|On set in Jerome, Roger Ainlie plays Harland Aindrick in A Person Known to Me. VVN/Jon Pelletier|
|Brian Wiles plays the part of the "Cub" investigator in A Person Known to Me.|
JEROME -- The historic John Riordin House is at the top of Society Hill in Jerome, one of the highest points in the hillside town. Last week it was also the set of an experiment in film and novella.
A Person Known to Me is a story that follows the case of a Chicago-based detective agency, Mahoney and Porter, that chases exploits all over the country.
But Directors Stephanie Argy and Alec Boehm from Los Angeles, are taking a different route to telling this period piece set in the late-1800s and early 1900s. Part of the story is on film, both short and feature length, part is written word, and another piece is likely to be online.
Argy and Boehm were celebrated at the Sedona International Film Festival last year for the Best Feature Film, Red Machine, the thrilling chase after a Japanese encryption machine.
Before that, they put on film a fantasy they discovered in the New Yorker, recalling how Mohandas Gandhi traveled covertly to the United States to pinch-hit for the New York Yankees, Gandhi at the Bat.
Stephanie Argy tells us, "For this, we got interested in two things. One, we wanted to do a detective adventure. Our previous piece, the Red Machine, we traveled all over the country and had some really amazing experiences in different places; Northern Arizona was one. And we wanted to tell a story that would take the audience back to all these different places. And we thought, who travels a lot? Detectives! Detectives go everywhere. And so we came up with the idea of a fictional detective agency called Mahoney and Porter, based out of Chicago at the turn of the 20th Century. At that point, Chicago was an incredible railroad hub with spurs out to every part of the country.
"You have to set your story somewhere and we wanted to be a little bit emotional about it and set it in places that mean a lot to us, as film makers."
The Jerome filming is part of the second short film of a series that has 11 episodes. Three will be short films. The final project will be a full length feature, and the remaining episodes are novellas, illustrated stories that were common during that period the early 20th century.
"The first short film was set in a town called Port Townsend, Wash., about three and a half miles northwest of Seattle," says Argy. "It has a real maritime tradition to it. There were shanghais that happened and sea shanties were very much a part of the culture. And then we thought of coming here. We always conceived this one and that one together. Geographically Port Townsend couldn't be more different from a town like Jerome. We wanted to have this very wet, northwestern place juxtaposed against the desert and dry. We went out in the Red Rocks of Sedona as well for part of the story."
What brought the directors to the concept of a multimedia format?
"With the last feature," says Argy, "we loved the story and the characters and were a little bit sad that all we had with them was a little bit of time with that feature. We wanted to carry the story on in many ways, deep into the hearts of all these characters. We thought it would be fun to do a big experiment and try to mix narrative forms. There are certain things you can do with a novella you can't do with film. You can go into somebody's mind in a different way. With the feature film, that will end this, it is a theatrical experience that is very different from watching something small."
The entire project is a work in progress. The first piece, Episode 4, filmed in Port Townsend is finished. Stephanie says the two are writing the novellas at the same time, crafting others of the detective episodes and expanding the characters.
"It's really an experiment," agrees Boehm. "Let's see if we can do something big and broad and expansive. It is all part of the same big story, but imagine the story with different chapters. Some of those are novellas and some are films, but they all carry along the same characters and the same story.
"We love the theatrical experience in front of an audience and we loved the reaction, but when we went home we were reading long stories and novels and felt that craving for a longer narrative experience than you can get in just two hours. That's what led it to us. We worked through the process. 'What could it be, what could it be?' And we experimented."
It sounds like a huge challenge, but the actors also help them carry some of the creation, says Roger Ainlie, who plays Harland Aindrick.
"It is great. It is not just the interesting formats, and we don't really have anything to do with the novels' text, but Alec and Steph are so collaborative. They are more collaborative than any directors of film I have ever worked with. I have worked with them several times, so there is a level of trust and they are willing to take input and see and let you block out the scene and set up cameras around it. Rather than 'this is what we decided, stand there, stand there, blink, smile, frown. Done.' I have heard some directors say, 'actors are just props'. But, these guys are great, they respect the actors, even as how the line goes or the plot goes."
Stephanie enthuses, "It is fun, because the actors are giving us so much. Everything that they do echoes into the pages of the book, so things that Donal does or Brian Wiles - 'the Cub' -- informs the book. So, you are working on part 4 and in part 7, this happens, so you can set that up with this, so it is all evolving together.
"There is a term called 'transmedia' and for example, the Dark Knight movies will have little stories that come off, but they are usually not essential. Think of Star Wars, where you have movies that go on and on. And that is kind of a model as well. We haven't heard of anybody that has done anything quite like this"
Some of the actors have worked with Stephanie and Alec before. Donal Thoms-Cappella, who plays Constantine Sherro, recently finished a western piece in New Mexico and has worked in all three projects. He is even writing episode 2 of this project.
As Agent Maud Stratton, Karen Vaccarro auditioned with Argy and Boehm on Skype and joined the cast in Jerome. Brian Wiles has also worked with the pair before. He recently completed a recurring role in TV's "Person of Interest" cop-like show.
Laura Carlson is the production manager from Sedona who got us all together.
Stephanie and Alec originally met in Polytechnic High School.