A local producer’s very impressive film: “BEING DEAD” , …and getting the film completed in the first place!

On a recent warm, early September evening, as my wife and I exited Rangeley’s Lakeside Theater after watching another 5 p.m. movie showing, we looked at each other and almost simultaneously said to each other: “What a terrific film that was!

We had been faithfully attending the series of independent films shown this summer by the Rangeley Friends of the Arts. Our expectations were high, as the RFA’s Valerie and Jeff Zapolsky had been selecting excellent and varied independent film offerings to be shown at the recently remodeled theater this summer. Sadly, they had not been well-attended, perhaps due to Covid-19 concerns. On the upside, “social distancing” was easy to accomplish in the theater.

I must say upfront that Judy and I were not the only people who thought that the film was excellent, if not immediately memorable. The first steps in a film gaining traction with a large American motion picture audience was to get the film accepted in highly re-garded film festivals. Since January, “Being Dead” has been selected as The Best Drama at the Breckenridge (CO) Film Fest, and The Best Screenplay at the MethodFest in Los Angeles. Impressive enough, I would say. By the time you read this column, John’s beautiful film may have won another film festival award or two, and hopefully the rights bought by a television streaming service such as Hulu or Netflix during these coronavirus times.

A day or two after we watched the film in the Lakeside Theater (actually the three-day run in Rangeley was the first non-film festival screening of the film anywhere), I con-tacted Valerie to find out if the screenwriter/producer/director John Meyers was still in the Rangeley area. “Of course” she said, “he has lived in the Rangeley area over half of each year for a decade or more in their second home overlooking Rangeley Lake, from early spring to late fall and selected periods in the winter as well. I received his email address and soon connected with him. We made plans to meet in the Haley Pond kiosk next to the Ecopelagicon nature store the following week for a conversation/interview for this column.

Stepping back a bit, the basis for the film was the book written in 2000 by noted novel-ist, Jim Crace. In a nutshell, it is about two married Ph.D. zoologists, Joseph and Celice, both of whom lectured their students about the centrality of death and decay to the study of life on this planet. They met as young researchers on the coast of England, but over the years they fell out of love, while remaining married and focused on their re-spective academic pursuits.

When Joseph learned that the seaside bay where they did their work, and where they fell in love thirty years earlier, was threatened with a proposed housing development whereby the only habitat of a rare species of insect was therefore due to be eradicated. He convinced Celice to accompany him for a revisit to the bay to see what could be done to save it. When they returned, a strange set of circumstances led to them being brutally murdered by a deranged homeless person in a significant beach location insofar as their early relationship was concerned.

Thus, the novel, which had very little actual dialogue in it, was focused on two periods of their lives, some thirty years apart. John Meyers read the book and was captivated by it, and came up with the idea of an interesting screenplay based on the book’s storyline. He met with the author, Mr. Crace, and convinced him of the worthiness of his screen adaptation ideas for the book. He soon acquired the film rights to the book from Mr. Crace, and immediately began work on the actual screenplay based on the novel, in-serting dialogue as needed to make it a worthy adaptation for the screen.

John Meyers, local screenwriter, producer, and director of the outstanding film “Being Dead”, after our fascinating conversation at the Haley Pond Kiosk that was the basis for this coluim

Over the course of almost 20 years, John told me that his screenplay, and the funding for the film, gradually came together. That sounds simple, doesn’t it? It was far from simple and there were many challenges over the years in both categories, including mortgaging his house in Maryland. Meanwhile, John worked on other projects and jour-nalistic assignments to support his family…yet the obsession with the film based on the “Being Dead” book first published back in 2000 persisted, as did reviews by friends and colleagues, and the resultant refinements continued as well.

Long story short, the project became a family affair. John’s talented son, Ben, long a talented cinematographer, became responsible for filming the finished screenplay. One of the first complements I shared with John when we met was that the cinematic project was beautifully filmed. A rush of pride was immediately obvious on John’s face.

Among the last minute challenges faced by John in getting his screenplay’s transition to an actual, high-quality and completed film was the “out of the blue” resignation of two key individuals; a young, recent graduate of a top film school…who was the hired pro-ducer of the film, and the local individual in the Gloucester, MA area who arranged all the housing, meals, and other needed local agreements for the actual 17 days of filming on location. “Stress” was given by both as the reason for their “eleventh hour” departure from the filming project just 5 days before filming was to begin!

That location was primarily the Wingaersheek Beach area near Gloucester, MA on the North Shore of the state’s coastline. (Note: That beautiful, and popular, beach and its sandy dunes was a favorite of my wife-to-be and me during our pre-wedding months in 1972 while still living in Massachusetts). All the preparations, etc. set up by that local individual who abandoned the project had to be re-established or identified for the first time….and John became the director/producer…for the professional actors who were to show up in 5 days or less.

John’s wife became the “chef” for the cast and crew, and a number of other hats were worn by John and his devoted and talented family. I wish I could include all the interest-ing anecdotes I jotted down during our “kiosk conversation”.

One final note, John asked that I include reference to his friend and supporter of his ear-lier film “The Guide”, local businessperson, Nancy Bessey, and her pivotal role in con-vincing John to write a key letter to the “Being Dead” author to extend his film rights af-ter they finally expired a year or two ago and were about to be given to an Australian film company.

The good news is that you may be able to ask questions of John directly, since the fine folks at the Rangeley Friends of the Arts have agreed to present an “encore” screen-ing of the film at The Lakeside Theater. As always, masks and social-distancing will be required. Details are as follows:

Encore Film Presentation

“Being Dead”

Lakeside Theater

Rangeley, ME

5 p.m., Saturday, October 10

Screenwriter, Producer, and Director John Meyers may be in attendance to discuss and answer questions after the presentation (Check the RFA website: rangeleyarts.org for further details)

I rarely watch movies more than once. However I plan to be there on October 10th to see John’s outstanding, and award-winning movie again. I hope to see you there!

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