L.A. actors brought in to film regional play

Bill Humphreys has spent the last 35 years working in film, television and radio, 25 of those in Los Angeles. But instead of Burbank, the next project he produces and directs will be on a sound stage in Tilton.

Yes, Tilton.

But the actors come from Los Angeles.

Cast and crew will be calling the Lord Hampshire on Lake Winnisquam home this May while they shoot Just Say Love. It’s the first major production at Granite State Media (www.gmcnh.com), the Tilton facility that opened in the fall. It’s also an initial attempt on a new take for turning plays into film, Humphreys said.

“There’s been two standard methods to make the transfer from theatrical material to the screen,” Humphreys said. One is to place scenes in real-world settings, and the other is to stage the play in a proscenium arch in front of a live audience. “Both seem to come up short in some ways,” Humphreys said. For him, “that sense of theater has been lost,” he said.

Regional playwright David Mauriello was of the same mindset, the two discovered late last summer. “We both had the same vision of how to accomplish this task which has been tried time and time again,” Humphreys said.

They chose Mauriello’s play, Just Say Love, to test out their theory.

Essentially, they want to mount a black box theatrical production in a sound stage, but “impose the cameras into it” and shoot it cinematically, Humphreys said. The style would be “referred to as Brechtian,” with minimalist sets, he said. Instead of shooting in a park, for example, Boston Common will be represented by gravel and benches on the sound stage. An apartment will be a platform with doors but no walls.

“Rather than laying it all out for them … I’d rather have the audience spend a little time being curious,” Humphreys said. “The goal, of course, is to bring the audience in to the story and let them understand it from inside out, basically,” Humphreys said.

Just Say Love is a “beautifully written story, about the evolution of a relationship,” from initial physical attraction to a more spiritual and platonic relationship, Humphreys said. It was nominated for Best New Play by the Independent Reviewers of New England. It premiered at the Players Ring in Portsmouth and has also been staged in Chicago and at the BCA in Boston.

Stagewright Films auditioned in Los Angeles and cast Matthew Jaeger as Guy, a sensitive vegetarian gay artist, and Robert Mammana as Doug, a straight carpenter.

Humphreys said initially he wanted to film in New Hampshire because this is his home. Mauriello also lives in the region. But also, it’s a lot more “cost-effective” to shoot in New Hampshire than in California, or even Boston. Even though Massachusetts offers a tax credit to shoot within the state, sound stage rates can be about four times higher. And New Hampshire has no sales tax.

In addition, the Lakes Region is a “very conducive place to do creative work.”

Humphreys has won three Emmy awards. One was for a documentary about the California death penalty. Another was for a dramatic interpretation of Robert Frost’s poetry. The third was for a dramatic piece that dealt with “the plight of rural American farms.”

The cost of making the individually financed film fluctuates, but Humphreys said at least $250,000 will be injected into the Lakes Region economy from the project during May.

Stagewright plans to wrap on May 23, and has set an Aug. 1 deadline for the final product. The group distributes through Funny Boy Films in Los Angeles (www.funnyboyfilms.com), which will handle theater and television release and DVD home sales.

Humphreys said the long-range goal of Stagewright Films is to create a series of plays filmed in this manner and hope that sparks an interest among audiences in seeing live theater. “The human nature of actors performing live is just a very magical thing,” Humphreys said.

By Heidi Masek
hmasek@hippopress.com