.’ Brian not only let us shoot in the club for a couple of days, but played himself and did a darn good job.
Auden Thornton (left) and Cathy Curtin on the ‘Beauty Mark’ set- shot in Louisville, KY 2016
On our last day of shooting, the piece of crap car purchased by the line producer I stepped in to replace after she had a meltdown, died. We had one final, critical driving scene and no car. Someone remembered that our club owner friend, Brian, owned a big, flat bed truck. At midnight, Brian rolled up in the truck, winched the crappy car on to the flat bed and helped the exhausted crew rig up the camera car.
Brian and his truck saved the shoot. While they drove off, I dried my tears and unloaded a few bottles of tequila and a trunk full of soda, beer and snacks I had been squirreling away because I was determined to have a wrap party.
We had been shooting non-stop for 12 days under battlefield conditions including a sizzling heat wave and roaring thunderstorms. I spent my own money to rent a car, (that’s another story) but had enough cash left to buy one hundred Fourth of July sparklers. At 2 a.m., when Doran called “Cut—That’s a wrap!” I set two handfuls of sparklers ablaze and passed out the rest to the exhausted crew.
This time, I was crying tears of joy.
Jane Applegate is a producer dedicated to producing ultra-low budget films. She’s also a production consultant and teaches film financing and the business of film at the Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema at Brooklyn College.