French filmmaker Jonathan Bucari had spent the better part of the day Tuesday in a Westfair Drive home in Westport filming scenes for his television pilot before he learned that Academy Award-winning actor Paul Newman had made the town his home for decades.
"No wonder it's attracted me," said Bucari, of Demian Pictures, adding that he had selected Westport for one of his film locations "without knowing about its artistic landscape." Bucari and his crew filmed several scenes in the home of Chris and Sharon Peterson for "The Sacrificial Lamb," an FBI drama filled with political intrigue and dizzying plot twists as a pilot for a possible television series. This is his first American film, but he has numerous short films and commercials to his credit in Europe.
It was his final day of filming in Connecticut. Bucari shot some of the pivotal scenes earlier in the week at a $1.2 million home in Easton. He found both houses through real estate agent Alison Sternberg, of Halstead Property in Westport. She helped Bucari secure the Easton colonial to serve as protagonist Senator Hamilton's residence. The Petersons' more modest home was used as FBI Agent Jane Scheider's house.
"They went from one of the biggest houses in the state to one of the smallest," joked Chris Peterson, who was glad to lend his property to the film crew.
"We met with Jonathan and he was very gracious and lovely and we thought it would be a great experience. Our son Ryan (age 11) thought it would be intriguing to have a television pilot shot in our own home, especially with the theme of the FBI," Chris Peterson said. "It's fun to have a little bit of Hollywood come to Westport."
"It's chaos, but it's fun," Sharon Peterson said.
Bucari chose his career path from a young age. "When I was 12 years old my best friend wanted a computer to play games and I wanted a computer to edit film," Bucari said. He serves as the film's producer, screenwriter and director. "That's one of the most beautiful songs I ever heard: The rolling of the film," said Bucari, whose favorite director is Steven Spielberg.
Bucari said he wrote the screenplay based on a short story written by Ludivic Beot," a 16-year-old, who Bucari met in England while he was there teaching French. "I asked him, `Can I use the spine of your imagination to create the pilot?' " the fillmaker said.
"The Sacrificial Lamb" is one of the most expensive independent films produced on the East Coast, according to Bucari. He is using about $2 million worth of equipment including a Panavision camera -- "the best camera ever created for motion pictures," with anamorphic lenses. "We're using the same kind of equipment that was used for `The Dark Knight,' " he said.
"For a pilot this is very expensive and a huge risk. We're creating a very cinematic look for a TV pilot," he said. "We may have gorgeous equipment but you have to have something to film," said Bucari, who believes he captured something "magical" in the performances from the actors.
The film's cast includes several local performers, among them Ryan Jones, 11, of Darien, and Nicole Rhatigan, a native of New Canaan now living in New York City, and Gabriel Rush, 13, an actor from Putnam County, N.Y., who performs in the Broadway musical, "Billy Elliott."
Working in a film close to home was "a lot easier on my parents," Ryan said. Usually his parents are transporting him to New York for auditions and acting work. Although Ryan lives a rather normal life -- he finds time to play baseball, soccer and lacrosse, he said "acting is not a hobby. It's a way of life." Gabriel said the transition from stage to screen is difficult and yet there are similarities. "You have to bring everything you have to the table every time," whether it's performing on Broadway in eight shows a week or doing multiple takes for a film.
Ryan and Gabriel played brothers and they had to give an emotionally wrenching performance.
"It was such an emotional scene. Even rehearsing it I started crying," said actress Kate Adams, who plays the senator's wife and mother of the boys. She said two young actors were "incredibly impressive." "That was the most difficult scene for me to write, bringing that kind of emotion to kids," Bucari said.
Rhatigan, who plays Schneider, called her work on Bucari's film "an amazing experience and it was an opportunity to play someone so strong and determined. I'm used to getting the more feminine roles," she said.
Filming for "The Sacrificial Lamb" was set to wrap up Thursday in Manhattan, where Bucari was given permission to shoot several scenes at the FBI building and on Wall Street. Bucari will spend the next three months in post-production editing his film.
Friday, April 15, 2011