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Tuesday, August 21 Living

New Milford filmmaker launches production company with ‘Wandering Off’

Thanks to digital technology and the internet, “Hollywood” can be anywhere now. Even in New Milford, where filmmaker Brittany Nisco, 30, has launched a production company that has one movie about to be released, and another one set to go into production in the fall.

“You can pretty much do it anywhere,” Nisco says of staying in her hometown as she oversees the release of “Wandering Off,” which has been picked up by Amazon for streaming, but has no launch date yet.

Nisco’s debut film began as a collaboration with five fellow Western Connecticut State University students — Grant Kettner, Christian Gagnier, Travis Golino, Connor Misset and John Murray — who formed a production team in 2015. “It was my idea to get the whole group together. I had worked with Grant, Travis and Christian on previous projects and we all worked very well together. I then met Connor and John on a different shoot, after the pre-production was already underway, and asked them to join the crew,” Nisco says.

“All of us were producers,” she adds. “On set, in addition to their producer role: Grant was first assistant director, Connor was a camera operator, Travis was a gaffer (chief electrician) and director of Internet technology, John was a grip (camera support), and Christian was script supervisor.”

Nisco says it wasn’t a major challenge to go from being fellow WCSU students to co-workers on a movie set. “We weren’t friends first and then co-workers, we were co-workers first that became friends. I think it’s unique going to school for film because you don’t sit in a class listening to a lecture, writing papers and taking tests. Sure there’s some of that, but what we’re really doing is learning hands-on in actual productions.

“I also think the main thing in working with friends is that you need to respect each other, as well as understand there’s a time and place for work and play, essentially. When we’re working on production things, it’s business, and while it’s still fun and we enjoy each other’s company, we all know there’s a job to be done. But then there’s time when we’re just hanging out and it has nothing to do with work, and we keep that time separate. Making sure to separate those times is unbelievably important,” Nisco says.

The writer-director admits she risks sounding like Pollyanna when she talks about how great it was to work with everyone involved with her comedy-drama about three grown siblings who return home after their parents have disappeared. Both the mother and father suffer from a form of dementia known as sundowner syndrome, in which the standard symptoms of disorientation and memory loss kick into high gear at the end of a day.

Nisco thinks one of the secrets of the film’s successful distribution deal was her determination to use only professional actors in the leading roles. While they added to the bottom line, their services were kept affordable under the Screen Actors Guild contract for “ultra-low-budget” films (pictures with budgets $250,000 and under). “They made it easy for me to do my job,” Nisco says of the performers. “For any movie you can get neighbors to play roles, but to get people who were trained to live, breathe and eat acting makes a huge difference. It’s easier to do anything when you are with people who are passionate.

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“The notes I needed to give them were very minimal,” she says. “I would suggest a little bit and then it was hands off because they would nail it.”

One of the reasons it was possible to make “Wandering Off” on a micro-budget was the generosity of people who donated behind-the-scenes services, including the caterer and the owners of the Brookfield house where much of the story takes place. “When we made the test film for our Kickstarter campaign, the people who owned the house said they had so much fun,” the director says. “But then when we were ready (to make the movie) I asked them if they knew what they were getting into. We took over for three weeks. I don’t know too many people who would do that.”

Nisco says the Kickstarter campaign raised about one-fifth of the money needed to make “Wandering Off,” but she says you need nerves of steel to go that fundraising route. “It’s very difficult. You want everybody to donate immediately because unless you hit the target you’ve set, you don’t get anything,” she says of the crowd-sourcing tool. “It helped our budget, but it was a very stressful month.”

One of Nisco’s long-held goals has been to bring more female production personnel into the moviemaking process. She’s proud of the fact that 27 percent of the crew for “Wandering Off” was female, which is much higher than the industry standard. “I’ve always been the only woman on the set,” the filmmaker says of the TV jobs she worked on in between college and starting her company. “The business is so highly male dominated that I am very passionate about getting girls and women involved. I want to help people as well as direct movies.

“We have two female interns for the upcoming film. It’s what I would want to experience when I was 16. The more you see women on the set the more there will be. I would love to have 50/50 representation and it’s awesome that I might get there on my next picture,” she says.

jmeyers@hearstmediact.com; Twitter: @joesview

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