Granite Orpheus - Concord Film with Mythic Proportions

Aug 18, 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 improvised take on the Greek Myth set in the streets, alleys, squares, basements and rooftops of the capital city.  NHPR's Sean Hurley spent a night on the town with the film's cast and crew and sends us this.

"Let's power up the cameras. We ready to shoot the rehearsals?"

John Hession tracks a shot.
Credit Sean Hurley

In the dusty, barely lit basement of Zoe & Company Professional Bra Fitters, in downtown Concord, Rick Broussard is getting ready for the third day of shooting of Granite Orpheus, a largely improvised film loosely based on the story of Orpheus, a musician and poet who tries and fails to retrieve the love of his life from the underworld. 

"It was really just a huge mistake. 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 of time between the old and the new and then we decided to add a little epic structure to it. To give it something."

Rick Broussard (left) and John Hession figuring out the scene.
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. 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 is one of them.

Sound man Shawn McHenry between takes.
Credit Sean Hurley

"It's the first time I've actually done full-fledged just sound. 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!"

"We're really using Concord.  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."

"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."

"Everyone quiet on the set.  Don't move. Thank you.
Rolling?
Rolling:
Conrad?
Rolling.
Alright, audio Tascam 114 rolling...
Hmm hmm hmm - Oh, can I help you?
I assume you're a part of this. Are you gonna give me my next direction?
What are you looking for?
You know who I'm looking for.  I'm looking for her -
Oooh!"

"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.

Brian Halperin plays the lead role of Orpheus.

"Just being open to the experience and this journey that Rick and John are taking us on, trusting that it's gonna go somewhere."

"We're just gonna shoot a couple rehearsals, then we'll see how it works out."

"People walk in off the street 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."

"My name is John Farwell and I own CrossFit IronBorn here in Concord."

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 and then pausing to rub the long scar along his right arm.

"I mean I actually - I was a paratrooper. I got wounded in Afghanistan. I hit a roadside bomb and ever since then my right side hasn't really been all that strong."

"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."

"So it got bigger. It snowballed. Also people liked the idea and started attaching themselves to it. We've got some amazing people working on this now."

16 miles away at Rocking Horse Studios in Pittsfield, producer Brian Coombes has been 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."

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.

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

"Here's a young duo who loves to sing and they're putting it together on the fly."

"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?"

The young duo are 20 year old Naomi Nelson and her 22 year old sister, Briana.

"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."

"The song is so good that we're probably going to use it over the end credits. 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.