Residents have a ball with photo shoot
Hollywood’s love affair with the green screen continues, even in the sleepy little hamlet that is otherwise known as The Village at Penn State.
The set assembled last week in room E403 of the State College retirement community was more than a little small by conventional studio standards. In fact, it was difficult to imagine 20th Century Fox being able to fit more than one or two of the X-Men in front of it at any given time.
Fortunately for the tiny but cramped staff of dedicated professionals milling about, they had come not with the intention of filming the next big Hollywood blockbuster, but of shooting the highly anticipated sequel to one of the best-selling calendars of all time (in that retirement community, at any rate).
Two years ago, The Village released “Golden Moments of the Silver Screen” as a fundraising tool for the Benevolent Care Fund.
For the cost of a few dollars, locals could greet every month of the year with a calendar photo of residents reenacting scenes from famous movies like Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.”
If you have to ask why the concept of senior stand-ins for Tony Perkins and Janet Leigh is worth structuring 365 days around, than there’s probably no point in explaining the beauty of starlight or the majestic splendor of the Grand Canyon either.
“It’s a little like when you’re a little kid playing house,” Helen Manfull, the auteur behind the calendar, said.
Manfull is a Village resident and a retired professor from the Penn State School of Theatre. One comes in handy when schmoozing the talent and the other is good for intimidating uppity cameramen.
Photography on “More Golden Moments of the Silver Screen” unfolded over the course of two days, enough time to span the various wardrobe changes and props that accompanied homages to classic films like “The Graduate” or “Rear Window.”
A tentative release date for the calendar is expected to drop sometime around Christmas, with the proceeds benefiting the Benevolent Care Fund, which is set aside for residents who outlive their assets and need a little help maintaining their life at The Village.
But this all of this talk of the future has no place in room E403. Acting, as it turns out, is very much about the moment.
Playing a key role in said moment on Sept. 14 were Chuck Wood and Robin Savage, two Village residents who successfully auditioned for the roles of Citizen Kane and Citizen Kane’s mistress, respectively.
For Wood, the photo was a black tie affair, complete with a handsome tux on loan from the Penn State School of Theatre fall 2016 collection. It was one of among thousands of details that had been meticulously worked out by Manfull and Richard St. Clair, head of costume design at the School of Theatre.
Having identified the films and moments that they wanted capture, St. Clair pre-assembled the wardrobes for each of the 14 photos and all 34 cast members.
“This is the world I live in as a costume designer,” St. Clair said.
His world is fiercely committed to authenticity — artistic or follicular. Penn State students created six wigs specifically for the shoot, including one that mimics Bette Davis’ hairdo in “Now Voyager.”
Finding the right window dressing is still only half the battle. There’s still the small matter of finding the moment itself, the one thing that has to be real even if the set is not.
“The impulse is to act and that’s what we have to avoid because that really shows up badly in a photograph,” Manfull said.
Wood and Savage had been carefully positioned in front of the green screen in such a way that would accommodate the digital backdrop from the original “Citizen Kane” that would be added in post.
Manfull hovered somewhere outside the frame of the photographer’s camera, coaching Wood through his character’s existential crisis.
“You’re just thinking ‘what has happened to my life,’ ” Manfull told him.
The camera clicked away and the room clapped. They had their shot.