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Hamptons Life

Hamptons familiar location for director

Publication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press
By Brendan O'Reilly   Sep 29, 2008 3:13 PM

East Hampton resident Barry Sonnenfeld uses the word “quirky” to describe his interests as a filmmaker and television producer.

The same adjective could be used to characterize Mr. Sonnenfeld’s habits on set, too.

He is known to wear a cowboy hat, even though he was born and raised in New York City. But last Thursday, September 25, on the second to last day of filming his HBO pilot, “Suburban Shootout,” at East Hampton Studios, the “Addams Family,” “Men in Black” and “Get Shorty” director passed on the cowboy hat, opting instead for a baseball cap.

Of course, he also passed on using a director’s chair, preferring to sit astride a saddle fixed to a wooden box that others on the set called his “horse.” A few of his colleagues suggested he add rockers to his cowboy perch.

Mr. Sonnenfeld sat before two small monitors; one playing back film shot earlier on Fresh Pond Road in Amagansett, and the other playing a live stream of the bedroom set on the sound stage.

On set, actress Judy Greer, playing protagonist Rebecca, walked up to the bedroom window and peered out. The footage would later be spliced with the Fresh Pond Road takes, in which actress Kelly Preston, as mob boss Camilla Diamond, made a delivery to Rebecca’s front porch.

For each take, Ms. Greer walked into frame to the window and held aside the curtains, pretending to be on a second floor looking down. Next, Mr. Sonnenfeld would yell “Camilla!” to cue a reaction, and, flustered, the topless actress would pull the shades closed.

For the initial takes, Ms. Greer would end by turning around and facing the camera, registering shock in her eyes. But that didn’t sit right with Mr. Sonnenfeld, who decided to drop the dramatic turn and have the shot end with Rebecca still facing the window.

As Mr. Sonnenfeld called “action” and “cut” again and again from his “horse,” producers, cast members and others sat around him, including his wife and associate producer, Susan Ringo, writer and executive producer Michelle Ashford, and actress Kerry Kenney-Silver.

Ms. Kenney-Silver, a star of “Reno 911!” like her fellow “Suburban Shootout” cast member Mary Birdsong, was knitting to pass the time before her turn in front of the camera. Elsewhere at the studio, a woman who looked eerily similar to Ms. Kenny-Silver and wore an identical floral print dress, also looked for ways to pass the time: she was Ms. Kenny-Silver’s stand-in. The stand-in was later seen chatting with the double for Rachael Harris, who also co-stars in “Suburban Shootout,” a takeoff on a British dark comedy of the same name.

Mr. Sonnenfeld took a break from filming last Thursday afternoon to discuss his career, the pilot and how it feels getting to film in his own backyard, having lived in East Hampton since 1982. “It’s been really wonderful to be able to go home at night and sleep in my own bed,” the director said.

“It’s rare that you ever get to shoot in the Hamptons,” Mr. Sonnenfeld lamented. “It’s expensive during the summer, and that’s when people would want to shoot here.”

He pointed out that he has worked in the area before: Back in the mid-eighties, he was the cinematographer for “Compromising Positions,” a film starring Susan Sarandon that shot in East Hampton. He was also a cinematographer for Coen brothers films and moved to the director’s chair—or “horse”—in 1991 with “The Addams Family.”

Back then, East Hampton Studios in Wainscott didn’t exist, but today it is still a challenge to make a film or television show on the East End, according to Mr. Sonnenfeld. “You have to put up the whole crew, so it’s a very expensive proposition to shoot in the Hamptons, especially in season, which is impossible,” he said.

Though the pilot has been exclusively shot in Hamptons villages and hamlets, including Main Street in Bridgehampton, the Amagansett Farmers Market and Post Crossing in Southampton Village, the show is not set on the literal East End. Instead, “Suburban Shootout” takes place in the fictional suburb of Georgica Bay. In fact, Mr. Sonnenfeld said the show was never even intended to be filmed in the Hamptons. The original intent was to shoot in south Los Angeles and Pasadena.

A 30-percent tax incentive the New York State legislature passed in April this year—up from 10 percent—for film and television productions was a game changer.

“If we spend $5 million, of which $3 million is for room rentals and crew and supplies and all that, we get 30 percent of that $3 million back. So it ended up being cheaper to shoot in New York State than in Los Angeles,” Mr. Sonnenfeld explained.

He never expected it but now a number of shows, like “Ugly Betty,” are moving to New York, he said.

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