Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise
October 13, 2001
By Robin Harned

 
 

SHORT FILM POKES FUN AT JOHNNY APPLESEED

LEOMINSTER -- What happens when an aspiring New York television reporter comes home to cover the sale of the last apple orchard in the birthplace of Johnny Appleseed? The making of the mockumentary "We've got Johnny."

In the short movie filmed over the last year in the city, Leslie Danner, a fledging New York City reporter, returns to Leominster to cover the sale of Sholan Farm and the city's attempt to purchase it.

"That's where the reality of the story ends," said screenwriter Matthew Proietti. "We're calling it a 'mockumentary' because the Leominster people the reporter encounters are exaggerated for comic effect."

While uncovering the real story behind a lot of rumors, Danner meets a series of eclectic characters who lead her to question the values she's adopted in the Big Apple.

Everyone Danner meets, including a lady outside the Johnny Appleseed Visitors Center, a motel clerk and her Leominster-based cameraman, knows more apple facts than a normal person should.

"We agreed that we really wanted to goof on Leominster and its dual role as Johnny Appleseed's hometown and the Pioneer Plastics City," said Proietti. "It ended up mainly poking fun at Johnny Appleseed."

Proietti, a 1984 graduate of Leominster High School and now resident of Lake Arrowhead, Calif., and high school buddies Andrew Grant and Brian DelGiudice, with help from more than a handful of supporting actors and crew, wrote, produced and filmed the short movie. It is intended to be a comedy.

"The movie is set before the purchase and we definitely take writer's license with it," Proietti said.

The lead actress, Alyson Ridlon, is Proietti's stepdaughter. Proietti plays the mayor.

"The mayor is definitely not based on the real mayor," Proietti said. "I don't know anything about him (Leominster Mayor Dean Mazzarella). My mayor is Dominic Refrigeri III."

In the movie, Danner interviews Refrigeri outside the Leominster Public Library near the Johnny Appleseed bust. He tries to get the reporter to buy some apple butter to support the city's cause, but she declines citing bias issues.

The mayor then asks her to purchase a candle. She declines again and he snaps on her, questioning her support of her hometown.

Leominster resident Susan Gardner, a volunteer worker at Sholan Farm and member of the Friends of Sholan Farm committee, plays a supporting role as an apple trivia whiz outside the visitor center.

"Andy and Brian bumped into her while she was doing volunteer work at Sholan Farm in early September and talked her into acting in it," Proietti said.

Proietti came home for a weekend in late April so he and Grant could visit possible taping sites. The men met with LHS friend Jeff Aubuchon and perused the script together over pizza and beer, Proietti said.

Grant grew up in north Leominster. His career includes 12 years of film and video production in television, commercials, news, sports, award-winning comedies, and now Web site work for Cisco Systems in Boxborough. He directed the short film and did all the camera work. He was also the project's director, director of photography, additional photography, camera loader, camera operator, casting director, co-producer, music supervisor, transportation coordinator, location scout, post-production supervisor and editor.

"The goal was to amuse ourselves," Grant, now an Ayer resident, laughed. "He (Proietti) came up with the idea of what to shoot, and I just wanted to shoot something."

DelGiudice grew up near downtown Leominster. He worked previously as a Sentinel & Enterprise photographer, and has many publishing credits in the health care and biotechnology industries including CD-ROMs, surgical videos and university text books. He provided the sound work and designed the film's Web site.

Proietti, who calls home about once or twice a week, said it was his folks, who still live locally, who have kept him up to speed on news surrounding the sale of Sholan Farm.

But it was actor Christopher Guest, known for his work on the movie "Waiting For Guffman," a goof on small towns and small-town inhabitants, that inspired the local crew.

Proietti, a former newspaper reporter and editor for 13 years, now sells real estate in California. In addition to script writing, Proietti handled the positions of script supervisor, script editing, creator, co-producer, dialogue coach and prompter.

The lead actor and several supporting actors are Grant's co-workers at Cisco Systems in Boxborough.

Taping took place between Sept. 19-22 at several sites around Leominster, including the Sholan Farm orchard, the Johnny Appleseed Visitor Center on Route 2, the Johnny Appleseed birth marker on Johnny Appleseed Lane and in downtown Leominster at the Johnny Appleseed Festival.

Grant is now editing more than five hours of tape, and expects to have a rough cut done by Thanksgiving, Proietti said. It should be about 20 minutes long.

Although intended to be just a fun idea, the project actually proved to be work for the local men. They also walked away from the project learning more facts about Johnny Appleseed than they ever imagined.

Proietti and friends hope the 20-minute, locally-produced and directed video will be entered in short-film festivals around the country.

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