by George Pelletier ~
There are few erudite men who couldn’t be less intrigued by the Hollywood propaganda machine than award-winning writer and director Ernest Thompson.
Huddled in New Hampton with a roster of Boston actors, unknown acting students, crew members and his production company, Whitebridge Farm, Thompson is about as far away from the box-office mentality of Tinseltown as any filmmaker could be.
And with his latest project, “Time and Charge$,” Thompson has applied an unorthodox, yet effective, style to movie making.
“I wrote this project last year,” Thompson said in his Whitebridge Farm production office. “Originally, we had talked about shooting a Web series because it seemed like a good way to acquaint some people in this neck of the woods with the filmmaking process.
“And it was a way to do it on a very low budget level and to make it as accessible as possible for people who might not otherwise have an opportunity to participate and learn about making a movie.”
Thompson has won an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, a Writer’s Guild Award, a Broadway Drama Guild Award and the Lifetime Achievement Award at the New Hampshire Theatre Awards. Last September, it struck him that his project sounded more like a movie and less like a Web series, so he flipped names and “Time and Charge$” the movie grew from there.
“Essentially, what we have here is an all-volunteer army,” Thompson said. “We shoot pretty much only on the weekends, and because most people involved have day jobs, the real positive of that is that were able to accomplish what no major movie could do with a $3 million budget.
“And we shot all four seasons here in New Hampshire.”
Co-producer is Morgan Murphy, a Whitebridge Productions partner along with his wife, Lori Gigliotti Murphy, and Thompson.
“I’ve been making films in this pattern for quite some time,” Murphy said, “and it actually works quite well. You get a lot of luxuries that don’t happen in normal schedules. We’re not under an average time crunch, and it gives Ernest, as actor, writer and director, the freedom to play with and adjust the script.”
Thompson said the movie was never imagined as a play, even in its earliest inceptions.
“It’s very action oriented, and it has a lot of locations,” he said. “And it goes back and forth in time a little bit. It would have been very difficult to do as a play.”
Thompson said the intent all along was just to “kick-start some filming here in central New Hampshire, where there hasn’t been a lot of filming or an entire film shot here in the last 30 years.”
During the process of shooting the film, Thompson said the New Hampshire Office of Film basically left them alone.
“I think they probably think we know what we’re doing,” he said. “So, we’ve just been moving forward, creating a much more important network of people who are interested in pursuing careers in filmmaking, art design, et cetera.
“We’ve probably involved more than 300 people in this process in the last eight or nine months, so it’s been pretty gratifying. And what I wanted to establish from the beginning was to make this movie in New Hampshire with a sense of ownership, something that people would have a sense of pride in, and I really think we succeeded in doing that.”
Said Gigliotti Murphy: “We’re right around our one-year mark since we started Whitebridge Productions, and we had ideas and visions when we started out. And we’re seeing those visions come to fruition.”
The organized sanity of making a film, especially on New Hampshire turf, hasn’t ruffled Thompson’s feathers a bit.
“I never really doubted that,” he said. “The superstructure here is shaky, at best, so we don’t have a strong support system for filmmaking in New Hampshire the way other states do.”
Thompson listed things such as there being no tax incentive for filmmakers to come here and the fact that New Hampshire isn’t a right-to-work state.
“We don’t get a lot of concessions from the government or from unions, but I think what this has proven to me – and I’m not the first person in New Hampshire to make a small-budget movie here – is that you can do this in spite of all of the above,” he said.
“And I hope what will happen, and what I wish would have happened 30 years ago, is that other filmmakers around the country will look at the result and the relative ease which I’ve had making this movie and will want to come here and try to establish that, as well.”
Apparently, the motto around the set is don’t knock unconventional thinking.
“This whole process has been a pleasure,” Thompson said. “Sometimes, it’s inevitable where you can ever quite understand why some projects work well and others don’t. Although there are usually more reasons why they don’t work well,” he said with a laugh.
Murphy and Gigliotti Murphy echoed that sentiment.
“It has been a positive thing, and I think our unique schedule is a reflection of that,” Murphy said. “We have some of the best actors in New England coming up to join us, but right alongside them are people who are gaining experience through working with our company.”
“Plus, we have training programs,” Gigliotti Murphy said. “So, we’ve got people working in our classes and working on the set. And it’s been kind of a rolling process. We’ve got theater guys and there are film guys. Everything just falls into place.
“And Ernest wears as many hats as anybody has to.”
“There has been such a sense of support and enthusiasm,” Thompson said. “My cameraman was saying to me the other day, ‘We’re coming down to the end stretch now, and we are actually seeing a flickering light at the end of the tunnel.’ There is a sense of family, and I always try to create this ambiance of creativity and support, which is not always easy when there are a lot of outside pressures like a ticking clock and the guy standing over there with an abacus in his hand.”
Thompson is quick to praise Murphy and Gigliotti Murphy, calling them the “nuts and bolts of this operation.”
“When you meet them, you see that they are just fabulous and energetic people, and I’m the luckiest guy in the world to have them as partners and as co-producers on this movie and building this company,” he said.
“We don’t allow a lot of dissension or negativity or confusion. We make sure that everybody feels plugged in when they come to work. Whether it’s somebody standing out there wearing an orange vest stopping traffic or a person playing a central role in the movie, we want everybody to feel that each person is a part of this vast community of Whitebridge Farm Productions and particularly of ‘Time and Charge$.’ ”
Thompson finally got around to discussing the synopsis of the movie, although, “It’s always a bad idea to ask a writer what their story is about,” he said jokingly.
“Essentially, it’s a story that happens on two levels. The first level is a guy who is a very successful money manager in New York who falls on hard times because of the economy. He gets a lead about an investor in New Hampshire, and he’s told to take I-93 and get off at exit 22A. If you know I-93, you know that there is no exit 22A.”
Never quite the bean spiller, Thompson said what happens next is “a cross between Homer and ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ ”
The filmgoer gathers that this money manager has found a portal to his past, and he’s forced to face his own life and mortality, which involves love and a daughter that he never knew.
“There is a lot of stuff going on in this movie,” Thompson said. “But as a filmmaker, I don’t like to explain too much. This movie is a great ride and at the end, it’s one of those movies where you turn to the person that’s with you and you say, ‘Wait a minute, was that a dream, or what?’
“I like a movie like that.”
To read this article in The Telegraph, click here.