A lasting impression
Veteran of local theater embarks on his first film venture
Amid the bustle of filming his first movie, native Chicoan Coy Middlebrook took a moment to reflect last week on how his journey has taken him from the local theater scene to where he is now.
Middlebrook, 44, is at the helm of what he calls “a short film—but a big movie.”
He wrote the story Super Tuesday about “a broken family and a broken America.” The movie, he said, is about how three brothers come back together on the day a number of states hold their presidential primary elections. Middlebrook has three brothers of his own and said the story is somewhat autobiographical.
“It’s a short movie in terms of the budget and the length—probably 20 to 30 minutes—but it’s big in terms of what it has to say,” Middlebrook said. “It’s also about the transformative power of voting. It’s not about who you vote for, but about getting up and participating in the process. So many Americans don’t do that.”
My interview with Middlebrook came in the context of my being one of the 20 or so locals recruited to be “extras” in the film. I’d gotten an email invitation from Roger Hart, a local actor and board member at Chico Theater Company. The two met after Middlebrook chose Hart’s classic red convertible, which was being repaired at Concours Elite in Chico, to be used in the movie.
The filming has gotten attention locally with Middlebrook’s connection, as well as that of another Chico actor, Amanda Detmer, who’s appeared in TV roles (Man Up) and in major movies such as Final Destination and Saving Silverman.
Middlebrook raved about the local community that supported his creative endeavors growing up, and has welcomed him back for this undertaking. “It’s a real community-driven project,” he said. He was involved in theater productions at Chico State beginning in the early ’80s and in 1990 he co-founded the now-defunct Chico City Light Opera and has since gone on to direct big-scale shows in New York and other major cities. Middlebrook holds an MFA in directing from The Actors Studio Drama School at New School University.
Those of us recruited to appear as extras gathered Feb. 23 in the children’s nursery at the Salvation Army center at 16th and Laurel streets. Down the hall, a community room made up to look like a typical American polling place housed the cinematic activity.
We were called in one by one to join different scenes. A fellow extra was disappointed to discover the star, Detmer, had left not only the building, but the entire county. She already had completed her part of the filming and returned home to Southern California.
Most people would probably be surprised at how many set hours go into making a short sequence for a final production.
“All this we did today,” Middlebrook said after shooting all day, “will probably take up maybe 45 seconds. It’s for a series of flashbacks, where our lead actor, Andres Faucher, remembers his experiences voting.”
The 12-day shoot took in eight separate locations—an unusually large number for a short film, Middlebrook added.
Middlebrook said he hopes the film will be released by summer, to “bridge the gaps” in several ways: Offering hope to troubled families; healing the political divisiveness in America; and making Americans rethink voting in this election year.
Middlebrook’s crew is from San Francisco, and most of the actors are from New York and Los Angeles.
Middlebrook said the bulk of his work has been in theater, but he’s long wanted to direct a movie. “I’ve been carrying the banner, the torch of theater, since I was young. I love theater because it’s so ephemeral, but then it’s gone. I wanted to make a movie because it’s long-lasting, but I didn’t want to make a movie just to make a movie. I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t going to have something to say. But here is a place where I finally feel I have a voice that’s well expressed in film.”
He added that media reporting he is “formerly of Chico” is not exactly accurate. While he spends weeks on productions in New York and Los Angeles, Chico is still his official home, where his mother lives as well. “I have to go where the work is, so I live out of a suitcase,” Middlebrook said. “When I’m not working, I spend most of my time here. This is where I vote.”