Film : Sci-fi thriller filming on Martha's Vineyard
There are some strange things going on in the Chilmark woods these days. Guns are being fired, people are getting offed, and deranged Islanders can be spotted chasing down bloodied folks with unusual maladies. And, oh yeah, there is a film crew capturing it all for a feature length movie being filmed here on Martha's Vineyard over the next several weeks.
The film, "The Taken," is about an orphaned young woman who returns to her childhood home, an island, to claim an inheritance from her uncle, only to uncover the family's dark and experimental past.
Cast and crew numbered over 30 last Sunday working deep in the woods behind a farm on North Road in Chilmark. The film is a "character-driven psychological science fiction thriller," according to writer/director Gabriel Cowan, who sat in a van nibbling on his lunch during a break in filming. "We will be shooting at 24 different locations and using at least 100 Islanders, 9 or 10 with speaking parts. The entire cast has not been selected yet."
The production is centered at Camp Jabberwocky in Vineyard Haven, where a number of scenes are being shot, including a scene on the Jabberwocky stage that required close to 20 takes. The term "perfectionist" didn't come up, but one gets the sense that nothing but the best will do for Mr. Cowan, who has the demeanor and presence of the young Orson Welles, whom he resembles physically, as he moves fluidly between the set and the monitor to set up each shot.
The crew on the set is good-natured, often funny and gregarious. While it is obviously all business, it's done with a light touch due to the team's focus, experience and the loving touch from the top. The team has earned its chops on many different movies. Some of the actors are well known in the business - long-time television and movie actor Robert Culp (NBC's "I Spy," "Everybody Loves Raymond," and such films as "Pelican Brief"), Richard Riehle ("Fried Green Tomatoes", "Wedding Crashers," "Boston Legal," "West Wing," and a long list of TV credits), and Brian Krause ("CSI: Miami," "The Closer," and "Charmed"), and relative newcomer Chris Shand ("Law & Order," "Cold Case"), and others.
Mr. Cowan said with a laugh that it was not too difficult to get his cast and crew to come to Martha's Vineyard. "They thought it was going to be like a vacation, but we are working night and day."
Photos by Ralph Stewart
Mr. Cowan is enthused as he talks about the details of his latest project right down to the kind of cameras being used. The Red, a brand-new ultra high definition digital camera made by a company that plans "to make obsolescence obsolete," will produce large screen, film-like quality, according to Mr. Cowan.
This is the fourth feature for Mr. Cowan's production company, New Artists Alliance. He and producer Amiee Clark started New Artists Alliance to "give students and young film makers the opportunity to make low-budget feature films with domestic and international distribution."
He has marshaled a tight, experienced, and capable crew that moves as a well-trained team around the set. Mr. Cowan's assistant, casting director Monica Forouzesh ("Let's keep everything on schedule"), executive producer Yousef Abu Talab and Ms. Clark keep the show running, leaving him the time and space he needs to fine-tune the production. Assistant director Mark McKeown takes charge of the production details as he shepherds the crew through the paces of multiple retakes.
"Filming on Martha's Vineyard has its own problems," says Mr. Cowan. "Sometimes you can't find what you need here. We are on a limited budget and sometimes we need something right away so we are keeping a car off-Island just to allow us to get what we need."
Ms. Forouzesh pointed out that Islander Treather Gassmann has been "an invaluable asset" helping find locations and actors and "just about anything else we need," and generally "making our work on Martha's Vineyard doable."
Mr. Cowan is California-based, as is much of his crew. He has degrees from the University of Southern California and California Institute of the Arts. His Vineyard roots are deep. His grandfather purchased land here in the early 1950s, and he has spent many summers here. He has an undergraduate degree in music composition and worked as a musician and composer for a number of years until he realized the creative possibilities inherent in the movie business.
Several crewmembers have worked with Mr. Cowan from his first film to his latest, "Breathing Room," which is to be released in just a few days. "'Breathing Room' is what's paying for this film," says Mr. Cowan happily. The New Artists Alliance team recently finished a drama called "Family of Four," and is currently editing "Flower in a Barrel," which their website describes as, "a film which documents the process of reconciliation and forgiveness in post-genocide Rwanda."
Filming of "The Taken" will be finished by October 17, and it should be a total wrap by the end of year.
Tony Omer is operations manager at The Martha's Vineyard Times.