James Evans Finds a Film Set at the Former Stony Brook Southampton Campus
More than a decade has passed since Stony Brook University shut down undergraduate programs at its Shinnecock Hills campus. Since that time, there have been many ideas bandied about, and a handful of new developments have taken place, relating to the best usage of the once vibrant but now woefully underutilized site.
Currently home to graduate programming, and the schools of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Southampton Arts, Health Professions and Food Lab, today the 82-acre campus can’t help but feel a bit lonely. Especially in the summertime, there’s a bit of eerie feeling that one gets while walking amongst the mostly vacant buildings and infrequently trod paths.
The moody atmosphere might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s the perfect place to set a feature film about the potential end times, says director and Stony Brook Southampton graduate student James Evans. The Mastic Beach resident’s final thesis film, Dirty Rhetoric, will be shot almost entirely on the grounds of the school.
“Not only does the campus provide a great backdrop to the action, but it’s also allowing us to show a lot more, budget-wise, than we would have been able to do anywhere else,” the MFA candidate and Donna’s House Production founder says of his decision to use the school grounds as a setting for his sci-fi satire. “Plus, it’s just a great location to film.”
Set in the 1950s during the Cold War, the action centers around a pair of estranged sisters — played by four-time Tony-nominated Broadway star Tovah Feldshuh and comedian and actress Julie Halston, who has memorably Bitsy von Muffling in the Sex and the City universe — who are bent on settling old scores while encamped at a dilapidated old chateau over a summer holiday weekend.
Supporting roles will be played by James Yeagashi, James Sharpe and Amy Gaipa, who is also Evans’ producing partner on the film. All have deep roots in the theater, according to the writer, director, and producer.
The plot thickens as mysterious flashes of light begin appearing in the middle of the night. As the action unfolds, it becomes clear that there’s more going on than just typical July 4 fireworks. It is the big one? And if yes, who set off the chain of events that have triggered the end of the world? Conspiracy theories abound.
The film is set partially in a carriage house on campus, and a portion of the Dean’s Building, as well as the 300-year-old windmill where Tennessee Williams penned “The Day in Which a Man Dies.” That experimental one-act play, interestingly, also deals with the subject of life and death.
The entire endeavor has been a dream come true for the young filmmaker, who admits that shooting independently can be costly, as well as tough emotionally on small crews and casts, which don’t have the money or means of larger productions.
“In addition to being able to use these great resources, which have allowed us to bring in the film at under a projected $250,000 budget, we are so grateful for the people here at Stony Brook Southampton who have allowed us so much creative freedom,” says Evans.
The only off-campus scene in the film takes place at the Big Duck in Flanders, which offers “a bit of roadside attraction Americana” and sense of place, he adds.
Filming began in mid-July, and the final product is expected to be finished with mixing by the end of the year, according to Evans. From there, he’ll hustle to get the movie into film festivals and hopefully land a distribution deal for it.
But there’s a whole lot more ahead for the young filmmaker. Come September, he’ll be at the helm of the fourth annual Mastic Beach Mini Indie Film Fest, which he co-founded with Ms. Gaipa. After that, he’s hoping to start a Long Island-based soundstage that could be used for other like-minded small budget movie makers. They are all difficult endeavors, but ones that are worth it, he says.
“I’m a Long Island boy and I have great loyalty to this area. A dream of mine has been to provide a place somewhere between Montauk and Manhattan for other independent filmmakers,” he says. “The passion is there so the only option is to stay with it. It’s in me to never quit.”