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Coincidentally, a BC movie
The production crew of On Broadway, an independent feature film, has the task of concocting a rowdy night in the Skellig pub in Waltham, Massachusetts, one bright morning in May. They have 10 minutes between takes to transform the sunlit bar, a traditional Irish tavern on Moody Street, into a convincingly boisterous pub scene. Heavy black drapes are hoisted and hung over the inside of the windows and electricians snake wires around tables and barstools as crew members position open beer bottles and half-full cocktails on the bar. This is day 18 of a 20-day film shoot, and among the 200 or so people on the set, producer Kris Meyer ’91, actor Amy Poehler ’93, assistant director Greg Smith ’95, and executive producers Henry and Donna Bertolon, whose son John will be a BC freshman this fall, all stand by, waiting for the director, Dave McLaughlin ’95, to call the shots.
“Working on this project has been a little bit like an inadvertent BC reunion,” McLaughlin said in one of a series of speed interviews he gave between takes. Tall and lanky with black thick-framed glasses and a mop of strawberry-blond hair, he is kinetic between scenes, darting from his seat behind a portable monitor screen to talk with the actors on the set, spontaneously disco dancing with crew members to shake off energy. Donning earphones back at his seat, though, he is mostly business. He checks in by radio with the assistant directors and producers, then, without missing a beat, picks up the interview.
The son of Francis McLaughlin, a Boston College professor of economics, and one of the 11 children in his family to attend BC, McLaughlin has been writing stories about Boston since he was a child growing up in West Roxbury. The film Southie, which he cowrote, won the American Independent Award at the 1998 Seattle International Film Festival. Its story followed a South Boston Irish bad boy returning home to the neighborhood, and the cast included Donnie Wahlberg, Anne Meara, Will Arnett, and Amanda Peet. In 1997 McLaughlin wrote a play titled God Willing, about an Irish-American family in Boston dealing with a father’s death. He produced it in the back room of the Burren Pub in Somerville, where it played for months to a sold-out house. The experience inspired him to write the On Broadway screenplay, which chronicles the struggles of a young Boston Irish carpenter who writes a play, also titled God Willing, about his uncle’s death. “It’s basically a fictionalized version of my life,” said McLaughlin, “with a few changed details.”
“One of the writers I first read at BC, Flannery O’Connor, said the only way a story can be universal is if it is specific,” said McLaughlin, who majored in English in the Honors Program. “This film is authentic Boston, from actors to crew to location to the story. But I think it’s a story about family and love that will also speak much more broadly.” Upon its completion, McLaughlin intends to launch the movie on the festival circuit in the hopes that a distributor will take it on.
“Dave is truly a great filmmaker,” said Poehler, who flew in for a whirlwind two-day shoot following the season finale of Saturday Night Live, on which she is a cast member (see related story). “I feel like this is the beginning of what will be a giant career for him,” she said. “I just want to get in on the bottom level so he’ll keep taking my calls.” McLaughlin met Poehler six years ago through her husband, the actor Will Arnett, a longtime friend; Meyer and McLaughlin were friends in college; Smith met McLaughlin through Meyer, who recommended him for the assistant director position. McLaughlin met the Bertolons through another of On Broadway‘s producers; although the Bertolons had never before invested in a film, they were looking to become involved in an independent film project, and McLaughlin’s script caught their eye.
Postproduction work on the film is taking place locally as well. At the beginning of the shoot, Meyer called Professor John Michalczyk, codirector of BC’s film studies program, and asked him if he would recommend some student interns to help during film editing. Michalczyk sent two undergraduates, Stephanie Rutkowski ’06 and Thomas Quinn ’07, and offered access to BC’s editing facilities in the basement of Devlin Hall.
“A lot of us here on set are Boston born and bred,” said Meyer, who grew up in Quincy and now lives in Los Angeles. A full-time producer for the Farrelly brothers, the filmmakers responsible for the wildly popular There’s Something about Mary and Dumb and Dumber, Meyer took a leave of absence from his Los Angeles job to help produce On Broadway, which has a budget of just under $1 million. “I couldn’t resist a good hometown story,” he said, his voice already hoarse at 9 a.m. from a 12-hour shoot the day before. As one of the film’s four producers, Meyer spends most of his days barking orders, he says. Just as he sat down for an extended interview—his third attempt that morning—more than 100 extras filed into the bar for the God Willing intermission scene. Meyer stood up, pulled his headset’s microphone down toward his mouth, and turned up the volume dial.
“Sorry about that,” McLaughlin said, waving Meyer toward the set. He smiled and patted Meyer on the back as he walked by. “Feels like we’re making a movie.”
Read more by Cara Feinberg