Nov. 29--NEW HAVEN -- Maura Fitzgerald, who grew up in Shelton and graduated from Albertus Magnus College in 1988, returns to the city and college on Prospect Street as producer of an independent movie Friday night.
A dozen crew members and actors for Avon-based Atlantian Films will use the exterior of Rosary Hall, the hallway near its grand staircase and the spiral staircase in Nilan Hall for scenes in the feature-length film being shot in Connecticut called "Mindscapes: Origins."
The film was written by Farmington native Brian Spectre, and Atlantian is unusual for its involvement with cancer survivors. A former audio engineer, Spectre began writing what would become a "Mindscapes" trilogy during his fight with non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, first diagnosed in 1989. The disease inspired him to visualize himself as a strong knight.
"It made me so determined," Spectre said in a news release recently. "When you look at death twice and are told you won't make it, this (filmmaking) is not the hardest thing to do."
While Fitzgerald isn't a cancer survivor herself (she was a caregiver for her father, who died of lung cancer), she said about 40 percent of the company has had cancer.
Fitzgerald, 47, met up with Spectre through the Farmington Valley Film Commission two years ago, and last year became a financial investor, producer (and recently actor) in the film -- which she describes as a "sci-fi ... sort of James Bond-ish love story."
Planned for late 2014 distribution, it revolves around the hero, played by Spectre, who must enter a comatose woman's mind in order to obtain a crucial code the antagonist needs to rule the world. Fantastic adventures take part there in Purgatory, augmented by special effects and post-production work.
"I scout the sites, create a production schedule ... do a lot of public relations, work with the actors and actresses," said Fitzgerald. "Because we're nonunion, everybody wears a variety of hats. I've been behind the camera multiple times, I've done props. ... I've done some of the stunts, I've played some of the monsters that you see on Facebook."
Independent films may or may not see the light of day, and most of these people have day jobs, but there are more avenues these days for feature films -- from cable channels to Internet streaming services such as Netflix. Fitzgerald said the company is talking to three companies about distribution now (as it also moves to land a name actor for a key role).
Spectre, she said, had interest from two major studios for a short "Mindscapes" film he made and showed at a film festival, but it came down to the studios wanting to take the script and control the production. She said one reason given for not using the team from the short film was, "'We can't insure you' ... because of his cancer history."
Some of the people who were in the film have since died, she said, so Spectre declined, citing his commitment to them. And Atlantian took on cancer as a unifying badge.
"Seven individuals created our own foundation called Cancer Survivors Who Care Charities Inc., ... (where) we can create documentaries of cancer patients and individuals who are going through the treatments -- basically giving them the opportunity to create their own stories by recording, producing and editing their own movies. ... And it's no cost to them."
The nonprofit is working on its first such film now, she said, with a goal to create a film school for cancer survivors and caregivers.
As for the choice of Albertus, Fitzgerald said, "We needed a very stately building, and one of our characters is a storybook artist and daughter of a senator, who falls in a stairwell. ... In Nilan Hall, they have a great spiral staircase, and it's very unique." Pillared Rosary Hall is to be shown as the senator's house.
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