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You ought to be in pictures

Story by Chris Graham

barry-and-marc-donkeyball.jpgI spent a few minutes in the director’s chair during the production on “Familiar Strangers,” a feature film produced by the Charlottesville-based Cavalier Films that is slated for release next year.
So you can add me to the long list of people who played a role in the making of the movie – though my role was basically to sit quietly and not screw anything up.
But that’s not the point that I’m trying to make here. Talk to Cavalier Films producer Barry Sisson, and you get it right away.

“Normal people who love these independent films can really get involved in bringing them to life. Our partners play a part in every aspect of producing our films,” said Sisson, who led a discussion of the inner workings at Cavalier that was held at The Visulite in Downtown Staunton Monday night.

“Some of the richest parts of this movie were contributions that were made by some of our partners,” Sisson said in an interview for “The Augusta Free Press Show” last week.

“We don’t promise anybody they’re going to get a part in the movie – but as it turns out, one of our partners plays a role in the movie and actually gets one of the biggest laughs in the whole film. Other partners gave us ideas for the script and helped us develop it – and some actually put their lives on hold and worked for us for six weeks in the production of the film. So they were very much a part of what this film has become,” Sisson said.

“Familiar Strangers” tells the story of a Staunton family that has grown apart as the children have grown and become adults – and comes to realize their new relationship roles over an extended family get-together centered around Thanksgiving.

“The films that Cavalier Films wants to tell are generally smaller in scope. They’re close-in human stories. Part of that is because we have a limited budget – but part of it is our mission. We want to tell stories that people can relate to,” Sisson said.

“We want to tell stories that when people walk out of the theater, maybe they came into contact with feelings and thoughts that they haven’t had in a while. We’d love to say that you will walk out of the theater changed. And this movie is like that,” Sisson said. “It deals with a family that thinks they have big problems – but over the course of a weekend get-together over Thanksgiving, they learn to recognize that they’re all people – that even the parents are, as one of the children say, sort of weird friends. That’s the theme of the movie.”

Back to the part where regular people get a chance to make and shape the film – I was part of a focus group that screened two versions of “Familiar Strangers” at The Visulite last spring as the producers were putting their finishing touches on the picture.

“At that time, we had two versions of the film – and we were trying to decide which was the final version. I’ll tell you a funny thing that happened. We showed both of them at The Visulite to about 40 people, and then those of you who attended rated the film. We got great ratings from both screenings – in fact, the ratings were exactly the same on both versions. So it didn’t help us make a decision,” Sisson said.

Good news – I didn’t screw that up, either.


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Chris Graham is the executive editor of The Augusta Free Press.

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