A woman out for her regular run through the North Harwich woods stumbles upon a disturbing scene, apparently the aftermath of a drug deal gone bad. Things turn ugly, and she ends up running for her life, forced to defend herself in ways she never imagined possible.
No, that's not the latest Netflix original. It's the plot of “Runner,” a short film being produced locally by a Harwich couple who hope to use it to attract interest in a feature-length movie they hope to make.
Jade and Paul Schuyler describe “Runner” as a “survival thriller.” Most of it is being filmed with a local crew at Jade's mother's North Harwich farm and on adjacent conservation property.
“This is really a calling card,” Paul says of the film, which is being shot on 4K digital. “It's a showcase on how we handle suspense, intense performances, action.” He is directing and wrote the script; the idea came from his regular trail runs along the power lines. The lead character literally runs into a horrible situation and is tested to her limits – and perhaps beyond.
“It's pretty gruesome and fun,” he says.
The couple, who formerly ran the Box Office Cafe in South Chatham and now help out Jade's mother, Margaret Wilson, with her Chatham Pottery business, are part of a small group of local filmmakers who are slowly creating a body of Cape-based work. Jade was recently nominated for best supporting actress at the FANtastic Horror Film Festival in San Diego for her performance in “They Are Mine,” a horror film director by Chatham resident James Michael Hull and filmed locally. Geoff Bassett, director of photography on “The Runner” and assistant manager at the Chatham Orpheum Theater, also worked on that film, as did Rob Kelley, who is doing makeup and special effects on the Schuyler's film.
“There's some great talent here,” Jade said, “and so much interest. That's inspiring.”
Both Paul and Jade are active in local theater and called in some of their thespian friends to help with “Runner.” The main villain is played by Steve Ross, who directed Paul in “Driving Miss Daisy” at the Cotuit Center for the Arts this summer. Another bad guy is played by Cape theater veteran Beau Jackett. Will Moser, whom Jade acted with recently at the Cape Cod Theater Company's “On Golden Pond,” is helping out with sound.
Filming has been taking place on and off over the past few months. During a recent morning in the horse barn at the North Harwich farm, Jade Schuyler, bruised and bloodied, dragged an equally bloody – and apparently dead – Ross up a set of stairs over and over, as her husband and Bassett captured the action from different angles. For Ross, who's more used to the consistency of theater, the “stop and go” nature of filming a movie is “the tough part.”
“It takes so much time to get back into character,” he said. Making the film, his first cinematic experience, has nonetheless been “a blast,” he added.
“I've had so much fun, and learned a lot,” Ross said.
“The Runner” is being shot in five locations in and around the farm. They rented a Blackmagic Ursa Mini 4.6K Cinema camera to ensure a high quality finished product. The footage thus far has been “stellar,” Jade said.
“I can't wait to put it all together,” she said.
Both Jade, who grew up in Chatham, and Paul spent time in California working in the film industry. After selling the Box Office Cafe, the couple, who have two sons, Quinn, 12, and Shaw, 13 – both of whom appeared in “They Are Mine” – began spending more time acting and developing projects. Jade recently spent time in New Mexico shooting a film called “Cowboy Drifter” for director Michael Lange, and when she returned home she was energized. Rather than try to tackle a feature film, with all the complications and financial ramifications that involves, they decided to do a short, but to do it right, with top-notch equipment, effects and acting to create a polished product that could be their “calling card,” Paul said.
“It's to put out there and showcase what we can do for potential investors” in a feature film. Paul has two feature scripts ready to go – “Off-Season,” a horror story, and a psychological thriller that's a remake of a feature he made in California. Both could be filmed on Cape Cod, they said. Working in the genre of horror has its advantages as well. There's a market for it and a quality film can often be made with a low budget.
Jade said her part in “Runner” has been challenging, mostly because the role is very physical. She's also serving as producer, which is just as challenging but not as much fun. Her job there is to coordinate filming, make the schedule, and basically make sure everything is ready for filming.
“It's keeping the production moving forward,” she said. The low budget nature of the shoot also makes it challenging and gives everyone real hands-on experience. “You feed everybody and have a good time,” she said.
The Schuylers hope to eventually screen “Runner” locally, perhaps in a double feature with Hull's “They Are Mine.” They expect to wrap up filming Monday and will then launch into editing and post-production. For Jade, the film can't be finished soon enough so they can find investors and get on with shooting a feature.
“I just wish I could do this all the time,” she said.