ST. ALBANS — Makers of a short, independent film, Stormchaser, will spend three days in St. Albans filming on Walnut Street, Bank Street and Maquam Shore Road starting on Sunday.
If supporters get their way, this could be the first of many film shoots in Franklin County and other parts of Vermont. Among those supporters is former St. Albans City Mayor Liz Gamache who sees film productions as a way to stimulate the local economy – film productions spend money on food and lodging – and provide employment to a wide range of workers.
“This could have some economic development potential and community development potential for St. Albans, and not just for St. Albans, but Franklin County and Northern Vermont,” she said.
Pamela Cederquist, who is producing Stormchaser, said the film ended up shooting here because of “Philip Gilpin with the ITV Festival, followed by Ms. Liz Gamache, who could convince a stone to cry tears.”
Gilpin is the organizer of the Independent Television Festival held in Manchester, Vt., in the fall. Six years ago, he moved the 13-year-old festival from L.A. to Vermont. The week-long festival brings industry executives, producers and directors together.
Writers and producers who came for the festival began asking about filming here, Gilpin said, but Vermont no longer had a film council, so he formed the Vermont Production Commission (VPC). VPC helps producers like Cederquist scout locations, hire local employees while here and connect with officials to arrange for permission to shoot.
“There are a lot of advantages in shooting in Vermont,” said Gilpin. One of the biggest is financial. Food and lodging are often less costly than elsewhere. Location fees are low or non-existent, and there are no required state permits.
But the biggest benefit is that the close relationships in Vermont means the red tape that exists elsewhere isn’t an issue here, according to Gilpin.
Cederquist agreed, pointing to the way Gamache was able to connect her with city officials, local police and location owners.
There’s also the willingness to help such as St. Albans Police Chief Gary Taylor offering to have officers help with parking the production’s large trucks. Those types of small things are “a huge piece to us,” said Cederquist.
Those local connections “really allow productions to move a lot quicker and faster,” said Gilpin. “Quicker and faster” translates to less expensive, since producers don’t have to tie up staff time getting permits and permissions.
“You are going to have television producers flocking there to live year round because its heaven on earth,” said Gilpin of filming in Vermont.
Other producers have already visited the county looking for locations, said Gamache. Sarah Donnelly, who is also working as an executive producer on Stormchaser, is considering Vermont as a possible location for feature, said Cederquist.
Another filmmaker is considering Vermont as a location for a feature film about opiate addiction.
So far, VPC has worked with six producers, including The Bachelor, which had already decided to shoot here, but needed some assistance, said Gilpin. That production brought a crew of more than 200 people to the state for three to four weeks. They took up most of the lodging during a time of year when those hotels were usually empty, he added.
At VPC, “our challenge is growing fast enough,” said Gilpin.
“It’s not about turning St. Albans into Hollywood,” Gamache said.
But common perceptions of Hollywood may be wrong. Most of the people on a shoot are workers with families and mortgages, Cederquist said.
“We have a code of conduct that we hand out to every crew member every time we shoot,” she said. “You’re not high-handed. You’re not going to break the rules.”
“It’s etiquette,” she added.
Gilpin’s comments suggest film producers are looking for the same qualities as other employers. “Integrity is what matters,” he said. “It’s about showing up on time. You’re nice to people.”
Productions need caterers, painters, construction workers, electricians, as well as locals to appear on screen, Cederquist explained. It’s simply a question of people learning how to use their existing skills to meet the needs of a film or TV production. A small construction company could easily find work on a set, she added.
Cederquist also pointed to Katie Collin, owner of What A Yarn, at whose home Stormchaser will be doing some shooting. “Katie’s got furniture. Katie’s got wardrobe,” said Cederquist, adding Collin could easily work in the art department of a production.
“It’s not year round, but it… can be very lucrative,” said Cederquist, with laborers able to earn up to $45 an hour.
In addition to people with needed skills and easy to navigate towns, Vermont has a wide range of locations.
“I can shoot anything up here,” said Cederquist, including a small town, a city, a forest, a Victorian street, farms. It’s also possible to shoot all four seasons.
Gilpin mentioned that not only does Vermont have a wide range of locations, those locations are close to one another.
There is one difference between visiting film crews and the communities they visit. “We’re nomads,” said Cederquist, who did not have a physical address in her 20s. “It’s an entirely different lifestyle.”
“I come into town, and I have to immediately get to know the bagel guy… I have to create an intimate relationship with you right away,” she said. For people who are used to having more time to build relationships, that may feel too forward, she explained.
Some of those nomads are now arriving for the upcoming shoot.
Stormchaser is about a down on her luck female door-to-door salesperson, who faces a moral dilemma when she realizes the roofing she’s selling may make things worse for purchasers, not better.
“What it’s really about is how difficult it is to work as a woman in corporate America,” said Cederquist.
Gretl Claggett, who was a door-to-door salesperson herself at one point, wrote the screenplay. The film stars Mary Birdsong of Reno 911! and Dominic Rains, who has been in numerous film and TV productions, most recently as a recurring character on Marvel’s Agents of Shield.
Sony is donating new cameras to the production and will use behind the scenes footage to promote the cameras. Vermonters have been hired to do the behind the scenes filming, and the footage will be made available to people here wanting to use it to promote Vermont.
The company will ultimately be putting images of a crew shooting in Vermont on its website for a worldwide audience, said Cederquist.
She agrees with Gilpin that once word gets out about how easy it is to film here, others will come. “Our industry works on word of mouth,” she said.
In his dual role as St. Albans City Mayor and executive director of the Franklin County Industrial Development Corp., Tim Smith said he sees the potential benefits. “It’s one more sector of potential jobs,” he said. “I’m definitely encouraged.”