Upstate New York is not only a great place to raise a family, according to Tennyson Bardwell. It’s a very good place to make a movie.
“This area is not a jaded film community like you see in L.A. or New York, where they honk their horns at you just to mess up your take,” said Bardwell, a native of Delmar and a resident of Ballston Spa. His latest movie, “The Skeptic,” opened in New York City on May 1 and will be shown at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany at 8 p.m. Friday.
“In L.A., people will start mowing their lawns when they see a film crew, and then you have to go over there and tell them you’ll pay them not to mow their lawn. It’s been built into their DNA there. It’s not like that around here,” Bardwell said.
“The Skeptic” is his second film as writer/director, and he and his wife, Mary-Beth Taylor, the producer, and Ann Marie Lizzi, the film’s editor, will be at the Spectrum on Friday for a question-and-answer session following the movie. Tim Daly, who became a familiar face to Americans on “Wings” from 1990-97, plays the lead. Also in the cast are Tom Arnold, Edward Hermann, Andrea Roth, Zoe Saldana and veteran character actor Robert Prosky, who died in December.
Filmed in area
“It’s a psychological thriller that we shot almost exclusively in this area,” said Bardwell during a phone conversation last week. “I wanted to do something a little different, so there’s no blood and guts in this movie. It’s a supernatural psychological thriller that works on your mind. What isn’t and what is enough evidence to believe in the supernatural? Tim Daly plays a realist, a real rationalist, who begins to wonder and question his own beliefs when things start to happen.”
Bardwell shot some of the movie at Union College in Schenectady, but most of the filming was done in Ballston Spa and Saratoga Springs, in particular the Batcheller Mansion Inn at the corner of Circular Street and Whitney Place in Saratoga Springs.
“We wanted a three-story Victorian mansion, and finding something like that that you can use can be hard,” said Bardwell, who began filming in the fall of 2005, finished in 2006, and wrapped up post-production work in 2008. “We needed to basically take over the place for five weeks and I’ve always loved the Batcheller Mansion. It seemed crazy, but we asked them during the off season, at least the light part of the season, we paid them for it and we got it done.”
Bardwell took his work to the Cannes Film Festival in 2008 and sold it to IFC Films, which will distribute it around the country and handle the movie’s DVD release.
His first movie, “Dorian Blues,” won 14 festival awards, including the prestigious Best First Feature Award at Outfest in Los Angeles. Included in the cast of the film, the coming-out story of a gay teenager, was Steven Fletcher, resident director at Curtain Call Theatre in Latham.
In its review of “Dorian Blues,” The New York Times said that “Bardwell’s writing remains acridly clever.” A Christian Brothers Academy graduate who was a writing/acting major at Carnegie-Mellon, Bardwell said that becoming a writer/film director was something he has always aspired to.
“That’s what I wanted to do since I was about 10, and when I got into Carnegie-Mellon I felt like it really could happen,” he said. “I did some acting in New York, some plays, some TV stuff, but then I got into writing and directing, starting with commercials.”
He enjoys pointing out that his parents’ choice for his first name was not some grand scheme to set him on the path of becoming a great literary figure like Lord Alfred Tennyson, England’s great 19th century poet who is the second most-quoted individual in the world, according to the Oxford Dictionary, behind only William Shakespeare.
“It’s my father’s name and an old family name that actually predates Lord Tennyson,” said Bardwell, who graduated from Carnegie-Mellon in 1984. “They weren’t hoping or planning that I would become this literary giant. The name goes back in our family to the 1600s.”
Bardwell’s father, Clayton Tennyson Bardwell, wasn’t involved in show business, but he was on stage in a way, serving as a popular trial lawyer in Albany for 40 years before he passed away in 1996. It may have been Bardwell’s grandparents, vaudeville performers from the early 20th century, who gave him his show business genes.
“They worked with all the greats, like Jack Benny and Buster Keaton, Fred Astaire and his sister Adele,” said Bardwell. “They were popular vaudeville performers, and my grandmother’s best friend was Barbara Stanwyck.”
Next up for Bardwell is a romantic comedy called “June Wedding,” which will begin filming next year.
“I like to make a movie about every 18 months in a perfect world,” he said. “But in the world of independent filmmaking, that’s hard to do. You need to make your film and then sell it, and then hopefully you have a hit so you can go back and work at your own pace. But when you’re doing it yourself, there are a lot of little things that need to get taken care of and that takes time.”
He plans to do most of the filming for “June Wedding” in the Capital Region.
“Upstate New York has everything you need to make a film,” said Bardwell, who moved his family (he and his wife have three pre-teen sons) to Ballston Spa in 2004. “It’s got a great mix of rural and suburban areas, and you’re close enough to New York City if you have to go down there. My wife is from Long Island and she loves it up here. We’re here pretty much year-round now.”