Mystic – A woman with sleek blonde hair in an elegant fuchsia suit emerges from a suite at the Mystic Hotel. Everything looks normal, until you see the interior of the wing.
One room populated by several life-size cut-outs of the woman herself, smiling and looking confident. Some photos of her holding a book she wrote, “The Confidence Cheat Blog”. Copies of her self-help book are stacked on a desk, and framed posters extolling the virtues of her fliers hang on the wall.
All of this suggests that this woman, who works as a life coach, may be more unstable and anxious than she appears.
And no wonder: it’s all in the service of a new lifelong thriller filmed Wednesday in Mystic.
In “How to Live Your Best Death,” a woman named Kristen hires a life coach to help improve her life, love, and work. But the coach, named Ashley, has become unnaturally focused on Kristen’s life. Ashley turns out to be psychotic. Things get out of control.
“How to Live Your Best Death,” which will air on Lifetime later this year, is produced by Synthetic Cinema International, which is based in Rocky Hill and has filmed several television films in southeastern Connecticut in the recent past. Last year’s crop included “Sand Dollar Cove,” “Sugar Plum Twist,” and “The Holiday Fix-Up.”
The current production, directed by Rachel Annette Hilson, stars Danielle Baez as Kristen and Alyssa Villoramo as Ashley. Baez’s credits include the films “Balloon Animal” and “Ascension”. Among Filoramo’s films are “On the Mountain” and “Devil’s Triangle”.
Between scenes, Villoramo talks a little about the role she plays.
“She’s a multi-layered personality where, on the outside looking inside, she might think she’s an unquoted villain just because her methods are really extreme. But I do think she really thinks she’s doing the best thing for her clients. When her clients succeed, they succeed,” said Villoramo.
Villaramo said Ashley’s methods may seem selfish, but the character believes she’s doing the right thing for others.
Filoramo didn’t get out to see much of Mystic during filming, but she’s been here before. She visited town before becoming an actress, when she was working in graphic design. She used to design products for museums, which included stores at the Mystic Seaport Museum and Mystic Aquarium.
As this is a thriller, stunts are inevitable, and Anthony Hwang is the production stunt coordinator. He didn’t want to give away too much of the story but said the stunts in “How to Live Your Best Death” include “fighting and sinister gameplay” and “some creative deaths.” He said one character attacks another with a golf club.
“What’s great about films like this is that we have the actual actors doing their stunts, no pairings. … I’m lucky that the actors we work with here are on top of everything. They take notes quickly, and they know how to move,” he said.
Hoang got into this kind of business after being a clown with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Someone suggested that the physical abilities he used as a clown could translate into a new career in stunts. He’s been a stunt coordinator on a number of projects with Synthetic, and his other work several times has included being a cover stunt coordinator (meaning serving as a permanent stunt coordinator) on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon”.
Photography in Norwich
The “How to Live Your Best Death” crew was to shoot scenes in different parts of the Inn at Mystic: the Rocks 21 restaurant, in the parking lot, at the front desk.
Synthetic also rented five rooms in the inn to work in, since the company does not have trailers in this production.
This is a relatively small production, said Andrew Gernhard, owner and producer of Synthetic.
“It’s a very tight movie,” he said of the 14-day shoot that wrapped up this week.
The cast and crew have already filmed at Foundry 66 in Norwich, a hub for co-working and small business development, along with the Cream Café next door. Also provided are locations: La Stella Pizzeria; Latin Quarters and Rosemont Suites.
Gernhard expects Synthetic to deliver the film to Lifetime in early August, so it may air sometime between late August and October.
Other films in the works
Synthetic is in post-production for another movie, “Ghosts of Christmas Always,” which will air on Hallmark this holiday season. They are all filmed in Hartford and located in Hartford; In other words, the city does not stand in a different place.
The cast and crew were filmed in familiar places like the Capitol Building, Bushnell Circle Park, and the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch.
“It feels like a Connecticut-Slash-Hartford movie, and it’s a lot of fun,” said Gernhard. “I think people are going to get out of it at Christmas this year.”
Synthetic is also in development and in negotiations for a number of other projects.
“I think we’re actually going to start (work) in other states, which is sad,” Gernhard said. “I think we’re going to Tennessee to see a big movie at Christmas — not Hallmark, but another big studio. I’m in the middle of negotiating right now.”
Tennessee cents a large production tax credit. And while Connecticut offers about 30%, Tennessee is between 40% and 50%, he said.
“It’s going to bring a lot of business to Tennessee. But obviously our main base is Connecticut, and we’re still pushing Connecticut because that’s where we want to be,” said Gernhard, who grew up in Norwich and lives in Gallies Ferry.
Want to become a production assistant?
Synthetic also recently worked with Connecticut State and Middlesex Community College where the college set up a production assistant training camp for Connecticut residents. The program will run June 27-30 at Middlesex Community College in Middletown, with full-day sessions and a cost of $150.
So many films come to Connecticut that they need more people working on them, including in start-up positions such as production assistants.
“We got 70 resumes last year of people who wanted to be production assistants — people who were in college, people who were in high school. We used them on all seven of our productions. So they all worked between Netflix, Hallmark, and Disney+,” Gernhard said.
The idea of this program is to give people some initial training before they start working.
What do production assistants (aka protected areas) do? Gernhard explained, “They go into production, and usually some production assistants are assigned to each department, whether it’s one, two or more. They basically help that department, whether it’s art, camera or production. … It’s a level business. Basic, but it’s a way to get a sense of what all the divisions do, and it’s a good way to start.”
It’s also a great way to communicate.
“Everyone I know we’ve used in the last year is either still working as a PA official or has jumped into the actual departments, which is very fast. Normally, it takes years. It seems now, less than a year later, to be in a department, because there is a huge need For TV and movies, not just in Connecticut but everywhere, because the skills you learn here – you know, hopefully you’ll stay in Connecticut, but you can take them anywhere,” he said.