“Altar Rock” production

The director and AD prepare to rehearse a party scene at the titular rock

The indie feature “Altar Rock” originally had a budget of around $2 million and was scheduled for a 21-day shoot in Plymouth, Massachusetts subbing for Nantucket. I was in Plymouth a week before the shoot to make last minute revisions to the script. And I was there for the first week of shooting. But the first day of shooting there were two huge semi-trailer trucks, several make-up trailers, a crew of 65, and 30 extras… for a brief scene at a bar that has no dialogue and features the main villain watching a news bulletin on the bar television. My first reaction was… there’s no way this is a $2 million film; the director might as well think he is making a $20 million film. And, sure enough, the budget eventually bloated to over $3 million and I was given a call toward the end of the production with the instruction, “We have to cut several days from the shoot,” and whatever pages of the script that might entail.

Production vehicles line the street on the first day of production

The director, Andrzej Bartowiak, who had been the cinematographer on many major films, including “Terms of Endearment,” “Falling Down,” and “Speed” had me cut the original script from 112 pages down to 88. Much of the character development portions of the script were excised, while the action sequences were expanded during the production. So a one-page fight description in the script turned into a 5-minute drag-out brawl in the film. It became obvious the director, relishing the power above previously just being the cameraman, thought he was making an action film like “Speed,” and not the more nuanced romantic thriller as originally intended. I was okay with that as long as it was a good film, which, though compromised, I think it turned out to be.

FBI agent Cantrell (James Remar) delivers some upsetting news to Tillie’s aunt
Lead romantic couple Tille (India Eisley) and Niko (KJ Apa) at Altar Rock

The other location shoot I was present for was when lead character Tillie discusses her new boyfriend with her best friend Felicity on the beach near her aunt’s house, where she is living. This went smoothly, and I was able to have the production photographer get a shot of me and Kristin with the two actresses; India Eisley and Sydney Park. Lead actor KJ Apa wasn’t present for this scene, and I didn’t get a shot with him, unfortunately.

Production resumes at a beach location with India and Sydney (on beach under umbrella
Writer with India Eisley, Sydney Park, and Exec Producer and co-writer Kristin Alexandre

The production did have to be cut short because of budgetary reasons, and I was tasked with excising several elements and pages of the script at the last moment. This was my opportunity to remove all of the cops and FBI that the director had somehow wanted to insert toward the finale that also bolstered the impression the film was a cop drama. The finale, as Kristin and I had intended, was always supposed to be showdown alone between Tillie and her new boyfriend, Niko, on the boat. Now, without a bunch of cops running around, I was able to restore that focus.

Older brother Marco (Scott Atkins) commands the boat where the finale will take place

The crux of the picture was always, who would Niko be loyal to - his brother and family blood, which required he go through with a terrorist bombing revenge act - or his new love; Tillie. The finale would find Tillie confronting him on this conflict, and ultimately discovering his true choice. If the story had developed properly, this would be all the conflict and suspense needed to make the finale powerful, even without the baggage of FBI or police running around with walkie-talkies. Ultimately, the audience will decide if we were successful in that intention.

Location board in the production office showing the title location chosen

And, hopefully, the film will make back some of the $3 million it ultimately cost.

Tille talks to Niko on her cell phone
Niko drives a cab on Nantucket and ponders his predicament
The original poster for the film before it was cast

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