Tag Archives: Netflix

Christmas In June: Behind The Scenes Of “Noel Diary”

The guys from the film company were up front.

“We’ll take over your house for a couple of weeks,” they told Brett Adams. “It will be crazy.”

They offered a contract. It specified exactly what they’d rent — the porch on his handsome Washington Avenue home, that sort of thing — and what they were responsible for. It spelled out the COVID restrictions, and other contingencies.

Brett signed. A couple of weeks later, the production crew arrived: all 50 to 75 of them.

“We probably didn’t fully understand that,” Brett says. “Or what it would mean for the entire street.”

Welcome to life, when your quiet Westport home becomes a bustling Hollywood movie set. Along with 5 others, next door and across the street.

A few of the many trucks, at the load-in on Washington Avenue.

The Adams’ house will be seen on screen a year and a half from now. December 2022 is the anticipated release of “The Noel Diary,” the Netflix film starring Justin Hartley (“This is Us”) and Bonnie Bedelia (“Die Hard,” “Parenthood”).

Yes, Christmastime. “The Noel Diary” is (duh) a holiday film.

And yes, it was filmed in Westport, on the hottest days in June. That’s the way the movie industry rolls.

Like anyone else in the business, Adams and his family learned to roll with the punches.

The saga began in March. Working at home, Adams saw people taking photos of his house.

Working with representatives from the state’s Office of Film, TV and Digital Media, they were scouting for 2 porches. They’d come to the right place: Adams’ — and the facades of other nearby houses, on the end of the usually quiet road just off Main Street — are historic and gorgeous. There’s not a McMansion in sight.

Filming began in other Fairfield County towns. The first sign of Westport’s star turn came when several enormous trucks massed in the Playhouse parking lot. That was the staging area.

Adams’ first sign that the crew was ready to take over — and do it their own, practiced way — was when they installed a massive generator on the side of the house. Then came tents in the back.

And huge cranes, for lighting. Plus cutting down a tree, for a better shot of another house across the way.

The Adams’ house. No, there is not usually a blue postal box in front.

The original contract included rental of the porch, a bit of the first floor interior, and basement (as a break room for the crew). Quickly, the producers asked to rent the driveway and garage too. Those riders were added.

Adams, his wife and son Will were both fascinated and blasé about the production. They watched in wonder as actors sweated through take after take in 90-degree heat (someone’s specific job was helping them take off their heavy coats).

Bedelia asked Brett if she could come inside between takes. Sure, he said. Will — a Staples High School junior — came downstairs during a study break, greeted the Emmy-nominated actress with a casual “hi!”, then went about his business.

Just like in the movies: The star gets her own chair.

The shaded porch became a favorite hangout for hair and makeup crews. Brett would take breaks from his own work, and ask them about their work. “I have my job, and they have theirs,” he says. “I learned a lot about what they do.”

One surprising lesson: how long it takes to shoot one scene. Each involves multiple angles, and many takes.

Once, a boy rode a bike up and down the street, over and over again. Another time, a dog chased a car — over and over and over again.

Brett was also astonished at the number of people involved, in every aspect, from the production manager to the guy watering the street.

The final night, the crew created a snowfall. Brett was impressed. “They really can create magic,” he says.

Winter in June. The snowman is a nice touch.

Nearly everyone who tromped onto Brett’s porch, and into his basement, had kind words for how nice and accommodating everyone in Westport had been. Apparently, that’s not always the case.

He returns the compliments. Negotiations were not stressful, he says. “They’re very practiced at this. They know antagonism will never get them anywhere.”

When a recycling bin went missing. someone hustled over to Westport Hardware and bought a new one.

The actors were great too, Brett says. Hartley took photos with everyone. Director Charles Shyer (“Father of the Bride,” “Private Benjamin,” “Alfie”) — “classic Hollywood, 79 years old in sneakers and a t-shirt” — was often available for interesting conversations.

“He never yelled ‘action,'” Brett observes. “There was someone else around to do that.”

“I don’t know where a Netflix film fits in with the whole art scene. But for a couple of weeks, even though it could be a nuisance, it was pretty cool.”

Besides, there was this: While work colleagues apologized for dog or toddler interruptions, Brett had another excuse.

“Sorry, guys,” he’d say. “They’re filming a movie at my house.”

Some scenes were filmed at night. These days, Washington Avenue is back to normal. (Photos/Brett Adams)

Mann Oh Mann!

Jamie Mann is drawing praise — and viewers — for his role in “Country Comfort,” the Netflix series about a singing family and their nanny.

But he’s not the only Staples High School student in a TV show this spring.

In fact, he’s not the only one in the same family.

Jamie’s freshman brother Cameron’s show “Mare of Easttown” debuts tonight (Sunday, April 18, 10 p.m.) on HBO. It will stream on HBO Max.

The 7-episode series stars Kate Winslet as Mare Sheehan, a detective trying to keep her life from unraveling as she investigates a murder in her small Pennsylvania town.

Cameron Mann

Cameron plays Ryan Ross, the son of Mare’s best friend. More than a whodunit, the show digs into the complex relationships of a close-knit community, with themes of suffering and redemption.

USA Today says, “Its characters are deeply real and expertly drawn, its sense of place firmly established and specific, and its clues genuinely shocking. It’s intense and satisfying to watch, going to places your average murder mystery wouldn’t aspire.’

Cameron auditioned for the role in September 2019. After sending a tape, he earned a callback with the director and writer in Philadelphia. A final callback followed in New York.

Filming began outside Philadelphia in November 2019 — when Cameron was still at Bedford Middle School — but was shut down by COVID 4 months later. It picked up again in October, and was completed in December.

“Mare” was “cross-boarded” — shot out of order — which complicated things, as the children aged during the long pandemic pause.

One of Cameron’s big scenes in episode 2 — not shot before the shutdown — was cut, probably because it would be too hard to match to the preceding, already-filmed scene when he was a year younger.

His filming took 22 days. But they were spread out, allowing him to continue at both Bedford and Staples. On the days he did work, he was required to spend 3 hours with an on-set teacher.

Cameron Mann took time off from filming to check out the Liberty Bell,

Cameron says that working with Winslet was “amazing. She is very focused and thoughtful about her work. She took the time to meet me, and talk to me about being part of such an intense project. She is super-passionate about acting, and so good.”

This is not the young actor’s first TV show. Cameron has a recurring role on ABC’s “For Life.” He’s been a guest star on “Daredevil” (Netflix) and “New Amsterdam” (NBC), and played former Westporter Melissa Joan Hart’s son in the Lifetime movie “A Very Merry Toy Store.”

And with all that, he found time this winter to play on Staples’ freshman basketball team. Just call the “Mare of Easttown” actor “Cameron of Westport.”

(Meanwhile, Netflix is calculating views, to determine if there will be a 2nd season for Jamie Mann’s “Country Comfort.” All 10 episodes are available now.)

 

Jamie Mann: Good Ol “Country Comfort”

“I sucked at soccer,” says Jamie Mann. “I knew I wasn’t going to be a pro.”

But the Staples High School senior sure can dance. And sing. And act.

After being mesmerized by a performance of “Swan Lake” at 3 — and always dancing whenever he heard music — his mother suggested he try ballet.

Jamie was hooked.

“Dance is a special art form. It’s the purest form of emotional experience,” he says. “You tell a story without speaking. It’s graceful, unique and fulfilling.”

Jamie Mann (Photo/Curtis & Cort)

Jamie studied at the Alvin Ailey Athletic Boys program — dance is also a pure form of athleticism — as well as the School of American Ballet and Ballet Etudes. He has performed in “Nutcracker” and “Swan Lake” with the New York City Ballet, and did “Nutcracker” at the Westport Playhouse too.

Then came “Billy Elliot.” The first Broadway show he’d seen, he felt it called him to be on stage.

Soon he was — in 4 regional productions around the country. He learned as much about singing and acting as did dancing.

Working with a director for the first time, during long, strenuous rehearsals, Jamie became resilient. Seeing the “insane number of people” involved bringing a show to life solidified his desire to make theater his life.

He honed his craft with Staples Players. Jamie sang and acted in 8 shows, from “Newsies” to “Curtains.” The summer before junior year, he starred in “Because of Winn-Dixie” at the Goodspeed Opera House.

“I’m so fortunate to have grown up in this artistic community, where so many people helped me on this path,” he says.

He gives shout-outs to his first acting teacher, Jill Jaysen, and Cynthia Gibb at Triple Threat — his voice teacher, acting coach and mentor for 10 years.

Jamie Mann (right) in “Because of Winn Dixie” at the Goodspeed Opera House. 
(Photo/Diane Sobolewski)

Last year he auditioned in New York for a new project. “Country Comfort” is a Netflix comedy about an aspiring country singer who finds new life as a nanny for a handsome widower and his 5 charming children.

In the middle of rehearsals for Players’ “Mamma Mia!” Jamie got the job. He flew to California, for rehearsals and taping.

Jamie Mann (5th from left, in blue) in “Mamma Mia!” Photo/Kerry Long)

He had never been on a film set. He had to learn different blocking, not to look into the camera — and adapt to constant line changes. Every night brought a new script.

It was Jamie’s first time originating a role. He developed “Brody” — the 2nd oldest kid — as a character. “I found his mannerisms, and explored his character,” Jamie explains.

Brody is “someone I’d be friend with in real life. He’s a good brother. Parental in a way. He’s a little insecure. He doesn’t really know fully who he is. But he grew as a character from a blank slate. And I grew with him.”

Meanwhile, the entire cast — including Katharine McPhee, Eddie Cibrian and Ricardo Hurtado — had to create “a convincing family dynamic.”

They did. Jamie — who in real life has 3 younger siblings — feels like he now has a “second family.” He can’t wait for the world to see it, when it debuts this Friday (March 19).

Jamie Mann (left) with his “Country Comfort” family. (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

But the show’s path from California set to Netflix distribution was not as smooth as it sounds.

Right after the 4th episode was filmed, COVID struck. The cast dispersed. They did not get together again until September.

“Up to then we didn’t know if we’d ever be back,” Jamie recalls. “But we jumped right in.”

Six more episodes were completed by the end of October.

Jamie Mann (center), ready for prime time. (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

Post-production takes time. Back in Westport, Jamie watched “Bridgerton” and “Stranger Things” on Netflix.

“It was weird to see them, and think I’d be on that platform soon,” he admits.

“But it got me excited. It’s cool that people all over the world can watch this.”

And in other languages. It felt very strange to watch a trailer in Spanish — his body, but his voice dubbed in by someone he’d never met.

As an actor, it’s always hard to watch himself, Jamie says. He will probably view the first episode on Friday with his “real life family,” at their Compo Beach home. But he’ll see most of the other shows by himself.

“Country Comfort” billboard in Times Square.

Then he’ll wait to see if “Country Comfort” — which has earned strong pre-reviews — will be picked up for another season.

Meanwhile, he’s reveling in being a Staples senior, even in this COVID-crossed year. He was part of Players’ radio show “Dracula,” and is waiting to hear from colleges.

He’s applied for musical theater programs. Competition is tough.

Yet it’s hard to imagine many other candidates have the ballet, singing — and “Country Comfort” — resumes of Jamie Mann.

BONUS REEL: “06880” first noticed Jamie in 2016. As a Bedford Middle School 7th grader, he danced a “Billy Elliot” routine in the talent show. I described the support he got as a young dancer from his friend Josh Suggs — and the thunderous applause he earned on the middle school stage. Click here for the story, then below for the video.

He-Man Returns; Westporter Helps

“He-Man” is coming back to life.

And one of “the men” responsible is a Staples High School graduate.

Rob David is executive producer of Netflix’s new anime series. Called “Masters of the Universe: Revelation,” it will take place in a Mattel-inspired world, and focus on unresolved story lines from the classic 1980s show. It picks up on “what may be the final battle between He-Man and Skeletor,” says executive producer Kevin Smith.

Rob David (left) and Kevin Smith.

David — a 1992 Staples alum, where he was active in Players and co-president of Model UN — is well suited to the task. He’s vice president of Mattel TV, and author of He-Man: The Eternity War. 

After graduating from Columbia University, he wrote for several New York-based animated series, including “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” He now lives in California, with his wife and twins. (She is in charge of online content for Sesame Workshop, and has helped develop their highly regarded autism, LGBT and military family inclusion material.)

Staples classmate Evan Stein says, “Having read Rob’s reboot stories of He-Man and She-Ra that he wrote when he moved to LA, and the fanboy favorite crossover of He-Man and the ThunderCats, I’m sure this will be a runaway success.”

The original He-Man animated series ran from 1983-85. Set on the mythical planet of Eternia, it featured Prince Adam — transformed into He-Man — as the most powerful man in the universe.

He-Man

Leslye Headland’s “Russian Doll”

Since debuting on February 1, “Russian Doll” — the Netflix comedy series about a woman who keeps dying in a time glitch — has snagged praise from critics, and plenty of viewers.

Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 100% approval rating. The Gothamist said it’s “the first must-see new TV show of the year.” New York Times TV critic James Poniewozik called it “lean and snappily paced; it even managed the rare feat, in the era of streaming-TV bloat, of making me wish for a bit more.”

Leslye Headland, with a montage from “Russian Dolls.” (Image courtesy of The Ringer)

The show’s co-creator, director and writer — Leslye Headland — is a 1999 Staples High School graduate. She’s earned kudos as a playwright, screenwriter and director, with hits like the play and film “Bachelorette” and the movie “Sleeping With Other People.”

Leslye’s been on a media tour following “Russian Doll”‘s debut. She was interviewed today on WNYC (click here to listen), and has appeared in plenty of print and online media too. Click here for one of the most in-depth pieces.

Intrigued? Click below for the trailer:

Westport: A Town Of “Darkness And Pain”

Last week, I posted a story about “Land of Steady Habits.”

The movie — based on 2001 Staples High School graduate Ted Thompson’s debut novel about a Westporter seeking something beyond his soul-crushing marriage and job — has just been released by Netflix.

The New York Times‘ A.O. Scott gave it a strong review yesterday, calling it “unpredictable and fresh.”

He begins:

The American suburb is zoned for ambivalence. Neither city nor country, suburbia — at least in the imagination of too many novelists, filmmakers and songwriters to count — yokes affluence to alienation. Beyond the well-kept lawns and hedges are seething hives of adultery, anomie and addiction. These pathologies may not actually be more common along the commuter rail lines than anywhere else, but there is an imposing body of literature that insists otherwise.

He adds of director Nicole Holofcener: “The darkness and pain haunting Westport are more pronounced …than the melancholy and quiet rage that figure in Ms. Holofcener’s other movies.”

Fortunately, that “darkness and pain” refers to the film, not life in our actual town.

I think.

(For the full New York Times review, click here. Hat tips: John Karrel and Fran White)

 

Ted Thompson’s “Land Of Steady Habits”

In 2014, Ted Thompson’s 1st novel was published.

“The Land of Steady Habits” follows Anders Hill. In his early 60s and seemingly comfortable in Fairfield County, he suddenly abandons his career and family for a new condo and a new life.

It doesn’t happen the way he expects, of course. But that makes the debut book from the 2001 Staples High School graduate so intriguing.

The novel earned its author comparisons to Updike and Cheever. Now it’s been made into a Netflix movie.

Ben Mendelsohn (“Rogue One”) plays the lead. Edie Falco (“Sopranos”) and Thomas Mann also star, while Nicole Holofcener (“Enough Said”) directs.

“The Land of Steady Habits” premieres at the Toronto Film Festival this month.

Here’s the trailer — with a special nod to Thompson’s home town.

It features a shot of Main Street.

(Hat tip: Kerry Long)

Zelda!

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald spent just a few months in Westport — way back in 1920.

But it made a lasting impact on their lives.

Now Netflix and Amazon Prime viewers can relive that crazy time through a new series called “Z: The Beginning of Everything.”

Christina Ricci plays Zelda, “the brilliant, beautiful Southern Belle who became the original flapper and icon of the wild, flamboyant Jazz Age.”

In episode 9, “Scott and Zelda work through rising marital tensions at their Westport house.”

Sounds interesting.

Even if it was filmed on Long Island.

Zelda today...

Zelda today…

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, in front of what appears to be their Westport home.

and yesterday, with F. Scott Fitzgerald in front of their Westport home.

(Hat tips: Erica Peale and Jeff Mitchell)

Blockbuster Goes Bust

The recent “06880” post on the local BP station “gas sale” drew nearly as many comments as the number of gallons of oil spilled in the Gulf Coast.

Meanwhile, across the street, another financial story is unfolding.

Blockbuster is about to file for bankruptcy.  (The chain, that is — not the local outlet, which saw the writing on the wall a while ago and shrunk by half.  The rest of the building now houses a big-and-tall men’s store, which for some reason I never patronize.  Go figure.)

Some see the demise of Blockbuster as a sign that the company failed to adapt to changing technologies and tastes.  It was done in, they say, by Netflix, Redbox and streaming video.

Others see it as market payback for a company that charged usurious late fees, advertised “2-day rentals” that were really 1 night only, and did not stock indie films or controversial documentaries.

As someone who avoids chain outlets whenever possible — Doc’s vs. Starbucks is a no-brainer — I see Blockbuster’s bye-bye as karma.

Back in the pre-Blockbuster day, Westport was awash in mom-and-pop video rental stores.  A funky hole-in-the-wall place next to Westport Pizzeria carried 1 copy of every film ever made, in countries even the UN never heard of.

There was a shop in Westfair, and others sprinkled around town.

Blockbuster drove them all out — and such was its domination, I can’t even remember their names.

I do recall Circuit City, Caldor and Sam Goody — area stores that Blockbuster may soon join in that great retail graveyard in the sky.

If you remember any Westport video stores — from that long-ago era of the 1990s — click the “comments” link.

In the meantime, if you’re not a Netflix, Redbox or streaming video fan — or you just want a change of pace — I’ve got 2 words for you:

Westport Library.

Blockbuster On The Chopping Block?

Blockbuster is closing hundreds of stores — over 500 this year, on top of 374 last year.  In the most recent quarter the once-swaggering company lost $435 million — on top of a $360 million loss a year ago.

I hadn’t thought about Blockbuster in years — in today’s world there’s Netflix (the old-fashioned mail way, plus its streaming service), Hulu, and 5  new technologies that were announced just last night — but the news made me think about my old (very old) friend on the Post Road.  It shrunk to half its size last year, ceding the east end to a big-and-tall clothing store (not my cup of tea).

I couldn’t imagine Blockbuster’s business model working in Westport anymore.  Particularly when the library offers DVDs for the fairly low price of free.

I called the Westport store.  A chirpy voice answered — a ringing phone was probably the most excitement she’d had all day.

“Blockbuster is shutting lots of stores,” I said.  “Is Westport one of them?”

“We’re fine,” she replied.

“Well, how’s business?” I asked.

“Do you need something?” she countered.

“Like someone else I can talk to there?” I said.  I was thinking like, you know, a manager.

“Like a DVD?” she wondered.

No.  I did not need a DVD.

And I don’t know anyone else in Westport who still needs anything from Blockbuster.

Which is why I’m not sure business really is fine, over at the local “video rental store.”