On Vineyard, on screen
"The Black Eyed Girl," an independent film, was shown to an enthusiastic local crowd at Katharine Cornell Theatre in Vineyard Haven last Thursday, August 24. The hour-long movie was co-written by Taylor Toole and Ryan Begley, directed by Taylor Toole, and produced by Sean O'Brien.
The three-man crew, born and raised on the Vineyard, used the Island as the primary setting for their film. In September of 2004, they spent nine days shooting in Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs, and five more in Boston. From the Oak Bluffs Campground to Vineyard Haven's Veterans' Park, the film locations jump out at anyone familiar with the Island.
"Shooting on the Vineyard was perfect because we know the Island inside and out, and people were accommodating to kids who grew up here," says Mr. Toole. Along with permission to film in the Campground and such places as the Oak Bluffs Public Library, they were given the use of a police cruiser. Police Officer Carrie Giacomini even makes a brief appearance in the movie.
Getting the other actors to the Vineyard proved to be a little more difficult. After casting in Boston, the primarily teenaged cast had to juggle school and traveling to and from the Island. Particularly challenging was a scene requiring most of the cast, which had to be shot over a number of days at sunset.
Once the film was completed, Richard Paradise, Martha's Vineyard Film Society Chairperson, was instrumental in having it shown at the Katharine Cornell Theatre. Mr. Paradise, who is currently working on the ambitious Martha's Vineyard International Film Festival, which opens Sept. 14, devotes much of his time to bringing movies to the Vineyard. In addition to helping Mr. Toole secure the theater and a projector, he promoted the film on the Society's web site.
The film begins with a theft. The culprit, Naomi (Victoria Campbell), seeking a safe place to hide, flees from Boston to the Vineyard. Once on the Island, she catches the eye of Ezra (Jim Ford), a young carpenter. Unaware of her past, Ezra strikes up a relationship with the girl, but there are two other men after her - on the trail of the stolen money. One, Ray (Ray Leone Jr.), will stop at nothing to reclaim the cash. The normally peaceful Island is suddenly plagued by violence and murder, all leading to the ultimate showdown.
Mr. Toole refers to his movie slightly disparagingly, yet confidently, as a "B-movie thriller." The B-movie label can be easily written off to its mere $6,000 budget. The money came from Mr. Toole's own pocket, savings from his time working as an assistant to the executive producer of HBO's "Deadwood."
"While my friends are buying cars and houses, I'm spending money on trying to make movies," Mr. Toole says, describing a passion for theater and film that dates back to his early years. During fourth and fifth grade, he teamed up with Ryan Begley. The two would take Mr. Begley's VHS camera and make action movies, roaming Vineyard Haven fields or exploring an abandoned warehouse off State Road.
Mr. Toole and Mr. Begley, now in their late twenties, have long since graduated from the VHS camera. For "The Black Eyed Girl" they used a Panasonic DVX 100. Shot in digital video at 24 frames a second, the slower shutter speed gives video the slightly grainy feel of film, the look of a major motion picture. Once filmed, the movie spent almost two years in postproduction. Mr. Toole used Apple's Final Cut Pro to edit it.
Before "The Black Eyed Girl" and his job at "Deadwood," Toole worked on HBO's Project Greenlight. He also directed an 18-minute film, "Standing Up," about a boy's first kiss. The short played at the Island Theater before major pictures for two weeks. With a $30,000 budget, a 16-person crew, and more resources, Toole found himself consumed by having to manage the production. "With Black Eyed Girl, I found much more time to direct and be creative," he says.
"The Black Eyed Girl" premiered at the Pioneer Theater in New York City's East Village on August 9. "The reaction there was much different than on the Vineyard," says Mr. Toole. "There it was more about the suspense and plot twists. Here, people responded more to the humor."
"What time's the last boat?" was among the lines that brought knowing laughter from the Vineyard audience. Local appreciation for the film carried over at the end of the Katharine Cornell screening, when Mr. Toole fielded questions from the audience.
Although he has yet to have success in booking "The Black Eyed Girl" at the major film festivals, Mr. Toole is far from discouraged. He says he enjoys choosing the venues at which his movie is played. With the cost of entering the festivals coupled with the time it takes to try, Mr. Toole says "I would rather spend the time and energy toward my next project. I want to put my energy into the next movie so that I can keep getting better."
He is currently working on a new script, hoping to have it ready in two to three months. He will then seek outside funding. In the longer run, Mr. Toole plans to keep improving his craft, building up a body of work to present to investors when the time comes for the big movie. Rather than being a director for hire, Taylor Toole would like to write and direct his own projects. He enjoys acting, and appears as a police officer in "The Black Eyed Girl." But he prefers story telling from the other side of the camera. "I just want to make movies," he says.
James Burrows is a freelance writer who lives in Vineyard Haven and New York City.