By NEIL ZAWICKI
Making a full-length film is not a simple task. Making one with no prior experience in filmmaking is even more complicated. Making one with a collection of actors and aspiring techie types and no budget borderlines on impossible. But that’s what a small group of Vermonters— six of them Milton residents— decided to take on six years ago.
And they pulled it off.
Made in Vermont is an independent feature film, shot all over the state, that chronicles the journey of the band of filmmakers as they work to make their movie. It’s sort of a meta-film within a film, and producer and Milton resident Lonnie Poland said the experience brought all involved to a new level of understanding of themselves and of the world around them.
Poland, a physical therapist and Yoga instructor, discovered acting in 2010, when she took a class at the Richard Waterhouse Acting Studio in Waterbury. She said that experience was powerful.
“I had this community and I fell in love with it,” she said.
Poland said she discovered acting is not a self-indulgent thing at all, but really a process of finding a parallel with one’s own self.
“You tap into who you are,” she said. “So as an actor, you are you.”
That realization, said Poland, lead to the formation of a group of like-minded actors, helmed by noted local actor and Milton resident J Louis Reid. So they formed The Actor’s Circle in 2013, meeting regularly and sharing ideas. But Poland said the fun of brainstorming absent any real projects became frustrating, so she and her fellow actors hatched an idea to make a movie – against the advice of Reid, who suggested a short film instead, the reason being that film making is hard, even for veterans. So against their better judgment, the group jumped in with both feet, and embarked on a six-year-journey.
“Very few independent films make it all the way to the end,” said Poland, explaining how she came to the role of producer. “I told them, ‘When I start something, I see it to the end. I had no idea it was going to be six years later.”
As the scope of the production grew, it took on a life of its own, said Poland. It expanded to include 23 supporting actors, 46 background actors, and 11 main characters. The film was shot at 17 locations throughout the state, with 13 primary scenes, many of which were 16-hour affairs.
The production relied on volunteerism, pot lucks for the food, and borrowed equipment. In the end, Poland said the whole thing cost about $6,000. That’s not a bad price tag by any standard for film production.
Poland also said she and her fellow filmmakers would share the duties, “wearing many hats,” as she said, taking turns on camera or directing. A shoot on lake Champlain involving Ethan Allen trading marijuana for muskets, ending with the cast and crew getting arrested for possession (pre legalization shoot), was one of Poland’s favorites. But ultimately they discovered the value of having a dedicated camera person and editor, and those two roles were filled when freelance video producer Joshua Minor stepped in toward the end of production, and worked his magic to edit the film and render a final cut.
“We had more than two hours of raw footage from all our shoots,” said Poland. “And Josh got it sculpted and a set a good pace and made people fall in love with the characters.”
Made in Vermont premieres Tuesday, June 25 at the Merrill Roxy Cinema in Burlington, and will screen again July 1 at the Savoy Theatre in Montpelier.