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Independent Filmmaker Gives Berkshire County A Shot

Two men stand in front of a man and a woman in a field. The woman is holding up a fun at a row of targets.
Josh Landes
/
WAMC
Producer Mark Farrell and writer-director Christian Frelinghuysen on the set of "Stroke Of Luck" at Orleton Farm in West Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Behind them, actress Sara Ball takes aim.

This fall, southern Berkshire County played host to an independent film shoot.

"Alright, fire in a hole!" a crew member yells moments before a gunshot rings out.

Deep into the 200 acre grounds of Orleton Farm in West Stockbridge, the cast and crew of “Stroke Of Luck” are figuring out how to shoot something in more ways than one.

“We’re standing in front of a very homey farm makeshift shooting range that the farmhands use to let off a little steam," said producer Mark Farrell. After years of working in film and television in New York and Los Angeles, he made the move to the Berkshires a couple years ago after almost 14 years of weekending. Now, he works on projects like “Stroke of Luck” that shoot in the county.

“It is a coming of age comedy about a young man who’s going to school in New York City, and he pulls a pretty bad prank and he gets kicked out, and he has to go to his father’s farm to earn the money to pay back the damage he did, and he comes up here and he messes up here too," explained Farrell. "And then the whole movie’s about his efforts to turn it around.”

In the scene being shot on this day, the female lead – Sarah, played by Sara Ball – shows main character Nathan, played by Kyle Derosiers, her skills with a gun. In contrast to her on-screen swagger, Ball’s no sharpshooter off set.

“Honestly, I was a little nervous," said Ball. "It was the first time that I’ve been around a gun ever. Like, I’ve never even held one outside of a film set. But after we shot a couple blanks, I felt OK with it.”

A vital connector for local pros like Farrell and the wider industry is Diane Pearlman, the executive director of the Berkshire Film and Theater Collaborative.

“I help them find crews so they don’t have to bring everybody in from New York or LA – we have some amazing talent here – and I also help them with locations and catering and hotels," Pearlman told WAMC. "A lot of time they want productions assistants who know the area, so I really just acclimate them to the Berkshires and help them shoot in this beautiful place.”

While some productions need that acclimation, “Stroke Of Luck” is unique: it was written for the Berkshires. For writer and director Christian Frelinghuysen, shooting his new movie in the county was a homecoming of sorts.

“Well my grandmother was here, and then my grandparents were involved in Tanglewood, and then I went to Camp Beckett for like eight years – maybe eight, something, a long time!" he told WAMC. "And then I went to Tanglewood to work for a few summers, and my cousins were here. So I didn’t really want to start writing the script until I got their permission to use the farm.”

“To actually have a movie here – we’ve had other short little things done here, sure, but this is the first time we’ve had a movie here, yes," said Harvey Waller. He co-owns Orleton Farm with his wife, Mary. They’re cousins of Frelinghuysen.

“It was Mary’s grandfather’s back in – they bought it in 1901. And Orleton is a village in England, and so they named all the property Orleton something, so this is Orleton Farm," said Waller. "It’s always been a horse farm, and we’ve done hunters and jumpers, and now we do driving horses for the last 25 years.”

“Well, of course, the main character’s probably based on me a little bit – just in terms of teenagers coming to a farm, doing stuff they don’t want to do because they got in trouble," said Frelinghuysen. He says the movies of Judd Apatow are among the inspirations for his debut feature film, which follows the redemption of troubled protagonist Nathan.

“Dramatized, but I had to work on a farm for a summer and I used that as the foundation for this and I knew what resources I had, so I was like, well, he can mess up a farm, so I knew had access to the horses and so I was like, he can learn how to ride, get dirty, you know – struggle, struggle, struggle,” said the writer-director.

Frelinghuysen pegs the full budget of the self-financed film at around $250,000. Massachusetts offers filmmakers a 25 percent tax break to shoot in the state. Co-producer Elizabeth Aspenlieder – a Berkshire resident for the past 20 years – says the production has dumped money into local businesses.

“For our catering for lunches alone, it’s probably going to be between $7,000 and $8,000 just for lunches,” she told WAMC.

The film – with scenes shot at businesses in Lenox, Great Barrington, and beyond – also features dozens of local extras. Aspenlieder says all together, it represents a network of Berkshire collaborations.

“From borrowing and renting things from Shakespeare & Company – there have been props and costumes. Arthur Oliver who is our costume designer, wardrobe designer is a costume designer in the Berkshires and he’s been terrific on everything," said Aspenlieder. "Some of our continuity person is from the Berkshires as well, and several people – myself, Michael Burnett who is also a Shakespeare & Company person is also a co-producer on it.”

Frelinghuysen dreams of taking “Stroke Of Luck” to Sundance, and with it, showing the county off to the wider world of film.

“Everyone’s like oh, we’ll go to the Hamptons or Martha’s Vineyard, but no one knows the Berkshires," he told WAMC. "Because every time I’m in New York or LA – more so LA – people are like, where’s that? And it’s like – I don’t want to keep saying where it is. Now people can see where it is.”

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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