Thursday, June 10, 2004

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Film group goes from talk to action

"Think globally, shoot locally." That snappy tagline adorns the website of the Filmmaker's Salon, a Newport-based group founded by Justin Brierley. "The first idea is that it would be a networking opportunity for people in Newport who wanted to make films," explained Brierley, who founded the group last November.

The group's mission quickly morphed, though, as mere discussion of film at their monthly meetings quickly led to the idea of making one.

The original plan was for the newfound members of the group to collaborate on a film, but, well, you know artists. The group decided to produce a film, but to make every step of the process a competition.

The contest started in January with a call for a screenplay. Brierley put together a panel of three judges and gathered seven submissions. The contest rules were tight for the screenplay- as it had to fit into the salon's operating budget, (no plays set in the Grand Canyon, please), and it had to be short.

The winner was Andrew Wilner with a screenplay entitled The Last Sentence. The piece is about an unsavory rapist/murder whose punishment is to be put to death for two minutes, in an attempt at rehabilitation, and then brought back to life again.

"I've been interested in near death for some time," said Wilner, an accomplished neurologist. "But it's not something I would recommend," he added laughingly.

Wilner is already a published author, with two books out on epilepsy and numerous pieces in medical trade publications. He has also written and directed plays, though this is his first serious foray into screenwriting.

"I've been involved in creative writing ever since I could hold a pen," he explained.

The next contest was for a director. Those interested were given a copy of the script, then made presentations about how they would transform the words into action.

A five-person panel, which included Wilner, chose Rich Frost on the spot. Frost is the general manager of Boston University's Opera House, and has been writing and directing films for most of his life. Frost has submitted films to festivals before, but has yet to be accepted into one.

Frost said that he read Brierley's call for a director on a website that had film classified ads, and sent him an e-mail.

"It was the first time I had ever heard of the group," he said.

Frost is excited about the script, calling it "interesting and complex." He said he will be spending a lot of time talking with Wilner about his characters and trying to combine their visions of the story.

"The best thing about this project is what a great collaborative effort it will be," said Frost.

The next step in the process, said Brierley, is the hunt for a cinematographer. That position has a submission deadline of July 10, and applicants are expected to submit a demo reel of their work plus a cover letter or resume. The applicant will also need to supply their own camera.

The final step will be an editing competition. Brierley hopes that the cast will be in place and the film can be shot sometime in October. He expects the shooting to take only a few days, at which point all of the raw footage will be handed over to interested editors, who will then each put the whole package, including music, together and submit the final product to yet another panel. Brierley's goal is to have the film ready by February, and submitted to next year's Newport International Film Festival by March.

"One of the goals for this is to make it an annual event," said Brierley.

Everyone participating in the event has volunteered their services, and Brierley has just recently embarked on a campaign to raise funds to shoot the film. He expects that it will cost around $5,000, but hopes that he can raise a bit more than that to throw a little cash to the participants.

"People have been coming out of the woodwork for this," said Brierley. He said people have volunteered to help with costumes, special effects, costume design, carpentry ... he even had someone volunteer to do the accounting.

People interested in joining Filmmaker's Salon or submitting their name for consideration in the upcoming film can visit www.film-salon.org or contact Justin Brierley at 846-9262.

BY HEIDI EFFINGER