It’s a cool evening in May and the set of “Backgammon” is quiet and subdued. The serene atmosphere contrasts a typical film set.
The state of the production echoes the film’s harrowing premise. A young man, Lucian (Noah Silver) retreats to Cliffe House, a place he has lingering memories of. Though his girlfriend, Elizabeth (Olivia Crocicchia), is with him—he pines for the sultry Miranda (Brittany Allen), who’s late mother owned the house. The group dynamics are further complicated by the presence of Gerald (Alex Beh), Miranda’s ostentatious boyfriend. One evening, after an enthralling poker game, Gerald vanishes. His disappearance conjures puzzling questions and shocking revelations.
Based on the novella, “Bloody Baudelaire,” by R.B Russell, the film takes place at a rural estate in Portland, Maine.
The film’s script, penned by the director, Francisco Orvañanos, Todd Niemi and Russell, is a clever adaptation of the 70 page story. Few filmgoers will be familiar with the out of print book. Only a certain number of copies are available—some going for a hefty $150 online. They will however, be able to identify with its universal themes, such as young love and mental angst.
Since the source material is set in England—a major challenge was altering the dialogue so that it sounded less like British vernacular and more like American.
Though the script is set in the U.S., much of “Bloody Baudelaire’s” storyline remains intact. The central characters, including their descriptions and ages, are pulled directly from the page.
For Orvañanos, the film is a perfect debut project.
“I was looking for something that was controllable—both artistically and economically,” he told Moviehole. “This is my first feature and I wanted it to be manageable.”
Orvañanos has been adamant about including Russell and Niemi in the actual staging of the piece—inviting them to the set and taking their opinions into account.
“It actually gave them a chance to polish and rework things,” says Lynn Kippax, the film’s production manager. “The writers and Francisco spent an afternoon reading the script out loud so that they could hear it and make small changes.”
Much of the story’s structure is shaped by the setting, which is both alluring and disquieting. The house needed minimal set dressing prior to filming. The grandiose abode is filled with odd furniture, avant-garde pieces of art, and visceral ornamentals. The majority of “Backgammon’s” scenes occur within its wall and on the isolated land surrounding it.
The rooms are lined with exquisite statues, old books, and unmistakable architecture. The small art conservatory sets the stage for one of “Backgammons” most eerie scenes. Striking paintings—with muted color tones—decorate the room. Noah walks through the claustrophobic space and notices that the portraits are changing. The fear-provoking moment is unnerving due to Silver’s stoic performance.
The film’s bold narrative structure is also reflected in the look of Miranda’s bedroom.
“She’s got this incredible emotional range. You’re never sure where you are with her. This allows for several levels of tension,” says Kippax. “Miranda is the kind of woman that you don’t know whether to sleep with or kill.”
Her room makes that clear. The dark space is scattered with vintage pieces and odd décor. There is an overall darkness that emanates from the room, conveying her troubled state and enthralling characteristics. The set’s poignant look may be attributed to Charlotte Royer, the film’s talented set designer and her impeccable attention to detail.
Away From the Trappings of Hollywood
One of the few productions in Maine this year, the film has employed a variety of locals. Filming laws require that all movies shot in the area hire a team that is largely comprised of state residents. Unlike in major cities, such as Los Angeles of New York, there is no Filming Commission that issues permits—which grants the talent and crew a degree of freedom. Since film shoots are a rarity, locals have embraced “Backgammon” and are happy to share their excitement about the film.
Many film professionals have opted for the comforts of Portland in lieu of the Hollywood scene. Maili Laffayette, who worked as a costume designer for “Gone Baby Gone” and “Dawson’s Creek,” is happy to lend her creativity to “Backgammon,” an esoteric indie.
One of the More Exciting Upcoming Films
Since the recession, the film industry has seemingly avoided thought-provoking works and played in safe. Sequels, reboots, and remakes often drown out innovative productions. “Backgammon” could potentially spark the public’s interest in lower profile fare.
The labor of love art film is easy to distinguish from the gaggle of approaching releases. From its basic premise to its haunting filming location, there are few projects like “Backgammon.”