In Downtown Concord, A Film with Mythic Proportions Takes Shape

Aug 20, 2015

As construction in downtown Concord continues, a group of local filmmakers is making use of the transition from old to new in their fictional film, "Granite Orpheus," an updated and largely improvised take on the story of Orpheus, the musician and poet who tries and fails to retrieve the love of his life from the underworld. 

In the dusty, barely lit basement of Zoe & Company Professional Bra Fitters, Rick Broussard is getting ready for the third day of shooting, which takes places in the streets, alleys, squares, basements and rooftops of the capital city. 

"It was really just a huge mistake," Broussard says. "We thought we'd just on a lark shoot a movie overnight. It was my idea to use Concord because Concord was in this sort of moment in time between the old and the new. And then we decided to add a little epic structure to it. To give it something."

John Hession tracks a shot.
Credit Sean Hurley

While Broussard is directing the actors, filmmaker John Hession directs the shots.

"This is a big group effort and everyone is contributing," he says. "The actors are improv'ing a storyline, we're giving them structure and scenes. And we've got some great young cinematographers and some great people from Concord Public Television."

Shawn McHenry, the sound man, is one of them.

"It's the first time I've actually done full-fledged just sound," McHenry says. "It's a really important task because if you have bad audio, it doesn't matter if the video looks good, bad audio is gonna ruin a film. So, there's a lot of pressure!"

Sound man, Shawn McHenry, waiting for the next take.
Credit Sean Hurley

"We're really using Concord," Broussard says. "We're getting great access to a lot of cool spots because we're working with one of the big property owners of downtown Concord, Mark Ciborowski."

Ciborowski says John Hession approached him a few weeks ago. "He said he had a scene that he wanted to shoot in Phoenix Hall and then he started asking me about other buildings and locations for scenes and stuff. We spent six hours and I told him I've never given a tour of my buildings quite like this."

Hession raises a hand and quiets the dozen cast and crew members. "Everyone quiet on the set.  Don't move. Thank you."

Rick Broussard (left) and John Hession figuring out the scene.
Credit Sean Hurley

Shawn McHenry calls out "Rolling!" and starts to record as actor Brian Halperin and actress Chloe Barcelou improv their scene in the gritty basement.  

Halperin, who has the lead role of Orpheus, says this is the first time he's done improv work. "You know I come from the theater world and you have a script and you know, character development, and you discuss it. This is a lot of 'you're gonna meet a person here, see what happens.' Okay... So I'm trying to keep it simple."

Brian Halperin is Orpheus.

Something else Halperin didn't expect - being in every scene. "Just being open to the experience and this journey that Rick and John are taking us on, trusting that it's gonna go somewhere," he says.

Where that somewhere is exactly, John Hession admits, is not clearly known at this point - in part because the film seems to get bigger every time they set the cameras up. "People walk in off the street," he says, "and they want to do a scene and so we think, well how can we fit it into the storyline?  Alright yeah, we'll give you a part and write it up. You can be the bodybuilder from hell."

The bodybuilder from hell, John Farwell, leans against his heavy prop.

On the second floor of Ciborowki's Oddfellows building, John Farwell, the bodybuilder from hell, practices his scene, bench pressing 150 pounds.

"I mean I actually - I was a paratrooper," Farwell says pausing to rub the long scar along his right arm. "I got wounded in Afghanistan. I hit a roadside bomb and ever since then my right side hasn't really been all that strong."

If one operating principal of Granite Orpheus is organized chaos, another, Hession says, is trusting the assembled cast and crew. "Our thought is the collective intelligence of all the actors and the camera people and the people who are working crew and working on props is better than anything me and Rick could come up with alone."

Broussard suggests that their open door, anything goes policy has created a snowball effect. Because of that, he says, "We've got some amazing people working on this now."

For example, Broussard points out, just sixteen miles away at Rocking Horse Studios in Pittsfield, producer Brian Coombes is busy assembling a team to compose the film's main love song. "Then he mentioned that he's been working with Alex Preston who you may know as one of the almost made it American Idol stars - he offered to write our love song." Not bad for a "low to no" budget film. 

But on the outskirts of Concord, near midnight, a scene unfolds on a stretch of railroad track as Orpheus settles in with a group of drifters by a fire and must listen to song composed by two emissaries from hell.

The two emissaries are sisters, Briana and Naomi Nelson - and the song they're singing, Broussard says, has been composed on the spot. "I gave them a few lines from the original Cocteau's Orpheus. Some cryptic little lines and I said here can you make a song out of this?"

Briana Nelson (holding cup) and her sister Naomi (with guitar).
Credit Sean Hurley

 Naomi strums the guitar as her older sister Briana explains their method. "Naomi's been playing guitar a lot longer than I have and she throws riffs together and then I'll put like a melody to it."

As Broussard listens to the song, he can hardly contain his enthusiasm. "The song is so good that we're probably going to use it over the end credits," he says. "So that kind of thing keeps happening. Everybody seem so confident that it's going somewhere that - maybe it will."

Filming on Granite Orpheus will continue in Concord for the rest of the summer. Then, during the many months of editing that follow, Rick Broussard and John Hession will discover whether their long journey into the underworld of movie making results in the rescue of something they love.