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  • Stars Come behind the scenes of an original Seacoast, NH movie, now in production. "Family Trees" is a character-driven story of two near-newlyweds and their families. Shot on location in the Portsmouth area, the film-in-progress is a grass roots independent production featuring a local cast, crew, writer and director. Come back and track our progress or contact us today for more details.



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    Latest News

    Posted Fall 1999

    The Ongoing Saga of "Family Trees"
    No, it is not over. We know that director Ralph Morang has been working on a final roughcut of the film at JBC Communications in Exeter, NH. It is our understanding that there is more cash flow in the production and that the final project will still cost less to produce that the "Blair Witch Project". Rumors that the cast will hold its 10th reunion soon are wildly exaggerated. Mr. Morang and Mr. Trodson were recently spotted deep in negotiations at the director's wedding in September. Students of film making should make this web site required reading for its authentic portrayal of independent producing. We're hanging onto this one like Ahab on Moby Dick. Stay tuned. --- SeacoastNH.com Editor, JDR



    Posted May 1999

    WHAT'S SHAKING WITH FAMILY TREES?
    What has happened to the local film, "Family Trees"? I asked this same question almost a year ago after reading the making-of story on your site and got a response saying an update was coming soon. I was also told the film was going to be entered in a film festival; what happened with that? Is Sundance a future possibility? What about the upcoming Cannes Film Festival? I thought films had to be aggressively shopped around in daring fashion in order to get noticed...
    tjenkins@analogic.com

    DIRECTOR RALPH MORANG REPLIES: This is a true low-budget independent film. We raised money as we shot, and completed shooting in June of 1997. It was shot in the Super 16 format, for eventual blow-up to 35mm. We entered the Independent Feature Film Market (IFFM) in New York in September, 1997, as a work in progress. This is a juried festival designed to connect films with distributors. Our 20-minute clip was very well received, and we made some good connections. We have edited the film on video and Producer Lars Trodson has sent about two dozen copies to distributors around the coutry -- responses from these outfits are very slow. We have not completed a film edit, something we need to do to have prints made for theaters. This is a very big expense, but we have just raised the first money for that this month. We need 16mm or 35mm film prints to enter film festivals. It is a very slow process when one must raise money as one goes. While a bare-bones independent film can be made for $100,000, I anticipate that we can complete "Family Trees" for $75,000.

    Thanks for your interest. Submitted May 1999.



    Posted September 28

    What began as an idea tossed around at the Press Room bar amongst some local film buffs is headed for the big time.

    "Family Trees," an independent feature-length film shot last winter in the Seacoast was accepted for showing at the 19th annual Independent Feature Film Market in New York. Writer/producer Lars Trodson confidently said recently, "We are right where we ought to be."

    The film market is has been the launching pad for such independent films as "Star Maps," "Welcome to the Dollhouse" and "Clerks." "The IFFM people judge films by a certain standard, and we made that cut," said Trodson, a former newspaper reporter. "And let me add that we have no connections; this movie made it into the IFFM on its merits."

    Called "a love story for the rest of us," "Family Trees" was shot by a local crew and cast with local actors. Trodson, is currently a free-lance writer living in Portsmouth; director Ralph Morang, also a refugee from the newspaper business, is a photographer from Rye. Cinematographer Ron Wyman also lives in Portsmouth, and sound recordist Eric Gleske is from Durham.

    Morang added, "We decided from the beginning it was going to be a collaborative effort; everybody could make a contribution, and everybody did."

    Trodson's script is character-driven, echoing the direction independent films are taking, away from the current Hollywood fascination with splashy special effects. "I believe the lives of ordinary people can be interesting," he said.

    The two leads in the film are Lisa Stathoplos and Gregg Trzakowski, both experienced actors from southern Maine. The story centers on their characters, Wil and Martha, who are getting married a week after the film begins. That week they run a gauntlet of advice and comments from friends and relatives which encourages doubts Wil and Martha have about getting married. The climax of the film happens in a roadside cabin in rural Maine where Wil and Martha hole up away from everyone to deal with those doubts.

    The crew of six and cast of 24 shot the film on weekends from late October to February last fall and winter.

    "We always kept our eye on the ball. We had to keep rolling,' said Trodson. He said shooting stayed on schedule and the production wasted no film. Director Morang credited extensive rehearsals with the actors and much planning with the crew for keeping the production rolling.

    "By the time we were ready to shoot, everyone knew exactly what we had to do," Morang said.

    Cinematographer Wyman said the project was successful because it sparked a "passion that made up for the lack of money and experience. It meant working from the heart."

    So far, the film has cost $30,000, the amount needed to rent equipment and buy and process film. Another $100,000 is needed to get the film ready for theater screenings.

    The film was shot in the Super 16, a format that allows blow-up to 35mm without loss of definition.

    Shot within 20 miles of Portsmouth, locations included Market Square, Portsmouth's South End waterfront, the homes of Trodson and Morang, the Press Room, Barnacle Billy's Restaurant in Ogunquit and beaches in Rye and Kittery, Maine.

    Asked about being selected for the IFFM, Trodson said, "At first, I tried not to think about it. Only hours later did the importance of being included sink in."

    Morang said he was also happy with the selection. "I thought we had a good chance and knew the Film Market would be a good venue for us. I was satisfied from the beginning when we looked at the first footage shot in Market Square." "Family Trees" was in the works-in-progress section of the IFFM; the filmmakers showed a 20-minute video edit of the film at the Angelika Film Center, the headquarters of the market. About 100 studio and production company buyers, distributors' representatives, fellow filmmakers and friends attended the Friday afternoon screening. Trodson and Morang say they were very pleased with the screening and made valuable contacts.



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    Posted February 1997

    Shooting is a little more than half completed. Exteriors were completed before the snow fell in Market Square, Portsmouth, in Strawbery Banke, near the Wentworth-Gardner House. The Producer's apartment became the couple's bedroom and the director's home doubled as the motel office for a scene near the end of the film. The Portsmouth Sheraton contributed use of a hotel room for a key scene.

    Two or three weekends in February should clear up much of the shooting including the crucial party scenes. Stay tuned for very interesting news about the local musicians who will be featured on the film.
    JDR



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    The Story

    Wil and Martha are in their mid-30's and are getting married for the first time. "Family Trees" takes place the week before their wedding and is about the coming together of their two families.

    Martha is having doubts: how well does she know the man with whom she'll spend her life? Wil tries to deal with his feelings toward a former love.

    Both Wil and Martha are inundated with insight from all corners. To sort out their feelings, they retreat to an isolated cabin to decide, once and for all, if marriage is for them.



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    "Family Trees" Cast & Crew

    DRAMATIS PERSONAE
    Martha:...........Lisa Stathoplos
    Wil...............Greg Trzaskowski

    Martha's Parents
    Molly.............Ann Bliss
    Ned...............Jay Smith

    Moody.............Don Marston
    Jeff..............D. Allan Kerr

    Wil's Parents
    Virginia..........Barbara Mather
    Parker............Bruce Allen

    Jean Cleve........Renee St. Jean
    Aunt Meg..........Barbara Randall
    Elderly Lady......Eileen Foley

    CREW
    Writer/ Producer..Lars Trodson
    Director..........Ralph Morang
    Cinematographer...Ron Wyman
    Ass't Cameraman...Brent Beavers
    Sound.............Eric Gleske
    Boom..............Susan Morse
    Production Mngr...Victoria Brown

    Lead Character Profiles

    Lisa Stathoplos Lisa Stathoplos (Martha) received her BA in theatre Arts at U. Maine in Orono and continues her studies in voice, dance, scene study and improvisation. She has worked professionally on stage, in film and video for 20 years. Her great love is the stage and she has worked for such companies as Portland Stage, the Theatre at Monmouth, Worcestor Forum Theatre, Penobscot Theatre, Durham Centerstage and Highwire Theatre, to name a few. In 1985 Lisa cofounded the artistically acclaimed Mad Horse Theatre in Portland, ME where she remained in residence for six years. . She toured New England for three years with the improvisational comedy troupe Mixed Nuts. She appeared in the TV show America Most Wanted in the film version of Stephen King's "Pet Cemetery."

    Gregg Trzaskowski Greg Trzaskowski (Wil) Shooting "Family Trees" in Portsmouth, New Hampshire brings Gregg's acting career full circle. Since starting acting classes here 10 years ago and joining Seacoast Repertory Theater as a charter member, he has worked in Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire on stage and in front of the camera. Gregg has appeared in numerous commercials and industrial films, including national and regional TV spots. "Family Trees" returns him to Portsmouth, where it all began, for yet another first - a principle role in a full length feature film. "Family Trees" is a special project for Gregg in that it originated in Portsmouth and is using local talent which he feels there has always been a great deal of in the area. Gregg lives in Maine with his wife and their two children.

    Crew Profiles

    Lars Trodson, Producer, "Family Trees"
    Lars Trodson attended an all-boys prep school in Rhode Island and was writing plays and a humor column by the time he reached Muhlenberg College. His early play "The Hooligan" was taken to New York. He then wrote for the Pawtucket (RI) Evening Times and eventually the Portsmouth (NH) Herald. He wrote "Family Trees" in just three weeks after leaving his newspaper job. He is currently working on his second feature film script; he lives in Portsmouth, NH.

    Ralph Morang, Director, "Family Trees"
    After more than 25 years as a photojournalist and com-mercial photographer, Ralph Morang is turning to film making. As a photographer, Ralph has won numerous awards from the New Hampshire Press Association and the New England Press Association. Along the way he has produced or directed industrial videos. A couple of summer s at the Maine Film & Video Workshops fueled his interest in films; "Family Trees" is his first feature film project. He lives in Rye, NH.

    Ron Wyman, Cinematographer, "Family Trees"
    "Family Trees" is Ron's third independent feature film. He is owner and operator of Atlantic Media Services in Portsmouth, NH, an independent production company; Ron also shoots for CNN. He is the winner of three Associated Press Awards and two Telly Awards. Two of Ron's recent productions are "A Return to Vietnam," about former POW Admiral James Stockdale's trip to Southeast Asia, and "The Rhythm of Healing," a work in progress studying the use of drumming in African cultures. He lives in Portsmouth, NH.



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    Family Trees
    Director's Notes

    September 28, 1997

    This was the first time for most of us involved with "Family Trees." It was Lars Trodson's first screenplay, the first film for most of the actors and my first time directing a full-length film. Only cinematographer Ron Wyman had film experience (shooting two low-budget horror movies).

    We all decided early on that making "Family Trees" would be a collaborative effort. We needed to support each other, and we all had various experiences and ideas we wanted to bring to the project. It was my job, though, to not let it get chaotic.

    During our early shooting days, friends and local film buffs helped out, but the crew eventually boiled down to six. Compared to a commercial film's shooting crew of 100, six seems ridiculously tiny, but we developed into a "flying squad" of filmmakers, each doing several jobs and each doing whatever he or she saw that needed doing, from hauling equipment around and decorating the sets to getting lunch.

    We advertised for actors in newspapers in Portsmouth, Portland and Boston. We got about 100 responses and contacted about thirty actors. We also had a few friends we wanted to have in the film.

    From our auditions, we cast Lisa Stathoplos as Martha and Wil Trzakowski as Wil, the two main characters. As Martha's parents we cast Ann Bliss and Jay Smith; as Wil's parents, we cast Barbara Mather and Bruce Allen. Don Kerr as Wil's friend, Jeff, Renee St. Jean as Martha's sister, Jean, and Don Marston as Uncle Moody round out the core cast. We had about 24 speaking parts to cast; most of the actors, it turned out, are from southern Maine, and a couple had no acting experience at all.

    We decided on the Super 16 film format. Because of the low budget, we always planned on shooting in 16mm. Super 16 uses the same film but blows up to 35mm (for projection) without cropping the image. We shot with an Arriflex Super 16.

    We began shooting Family Trees in late October 1996. Since Producer Lars Trodson and I had been planning the shooting most of the summer, we determined that the film should take place in early fall, and that we could shoot all of our exterior scenes in a couple of weeks and then spend the rest of the year shooting interior scenes.

    Of course there were delays, but we did finally begin shooting the last weekend of October. For some reason, probably pulled out of my hat, I planned to shoot the first sequence in Market Square in Portsmouth. It was a warm gorgeous weekend, which was great for our setting, but also brought out more people than might be left over after Market Square Day. There were locals and tourists packed into Market Square - on the benches, around the flagpole, at every table at Cafe Brioche. And traffic kept increasing exponentially with each rise in temperature.

    It takes time to get a film crew, even our small one, warmed up. The first day, we all hankered around the Arriflex Super 16 camera and the Nagra tape recorder, trying to learn the quirks of the equipment and each other. One reason to have our shakedown day outdoors was that we wouldn't have to use any lights. We did have a camera dolly, though.

    The whole crew then began to notice what would appear in the background of our scenes and what we would hear on the sound recording. The visual background we had some control over, but when we finally began to shoot our first scene, we all grew very sensitive to background noises. The microphone seemed to strain to pick up our actors' voices, but it heard very clearly every car engine a block away, every boom box or loud radio, and every kid yelling. Then, as if on a signal, the motorcycles came. Not tame little ones, but the big wild Harley Davidson kind. All we could do was send out spotters to yell if the coast was clear.

    We continued shooting the next day, Sunday, in the peace and quiet of Pierce Island (and got some wonderful postcard views of Portsmouth). Then we returned to Market Square to finish up our first weekend. We shot directly in front of Cafe Brioche, and there seemed to be more tables with more people enjoying the weather. And of course there were more motorcycles (I'd say there were at least 200).

    But we were now veteran filmmakers and we figured out how to both use the background activity and how to work around it. At one point, just before Gregg Trzaskowski started his speech, the North Church bell rang (and the Nagra recorded it with crystal clarity). The bell sounds like Portsmouth, so maybe we'll keep it in. As we did our last set-up that day, I looked up from the controlled chaos of our shoot to see about a hundred people watching us, and apparently having a good time. I hope they all will see the finished "Family Trees" and have just as good a time.

    After two weekends shooting exteriors in what turned out to be very mild autumn weather, we tackled our first interiors scenes in November. On the Saturday of that third weekend, the weekend before Thanksgiving, we finished our exteriors on a very mild and sunny Saturday on the Portsmouth waterfront.

    On Sunday, we moved indoors. The setting is a workshop where the main character, Wil (Gregg Trzaskowski) and his friend, Jeff (Don Kerr), go during a party to catch up with each other, away from the noise. The scene is a pivotal one where we learn something about Wil's past.

    We used an actual home workshop. This was our first interior, and our first experience working with lighting. The scene takes place at night, and since we were filming during the day, we covered the windows with black cloth. We wanted to be free to move all around the room; any cinema lights we used would be in the way and appear on camera. So we replaced the regular overheard light bulbs in the shop with photo bulbs, "hot" lights used for still and cinema photography. At 250 watts, they are the right color match for our film, a new fast-speed fine-grain film stock from Kodak. The light meter registered just enough light for our widest lens opening, and we used a "soft" light on wheels for fill light.

    The scene was complicated. Wil and Jeff talk about a lot of things and move around the room constantly. Cinematographer Ron Wyman moved with them, hand-holding the camera and "dancing" with the two actors. Sound recordist Eric Gleske and sound assistants Brent Beavers and Susan Morse found ways to work the microphones in the middle of the trio. The rest of us, writer/producer Lars Trodson, production manager Victoria Brown and I were scrunched into one corner of the room.

    It was a long day but went well.

    When got our video dailies back, Ron Wyman was surprised and impressed with the lighting. We did not have a complicated lighting set-up: we basically boosted the existing light with brighter bulbs. But the we found the film was so responsive that we decided we could have used less light. Unlike video, the film has a great contrast range, with detail held in highlight and shadow areas. In subsequent interior scenes, we have used lighting that is more and more low key.

    The "workshop scene" as we call it looks gorgeous, and Wil's character is fleshed out during his conversation with Jeff.

    We learned more about our abilities and our film stock during that shoot, knowledge we put to good use shooting the rest of our interiors.



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    January 23, 1997

    We began shooting Family Trees in late October. Since Producer Lars Trodson and I had been planning the shooting most of the summer, we determined that the film should take place in early fall, and that we could shoot all of our exterior scenes in a couple of weeks and then spend the rest of the year shooting interior scenes.

    Of course there were delays, but we did finally begin shooting the last weekend of October. For some reason, probably pulled out of my hat, I planned to shoot the first sequence in Market Square in Portsmouth. It was a warm gorgeous weekend, which was great for our setting, but also brought out more people than might be left over after Market Square Day. There were locals and tourists packed into Market Square - on the benches, around the flagpole, at every table at Cafe Brioche. And traffic kept increasing exponentially with each rise in temperature.

    It takes time to get a film crew, even our small one, warmed up. The first day, we all hankered around the Arriflex Super 16 camera and the Nagra tape recorder, trying to learn the quirks of the equipment and each other. One reason to have our shakedown day outdoors was that we wouldn't have to use any lights. We did have a camera dolly, though.

    The whole crew then began to notice what would appear in the background of our scenes and what we would hear on the sound recording. The visual background we had some control over, but when we finally began to shoot our first scene, we all grew very sensitive to background noises. The microphone seemed to strain to pick up our actors' voices, but it heard very clearlyevery car engine a block away, every boom box or loud radio, and every kid yelling. Then, as if on a signal, the motorcycles came. Not tame little ones, but the big wild Harley Davidson kind. All we could do was send out spotters to yell if the coast was clear.

    But we got our first shot in the can, the dolly worked great, and every minute of rehearsal time spent with the actors, Lisa Stathoplos and Gregg Trzaskowski, was more than worth it.

    We continued shooting the next day, Sunday, in the peace and quiet of Pierce Island (and got some wonderful postcard views of Portsmouth). Then we returned to Market Square to finish up our first weekend. We shot directly in front of Cafe Brioche, and there seemed to be more tables with more people enjoying the weather. And of course there were more motorcycles (I'd say there were at least 200).

    But we were now veteran filmmakers and we figured out how to both use the background activity and how to work around it. At one point, just before Gregg Trzaskowski started his speech, the North Church bell rang (and the Nagra recorded it with crystal clarity). The bell sounds like Portsmouth, so maybe we'll keep it in.

    As we did our last set-up that day, I looked up from the controlled chaos of our shoot to see about a hundred people watching us, and apparently having a good time. I hope they all will see the finished "Family Trees" and have just as good a time.

    Ralph Morang, Director



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    SeacoastNH.com Exclusive
    Why I Wrote "Family Trees"

    By Lars Trodson

    I have a philosophy about drama. I believe that the lives of ordinary people can be interesting, revelatory, and entertaining without resorting to the kind of histrionics we see in the movies and theater today. "Family Trees" is my attempt to acheive this.

    A Little Movie History

    We see two things in movies today. Out of conventional Hollywood, we see actors put through their paces beside a dizzying array of special effects. The story in "Twister" or "Independence Day" doesn't even matter. Characters are reduced to a single emotion, -- love, patience, wisdom or what have you. The new writers in Hollywood are the special effects guys, and producers, are satisfied with letting their computerized spectacle fill theater seats.

    In the film "The Player," the studio executive played by Tim Robbins warned us that his rival, played by Peter Gallagher, was trying to find a way to get rid of writers altogether. With movies doing blockbuster sales with practically no scripts, we have come dangerously close to that point already.

    This is not a new story. Around the middle of this century movies had to strike back against TV. Theaters drew viewers with the spectacular effects in "The Ten Commandments", "Ben-Hur", "El Cid" or "Spartacus". Between 1960 and 1965 there was hardly any true comedy or drama coming from Hollywood. The Oscars were going instead to Rex Harrison for "My Fair Lady." and Julie Andrews for "Mary Poppins."

    Meanwhile, on the independent front, a different dilemma is forming. Here writers have always spent more time developing characters. Here people are more important here than plot, as exemplified by director John Cassavetes, who paved the way for other filmmakers such as John Sayles and Jim Jarmusch. These quirky little films about every day people in the late 50s and 60s were called "kitchen sink dramas." But in the evolution of character-based movies, "character" came to mean quirky or off-beat. The evolution is easily traced. Characters played by Ben Gazzara and Peter Falk in the Cassavetes movies, for example, were loud mouthed drunks and adulterers. But placed against cardboard characters cranked out by Hollywood, they seemed rich with personality.

    Cassavetes and Roger Corman were virtually the only other "alternative" filmmaker in Hollywood getting any attention at the time. Today their drinking, swearing, sexually frivolous characters seem tame. Modern independent filmmakers have evolved kookiness into the full-blown off-beat. Internal character logic got dumped for the sake of writerly and actorly quirks. Chaos, not character, became the dramatic focus.

    Somebody's been pulling a fast one on movie-goers. Simplistic or undisciplined scripts are the easy way out for writers and for audiences. Real human drama has been replaced by lurid images and language, sight gags, puns, violence and quixotic behavior. If the point of drama and comedy is to explore human nature, and I believe it is, then these films cover very little new ground. Ironically, audiences hungering for revelatory human drama are turning back to TV. Show like "NYPD Blue," "Homicide," and others attempt to do what movies once did.

    Enter "Family Trees"

    In its own humble way, "Family Trees" is a reaction to the direction in which most movies are headed. This is a step back toward, I hope, drama born of human experience. If audiences feel an attachment to the characters, the drama and humor will come from sharing their experiences. The goal is to "flesh out" just enough of the many relationships her, Insights may come from the connections between Wil and Martha, between them and their parents, the older couples. These are not people struggling with cartoon, issues, like how to save the world. They are trying to discover real solutions to simple problems. Mostly, throughout lives, this is what we all do. Creating real drama from the daily life of these characters is what I hope to accomplish with "Family Trees."

    About the Author

    Lars Trodson was born in 1959 at Lying In Hospital in Providence, RI. He attended an all-boys prep school and was writing plays and a humor column by the time he reached Muhlenberg College. His early play "The Holigan" was brought to New York. He then wrote for the Pawtucket Evening Times and, eventually, the Portsmouth Herald in Portsmouth, NH where he lives today. He wrote "Family Trees" in just three weeks after leaving his newspaper job. Besides freelancing, producing the play is his full time focus.

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