LEWISTON — “Quiet please!” a voice yelled.

Director Allen Cognata sipped decaf tea from a Styrofoam cup and gazed into a TV screen, connected to a $500,000 hi-definition camera that took in every detail of Lewiston’s Save-A-Lot grocery store.

“We can’t show the windows,” Cognata told an assistant as the clocks passed midnight. “It’s daytime.”

Twenty minutes later, Congnata completed his first shot of star Jason London walking down the frozen food aisle. It began day 11 of a breakneck, 18-day shooting schedule around central Maine.

With a budget under $200,000, the quiet New Yorker-turned-Mainer hopes to create a story that will compete with the best independent films in the country. At bargain prices, he was able to sign Los Angeles actors and crews because of the strong, darkly comic screenplay about getting complacent in marriage. It’s titled “The Putt Putt Syndrome.”

“I picked up the script and I couldn’t stop turning the pages,” said London, a TV and movie actor whose credits include the film “Dazed and Confused” and the title role in the TV miniseries, “Jason and the Argonauts.”

His price on the film: $100 a day.

“Nobody’s doing it for the money,” he said.

Producers Rene Veilleux and Donald Roman Lopez were the first at the store Wednesday night, arriving about an hour after closing with a U-Haul van full of costumes, props and supplies.

They immediately began hauling plastic totes and setting up tables for the home-catered food that would arrive a few minutes later. On other productions, the producers would arrive on the set in a luxury car with a Bluetooth headset embedded in an ear and a train of assistants following behind. On this one, even the director has finished his long nights by vacuuming the set.
“You do what you can,” Veilleux said. “Most of the people here are working long hours for no pay.”

A few minutes later, Cognata arrived, looking rumpled in an L.L. Bean sweatshirt. He had had about three hours of sleep since the last night.

“It’s been enough so far,” he said, sitting down on a milk crate in a back room of the market.

Part of his energy comes from the sacrifices of so many, he said.

In Winthrop, people have opened their homes to house members of the cast and crew. Many have donated their time. Friends have opened their businesses, including the Save-A-Lot, to be used as locations.

On the set Thursday, students from Winthrop High School shot video for a behind-the-scenes documentary and worked on the set to make shots matched from scene to scene.

On Sunday, Cognata plans to shoot at Dave’s Appliance Store in Winthrop. Two days later, he’ll be at the town beach with singer-songwriter Julie Mintz. Mintz, an actress with a role in the movie, plans to perform live for the people who attend the shooting. It’s a small thank-you.

“The community has been amazing,” Cognata said. Without the help, it would be a lesser movie, he said.

He has high hopes for the final result.

His story focuses on the character of Johnny, who watched a buddy’s marriage dissolve and suspects his own marriage may be failing. The bigger problem is that Johnny and his wife, played by London and actress Thea Gill, may be failing, too.

“It’s about the fragility of relationships,” Cognata said.

Of the four out of 10 marriages that don’t end in divorce, half are unhappy, he said. The title, “The Putt Putt Syndrome,” refers to the relaxed place that too many couples reach when they grow comfortable with each other and stop trying.

The movie also stars Robert Maschio from “Scrubs,” David Chokachi from “Baywatch,” and Heather Tom, a two-time Emmy Winner from “The Young and the Restless.”

For Cognata, who graduated from the New York Film Academy and wrote one other feature, “Ghetto Dawg,” it may be his best shot at fulfilling his professional dreams. The filmmaker has a day job for Continental Airlines, ushering aircraft into airport terminals.

To make the film, he managed to get two months off.

“I am a blue-collar guy,” he said. Besides him, a bound copy of a screenplay rested on a milk crate.

It was 11 p.m. and his day was just beginning.

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First Assistant Director Daniel Sollinger, left, watches the camera with Afton Grant, center, and Katie Dainson while Jason London rehearses a scene for “The Putt Putt Syndrome” in Lewiston.

Allen Cognata, Winthrop-based producer/writer/director of the movie “The Putt Putt Syndrome,” turns to question an assistant while television and movie star Jason London, in the monitor, rehearsed a scene at the Lewiston Save-A-Lot grocery store early Thursday morning. Cognata is making his movie for a budget of under $200,000.

Camera operator Afton Grant, left, and first camera assistant Katie Dainson watch television and film star Jason London rehearse a scene on the set of “The Putt Putt Syndrome” in the Lewiston Save-A-Lot early Thursday morning.

Winthrop High School video production teacher and set dresser for “The Putt Putt Syndrome,” Tiff Shaw, right, and art director Brennen Swanson remove laundry detergent from a shelf of the Lewiston Save-A-Lot grocery store to replace it with cereal late Wednesday night. Shaw said she and Swanson consulted digital photos to get the scene correct.

Props are laid out in a room of the Lewiston Save-A-Lot grocery store for the movie “The Putt Putt Syndrome.”

Thea Gill, television and film star, gets her hair done by Jennifer Park in the stock room of the Lewiston Save-A-Lot grocery store while filming “The Putt Putt Syndrome” movie late Wednesday night.

Brennen Swanson, left, and Tiff Shaw consult a digital image to make sure they are setting a scene correctly on the set of “The Putt Putt Syndrome” at the Save-A-Lot grocery store in Lewiston.

Production intern Grace Lemieux, left, watches makeup artist Alex Noble prepare Gail Young, director Allen Cognata’s mother, for the movie “The Putt Putt Syndrome” in the back room of the Lewiston Save-A-Lot grocery store early Thursday morning. Young was the featured extra of the night.

Production designer Matthew CW Page frosts a baking tin as he makes an impromptu cake for the movie “The Putt Putt Syndrome.” 

Jason London discusses a scene with 1st Assistant Director Daniel Sollinger, left, and Director Allen Cognata on the set of “The Putt Putt Syndrome” early Thursday morning.

Key grip Daniel Madsen, left, and Justin Diomede lay a track for the camera on the set of “The Putt Putt Syndrome” at the Lewiston Save-A-Lot store Wednesday night.

Afton Grant, left, and Katie Dainson put the $500,000 HD video camera on a track during filming of “The Putt Putt Syndrome” in Lewiston.

Production designer Matthew CW Page frosts a baking tin as he makes an impromptu cake for the movie “The Putt Putt Syndrome.”


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