Driving down a winding road in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania, the car rounds a turn, climbing higher into the mountains. Perched on the side of a steep hill is an old farmhouse with peeling gray paint and gaping windows, surrounded by fields of dry and rustling corn. The front lawn slopes dangerously down and then sprawls out into an honest-to-god pumpkin patch. This is where the cast and crew for upcoming indie thriller The Fields are shooting today.
When we arrive, they are filming a scene in the pumpkin patch with Bev Appleton and Joshua Ormond. It’s October, and in the mountains of Pennsylvania the air is beyond chilly. A PA wraps Josh, who plays Steven, in a thick coat between takes to keep him warm. Josh jumps up and down as he and his co-star make faces at each other as they wait for directors Tom Mattera and Dave Mazzoni to call “action”. The two directors confer at the monitor, and then one of them yells, “Okay, one more time … Remember, Joshie, you’ve been waiting for this all day!” As the camera rolls, Steven runs into his grandfather’s waiting arms, just as if he’s been waiting to see him all day long.
Directors Dave Mazzoni (left, in the red hat) and Tom Mattera (right, in the black hat) confer at the monitor.
Truth is often stranger than fiction, and such is the case in The Fields, which is based on the life of screenwriter Harrison Smith. Faust Checho, who plays Steven’s father Barry, said there were times he was amazed by the drama of the actual events. “I would say to [Harrison], ‘Really?’ and he’d say, ‘Well, I remember…’ and go on to recount his memory of the actual scene.” For Checho, this helped him understand his complex and troubled character. The story follows Steven and his family as they are terrorized by an “unseen presence”. While the filmmakers have asked that we not disclose all the details, I can say that the presence is natural, not supernatural. This is not another The Messengers. It is, however, very much the story of this family.
Classically trained actress and comedy maven Cloris Leachman plays matriarch Gladys, the foul-mouthed backbone of the family. Her character is very no-nonsense, aware of her loved ones’ flaws and willing to call them on it, but loving just the same. It was this complexity and depth of character, as well as the fact that the story was really about the family, that drew her to the role initially. And according to her, the cast and crew really became like a family in the weeks they’ve been filming the movie. We spoke to her on her last day of filming, and she expressed genuine sadness to be leaving. “I don’t want it to be over” she said, with a teary-eyed look at 2nd AD Roseanne Cappacio. “I really don’t.”
Gladys (Cloris Leachman) and Hiney (Bev Appleton) get close for the cameras.
She did appear to be having a genuinely good time on set. At one point she joined a group of cast and crew waiting in the farmhouse’s kitchen. Several of the crew began moving the pieces of a dolly from the kitchen for a shot out front. Cloris approached one crew member, a young man with a tall, spiked mohawk, her hands raised dramatically as he maneuvered the dolly out the door. “Be careful! Watch out for your hair!” she exclaimed. Seeing her in action was equally entertaining. During a scene in which Gladys warns her grandson to stay out of the vast cornfields, Leachman managed to imbue the line “You’ll be dead and black and rotten before we find you” with both a tinge of affection and ominous foreboding.
Of course, Ms. Leachman is not the only name attached to the project. The oft-maligned Tara Reid is also a principal character. She plays Bonnie, Gladys’ daughter-in-law and Steven’s mother, a woman whose marriage is troubled by alcoholism and violence and is desperately trying to save her family. Despite her vapid party-girl reputation, on set Reid was quiet, polite, solicitous of her co-stars, and incredibly professional. Screenwriter Harrison Smith told us he was thrilled to have gotten the starlet, who was his first choice for the role. Cloris too praised the actress, calling her “lovely”.
In fact, when we asked Cloris what her favorite scene was, she immediately mentioned the one they’d just finished filming … and her last of the shoot. In it, Gladys and Bonnie sit at the kitchen table discussing Barry and Bonnie’s marriage. “She got choked up, and I got choked up. It was very moving.” I got to watch a couple of takes of that particular scene on the monitor as it was being filmed, and it was indeed a touching moment. It was this scene that made me think perhaps Tara had, up to this point, not been given a role that really required a whole lot of her. A wife, mother, and daughter-in-law struggling to make a better life for herself and the people she loves — This is definitely a more layered character than she’s ever played before, and she seemed to be stepping up to the plate.
Bonnie (Tara Reid) in a solitary moment.
The directors worked seamlessly with DP Daniel Watchulonis, and the result was some really gorgeous, and sinister, cinematography. In addition to watching the scenes they filmed this particular day, we got to see some footage from previous days as a crew member logged shots, including a few frames from the nighttime “attack scene”. 2nd AD Roseanne Carpaccio, a horror fan, said the scene was very intense. “I got freaked out, and I knew it wasn’t real.” This is the directors’ second film together; their first was the art house mind-trip The Fourth Dimension. It seemed as if they were bringing that same sensibility to The Fields, concentrating on developing characters that the audience felt for and then slowly putting the screws to them. From what I saw, and speaking to the people involved, I am very intrigued to see the final product. Filming recently wrapped, and according to Smith, they are in talks with a few different people regarding distribution so stay tuned for further information.
I would like to thank everyone, especially Harrison Smith, 1st AD Dave Francis, and 2nd AD Roseanne Carpaccio, for making the visit a pleasant one. For more behind-the-scenes pictures, click on the below image to see our full The Fields gallery.
Gladys (Cloris Leachman) and Hiney (Bev Appleton)’s house, where most of the film’s story takes place.
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