Shortly after Tumbleweed Tuesday last year—the day after Labor Day and the de facto end of summer on the East End—a group of filmmakers and actors gathered in a Hampton Bays house overlooking Peconic Bay to shoot an independent film, drawing no attention to their undertaking.
When they emerged 12 days later from the secluded beachfront home, the community none the wiser, an entire feature-length movie was in the can. Now, more than a year later, they will reveal the fruit of their quiet labor when “Kisses, Chloe” premieres at the Hamptons International Film Festival this weekend.
The Hampton Bays home served as the sole shooting location, with nearly two weeks of day-in and day-out rehearsing and filming. It also provided housing for the cast and crew. Their isolation and their immersion in the production is mirrored in the film, which features just three leads and no secondary characters or extras.
“With only three people, especially when you’re living with them, you can really kind of focus in on them as characters and actors, and maybe even go deeper than you could if you were dealing with, say, 10 characters, or 10 characters and a hundred extras, when your time and energy are sort of divided,” writer and director Stephen Padilla said in a recent interview. On the other hand, he said, it presents a difficulty because “the deeper you go, the more you reveal and have to deal with, on set and off.”
Once they have gathered early in the film, the characters don’t leave the house for the duration of the story or even see one other person. The only other voice is that of an ex-boyfriend on an iPod, playing guitar and singing songs that should be pleasant to hear, but instead are unsettling to a new couple put off by the ex’s audible presence.
“I wanted to created a forced intimacy that would leave the characters with no choice but to confront each other, and ultimately, themselves,” Mr. Padilla said.
“Kisses, Chloe” centers on the characters’ relationships, and more specifically, the relationship patterns they repeat compulsively.
The titular character (played by Robin Singer) is a braggart and flirt. She invites her old friend from college, Emily (Mikal Evans), and Emily’s boyfriend, Alex (Brad Coolidge), to stay with her for a weekend at a vacation house.
Chloe’s flirtatious nature will serve either to affirm the strength of Emily and Alex’s still fledgling relationship, or to reveal its weakness.
“We all have patterns in relationships that we repeat over and over again,” Mr. Padilla said. “These girls have been through this before.”
He said he was looking to write a relationship movie that deviates from the Hollywood standby—“Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl”—and is closer to reality. “I feel like in life it’s more like ‘boy meets girl, boy gets girl and boy loses girl,’ and that happens over and over again.”
Instead of the typical filmmaking process, in which a screenplay is developed and then a location where the story can best be told is secured, “Kisses, Chloe” got the opposite treatment.
Mr. Padilla and his wife and coproducer, Erin Crum, found the house in the spring of 2009 and rented it out for the month of September, hoping to have a vacation and maybe get some work done away from the hustle and bustle of New York City. “It was a great beautiful old house that we were able to find,” he said. But in the interim before their planned month on the bay, it occurred to Mr. Padilla that it could also serve as a location for a film.
He already had a completed script about three couples. “I decided that it would really work well for one of the couples,” he said of the location. He extracted the couple from the existing script and fleshed out their story in a new feature-length screenplay.
Just like the idea for the film, the score also came to Mr. Padilla serendipitously, as he was casting the film.
“I needed to cast Chloe, and then I needed to figure out who would be a friend of Chloe’s, so then I cast Emily, and then who would be that person’s boyfriend, and then I cast Alex,” he said. When he found his Emily, Ms. Evans, he learned that she was a talented singer-songwriter. In fact, before he offered her a part he asked to use one of her songs for the film, he said. She ultimately lent several of her original songs to the film, and another indie artist, the Los Angeles-based Joe Charles, provided the rest.
Prior to “Kisses, Chloe,” Ms. Singer co-starred in independent comedy “Battle of the Bands” and had small parts in other feature films, but this is Mr. Coolidge’s first feature and Ms. Evans’s first starring role.
With such a small cast and restrictive schedule, the production was a test of their mettle as actors.
“It was challenging, but I think it’s also a credit to Stephen’s writing,” Mr. Coolidge said. “There wasn’t a moment when I felt I was lacking for anything.”
Mr. Padilla said the wall-to-wall schedule, of rehearsals in the morning and filming all afternoon and into the night, left no time for anyone to get away from the film, or for the actors to get away from their characters.
The close quarters brought them all together, Mr. Coolidge said. “There was a round table in the kitchen that we would all sit around after we wrapped for the day,” he recalled. Ms. Evans and sound mixer Timothy Cleary would play guitar, and everyone would talk and let the day wash away and get ready for a new one.
“It was a family atmosphere,” Mr. Coolidge went on to say. “We all supported one another and looked out for one another.” He said every person Mr. Padilla hired to be a part of the film was a remarkable human being, making it easy for him to let go in his role, “especially in intense situations that the script calls for.”
Before “Kisses, Chloe” came along, Mr. Coolidge said he was preparing to move to Austin with his wife, Melissa, and their 18-month-old son, Kieran. Originally from Vermont, he’s lived in Manhattan for 10 years where he has tried to make it as an actor.
But after things began to take off for him when he landed a starring role in “Kisses, Chloe” he and his wife decided to stick it out in Manhattan and start their own production company, just like Mr. Padilla and Ms. Crum had done.
“Kisses, Chloe” is a coproduction of Mr. Padilla and Ms. Crum’s company, A Family Affair Films, and Greg Loser and Ramsey Fendall’s Room 5 Films. Mr. Loser served as coproducer and Mr. Fendall was the director of photography.
Mr. Fendall worked hard to give the film a cool look and temperature that signals “a kind of world that’s empty and isolated and cold,” echoing the cooling off of relationships, Mr. Padilla said.
“Kisses, Chloe” is Mr. Padilla’s second feature film. His first feature, “The Little Things” (2006), was named “Best of the Fest” at the Philadelphia Film Festival and nabbed the Audience Award at the Red Bank International Film Festival.
He is also a playwright whose play on how Sarah Palin was plucked from obscurity to become a vice presidential nominee, “Picking Palin,” sold out its entire five-date run at the 2010 New York International Fringe Festival in August.
Mr. Padilla said it will be special to see his film premiere in East Hampton, since that’s where he used to go fishing with his father and grandfather, where he and Ms. Crum were married in 2007, and where they plan to bring their 8-month-old daughter, Riley, for years to come.
“Kisses, Chloe” will be screened at the East Hampton United Artists theater at 10 p.m. on Saturday, October 9, and again at 4 p.m. on Monday, October 11, preceded both times by “Further Lane,” a short film by Mesh Flinders starring Noah Fleiss as the caretaker of a beach house whose owners suspect that he is taking advantage of his position.
Advance tickets are available online at hamptonsfilmfest.org, by calling 1-866-663-8541, or at Design Within Reach, 30 Park Place, East Hampton, second floor.
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