TRAVERSE CITY — If you ask Rebecca Reynolds to name the three biggest challenges of filming “Girl on the Train,” she answers in three words.
“Train, pain, rain,” said the co-founder of the Leland-based independent 8180 Films production company that shot the low-budget movie in less than three weeks in April 2012. The sets included a New York train, rented office space, a rented and closed Catholic school and other places around the city.
The train, a big prop, turned out to be a time-consuming problem, Reynolds said. First, the police bomb dog required by the city to sniff through the train was caught up in police roll call meeting at the designated 6 a.m. pickup time. Add malfunctioning train doors plus lost time waiting for a new train, and the original optimistic 14-day filming schedule for the movie turned into 17 days.
“At one time I did ask writer/director Larry Brand why he couldn’t have written a script called ‘Girl in A Cab,’ “ Reynolds said. “You can go on any train in New York with a camera, but if you want to control what happens on it, you have to rent your own.”
On the positive side, New York is filmmaker-friendly and gave the 8180 actors, director and film crew an extra half-day because of the problems, she said.
The pain? Trying to coordinate actors’ schedules and tight scheduling in a city plagued with traffic jams that can be neither predicted nor timed.
The rain spattered nature’s canvas and clouded out a sunset after the film crew got permission to film it from the top of a tall building.
But neither Reynolds, nor other 8180 Films principals — husband Jim Carpenter, her long-time writing partner Larry Brand, and executive producer Ross Satterwhite — are complaining. They’re busy.
“Girl on the Train” had a sell-out screening on April 26 this year at the Newport Beach Film Festival. Reynolds attributed the interest to several factors. The three lead characters are played by good actors known for their work on TV shows and other movies. Larry Brand is a prize-winning writer/director with more than 25 years of experience. He also wrote 8180’s first two productions, “Christina” released in 2011, and “The Coexist Comedy Tour” documentary, which premiered in February at the Traverse City Winter Comedy Arts Festival.
“Girl” is neo-noir thriller that stars Henry Ian Cusick, who played Desmond Hume in the popular TV series, “Lost,” and has appeared in several recurring episodes of the “The Mentalist,” “Scandal” and “Body of Proof” over the last several years.
Cusick plays Danny Hart, a documentary filmmaker who boards a train at Grand Central Terminal to interview people in upstate New York. He sees a mystery woman, Lexi (Nicki Aycox), and the encounter leads him on a different journey into a world where the line between fantasy and reality is blurred. Hart tells the story to Detective Lloyd Martin (Stephen Lang), who tries to determine whether Hart is victim or suspect .
Both Aycox (“Jeepers Creepers II) and Lang (Col. Quaritch in “Avatar)” also played in “Christina.”
Brand said he considers the “Girl on the Train” script the best writing he’s done.
“I was intrigued with the idea of how people perceive each other and how they project on another, by romanticizing or demonizing, and never see the real person,” Brand said. “I’m tired of seeing and making movies that we’ve seen again and again. What I tried to do is take the neo-noir genre, set it up in a certain way and then undermine expectation.”
Brand, Reynolds and Carpenter formed 8180 Films in 2007.
The company’s first feature movie “Christina,” focused on a young German woman (Aycox), her GI boyfriend (Jordan Belfi) and a police inspector (Lang) in Berlin at the end of World War II. It won seven major awards in its first four film festivals including included Outstanding Achievement in Filmmaking at the 2010 Newport Beach Film Festival, and Outstanding Achievement in Writing at VisionFestX in New York City in 2010. Brand won Best Director and Best Film at the 2010 Buffalo-Niagara Film Festival.
The Leland production company has signed separate distribution agreements for that film with Indican Pictures and EBS World Entertainment Corporation, both in California.
Meanwhile, the production company’s documentary, “The Coexist Comedy Tour,” which premiered at at the Traverse City Winter Comedy Arts Festival in February, has been bought by Starz, an American premium cable, video-on-demand and satellite television channel. It started out as a comedy concert film about a comedy troupe comprised of comedians from several different religions plus an atheist. It turned into a comedic documentary when the Christian drops out and auditions began for a replacement.
Carpenter and Satterwhite are now seeking distribution agreements for “Girl on the Train.”
“The plot is very unusual,” Reynolds said. “It’s really a story about stories.”
When will it be shown in Traverse City?
Reynolds said that’s still being worked out in discussions with Traverse City Film Festival co-founder Michael Moore and executive director Deb Lake.
“Christina” premiered in Traverse City to a full house the week before the 2010 film festival.
What is neo noir? Based on the "film noir" genre that spanned the 1940s and 1950s, "neo noir" uses many of same visual elements such as tilted camera angles, skewed scene compositions and an interplay between darkness and light. It often addresses philosophical questions about guilt, redemption, problems of knowledge, memory and identity and blurred lines between right and wrong and good and evil. Common themes in both include crime and punishment, upheaval of traditional moral values, the meaning of life and the place of humankind in the universe.