CHATHAM – In the past decade, the town has served as a location for two movies – the small, independent production “The Golden Boys” and Disney's big-budget recreation of the Pendleton rescue, “The Finest Hours.”
This week Chatham will serve as the setting for a much smaller, more intimate film, a student short entitled “Man of War.” In a sense, the film may be the closest of all to the spirit of Chatham.
“This is the type of film where sense of place is so incredibly important,” said writer/director Abigail Schwarz, a graduate directing student at Columbia University in New York City. Schwarz, whose grandparents, Ann and Tom Schwarz, live in town, grew up coming to Chatham and chose to set her end-of-year project here.
“I remember going to the fish pier as a kid, that whole experience,” said Schwarz, who grew up in Wellesley and New Canaan, Conn. “It's about family and connection.”
The short tells the story of a Mark Murphy, commercial fishermen in his 60s and his relationship with his daughter and granddaughter. After picking up his supposedly sick granddaughter from summer camp at a local country club, they decide to play hooky and head to the beach, where complications ensue.
“It's a snapshot of a type of life that is really about family and connecting to the ocean and the town,” Schwarz said, “about how even one day can make a difference.”
The film is set in 1994, at a time when the commercial fishing industry was in transition from the tradition of the rugged, independent fisherman to a more regulated, economically troubled business. Murphy is wrestling with those changes, and Schwarz said she wanted to draw parallels between that shift and they way children were being raised.
The Columbia graduate directing program is “very intense” though “incredibly rewarding,” Schwarz said. Students are expected to complete multiple projects; the first-year project is “the culmination of a full year's worth of work in the program.” Fellow students are participating, along with professionals from both New York and the Cape.
“It's a combined effort in terms of the levels of education in terms of people just starting out and people who are really true professionals at their craft,” Schwarz said.
One of the professionals is the lead actor, Joe Pantoliano, who won an Emmy for his portrayal of Ralph Cifaretto in “The Sopranos.” He's also appeared in “Risky Business,” “The Goonies” and “The Matrix,” and in the Netflix series “Sense8.” Schwarz worked with Pantoliano's daughter Daniella (who will play the daughter role in “Man of War”) on a previous short film and the two became friends and the director also got to know Pantoliano.
“I wrote this story with him in mind,” she said, “knowing it was something he would excel at.” He's also serving as executive producer and has been involved in the development of the film and his character. “So the project is really centered on him, in a lot of ways,” Schwarz said.
Much of the technical crew is from New York; while the three lead actors are from the city as well, supporting players and production assistants are drawn from locals, she said. Sound is also being handled by a local resident, Steve Baker. She said she wanted someone on sound familiar with the Cape who could capture the aural experience of the area and was familiar with the challenges of shooting here, particularly the ever-present wind.
“The sound is so critical,” Schwarz said. “At the end of the day the images can look as beautiful as possible, but if you can't hear anyone, what's the point?”
Although the film could have been set in any seaside location, Schwarz said it was “always important to me to shoot on the Cape and in Chatham, to really make use of all the beautiful locations” and to capture the character of the town. She's worked with Police Chief Mark Pawlina in choosing locations and has gotten support from local shops and residents.
“It's really starting to feel like a community effort, which I hoped it would be,” she said. Locations will include the fish pier, Lighthouse Beach and other recognizable local spots.
Shooting is scheduled for Wednesday through Friday of this week. While it's a school project, Schwarz said she plans to submit “Man of War” to film festivals. “That's the end goal of the project,” she said. She'd love to screen the film at the Orpheum Theater, which would tie it back into the community.