People are often curious about the lives other people live, particularly teenagers who haven’t truly explored the world on their own yet. This is certainly the case with the characters in the well-received cult U.K. novella ‘Bloody Baudelaire’ by R.B. Russell, which focuses on several college friends as they interact with one of their older sisters and her established, artistic boyfriend. A new psychological thriller based on ‘Bloody Baudelaire,’ titled ‘Backgammon,’ is currently in production, and aims to show the actions of young adults, who are questioning what they truly want to do with their lives.
ShockYa was generously given the opportunity to visit the set of the 3:1 Cinema and Fischer Productions film last month on a beautiful, massive estate in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. While on the set of the independent movie in the coastal town, which is nine miles from Portland, I was granted access to watch several crucial scenes between two of the main characters, Lucian and Miranda, played by Noah Silver and Brittany Allen, respectively. I also spoke with Silver and Allen on the set about the filming process, including what attracted them to their roles and what it’s like working together. Russell also kindly offered his insight on the film via email from his native England.
‘Backgammon’ follows Lucian and his girlfriend Elizabeth (portrayed by Olivia Crocicchia) as they travel back to Yale after spring break. They decide to spend a weekend at the Gothic Maine mansion of Lucian’s roommate, Andrew (played by Christian Alexander). Already at the mansion are its two resident inhabitants, Andrew’s seductive older sister, Miranda, and her artistic boyfriend Gerald (portrayed by Alex Beh). Andrew and Elizabeth are eventually driven out of the house by Miranda and Gerald’s antics.
After an alcohol-fueled game of poker, Miranda throws Gerald out of the mansion, leaving her alone with Lucian. While an attraction looms between the two, Lucian continues to sense Gerald’s presence, and believes he’s still on the estate. Lucian sets out to solve the mystery of Gerald’s whereabouts and motives if he ever wishes to win Miranda.
‘Backgammon’ is being helmed by award-winning short film director Francisco Orvañanos. The helmer, who is making his feature film directorial debut with the psychological thriller, co-wrote the script with Russell and Todd Niemi.
Russell, who wanted to write “a Gothic coming-of-age story, exploring how we all feel when we’re young,” credits Niemi with seeing the potential ‘Bloody Baudelaire’s story had to be turned into a film. Niemie “came up with the first draft of the screenplay and I was impressed by the sympathy he had for what I was trying to do in my book. Thereafter we fine-tuned the screenplay together,” the author said. Russell added that Orvañanos, whose previous short films the novella writer called atmospheric, eerie and assured, “fell in love with the result of the collaboration.”
Orvañanos took on an ambitious shoot when he signed onto direct ‘Backgammon,’ as the film features several extensive special effects. Principal photography, which recently ended, only lasted 16-days on the Cape Elizabeth estate. The principal production also only had a small crew of 39 workers, as opposed to the 100 or more person crews bigger budget and major studio films have. But the cast and crew truly bonded together on the set, willing to help Orvañanos and 1st AD (Assistant Director) Ben Kahn with any set changes they requested.
Orvañanos has said he wasn’t afraid to take on the challenge of directing ‘Backgammon,’ as he knew when he “read the twisted and beloved source material, this would make a truly fascinating film. The cast we have could not be more perfectly suited for these roles and I’m thrilled to bring these characters to life.”
Russell helped Orvañanos and Niemi bring the characters from his book to the screenplay, as they wrote and exchanged drafts via email, and had long conference calls. The British author finally met Orvañanos and Niemi in Maine, a week before shooting started, “to iron-out the last few wrinkles. At all stages we had long discussions about character motivation, the unwritten back-story, etc,” Russell added.
Once the short 16-day shoot began, Silver said “some scenes feel rushed, but we know we have to get into it and figure out what we want to show.” While the story takes place over one weekend, the characters go through drastic changes. Silver added that at times, “it’s hard to show the evolution of the characters. We have to figure out how to show the emotional changes.”
But Orvañanos and Kahn were willing to take suggestions from, and listen to, the cast in order to make the characters more realistic. Allen and Silver would offer suggestions on the lines their characters would say to make them more relatable. Orvañanos “takes time to talk about the characters, but also lets us find and research the characters on our own,” Silver said. But “it’s great to have his intake as well,” he added.
Orvañanos and Kahn were also open to taking tips from the crew as well. The directors would take outfit tips from Key Make Up Artist Lucretia Connolly and Costume Designer Maili Laffayette and visual advice from Special Effects Supervisor Eric Anderson, as everyone’s opinions were valued and taken into consideration.
“I actually prefer shooting limited budget films over bigger budget productions, where I spend more time waiting on set to shoot my scenes,” Allen said. The smaller cast and crew offered a sense of community and respect, especially since many of the crew members working on ‘Backgammon’ live in Maine. “We would get to know and bond with everyone, and they have become our family,” Silver added.
But Allen was hesitant at first to accept the role of Miranda, as the material terrified her. But once she did accept it, “it was freeing,” she said. She was drawn to the material because “it’s not often that you get a script like this or a character like Miranda,” who she called unique. “The movie crosses an entire spectrum of emotions and desires and fears,” she added.
While preparing for the role, Allen said she “dug into Miranda’s history to figure out why she is the way that she is, and why she does the things she does. Her motivations where the ultimate challenge, but the most fulfilling.” Allen added that in some ways, “it’s funny to realize how close my journey is to Miranda’s. I haven’t acted out in the same ways that she did, but she did realize and overcome her fears.”
The role of Lucian lured Silver since he’s in every single scene. “I wanted to see if I could carry a whole movie, particularly through all Lucian’s changes,” Silver added.
Silver also said he dug into his character as well, in order to separate himself from Lucian. “I had to bring certain traits to the character, and decide which parts of myself to bring to him,” Silver said. “Lucian was asking the same questions other teens going to college are asking. They have to make their own decisions, and decide who they want to be,” the actor added. Silver also said that he believes Lucian is in part attracted to Miranda’s art world, as he was brought up in a classy, but boring, life.
Russell had a strong idea of what his characters should look like when they made the leap from the book to the screen. While Orvañanos had the final decision on which actors he would cast in ‘Backgammon,’ Russell had the opportunity to comment on the actors and actresses being considered for the roles. He said he thinks the director made the right decisions from what he’s seen so far.
Silver and Allen have also become close while shooting, which was clearly evident on the set. In between takes, they would whisper and talk to each other, offering tips on what to say and how to move in order to make the scenes better.
It was important to Silver to become, and stay, close to Allen, as “the movie is about how different we are, and we find ourselves in the same situation, and we need each other. Though the characters are so different, they’re attracted to each other, as they both want something to each other,”
Russell described the relationship between the tow characters as anything but straightforward. “When their love is dissected, it is shown to be made up of equal parts of compassion, horror, tenderness and fear,” the author added.
Like its cult source material, ‘Bloody Baudelaire,’ ‘Backgammon’ will surely feature a suspenseful plot that explores how two people who are lost and searching for meaning and self-worth emotionally connect with each other. Every scene holds the promise of featuring extreme intensity between Silver, Allen and the rest of the cast. The psychological thriller will surely grab the attention of audiences who will be interested in the struggles the characters go through.
Written by: Karen Benardello