When Connecticut author Wally Lamb's book, "She's Come Undone," gained national recognition in 1997 – after being featured in Oprah Winfrey's popular book club – there was a lot of talk about making the story into a film.
The movie rights were purchased, but seem to have since vanished into a cinematic black hole, Lamb said. An adaptation of the book did run briefly as a play at Seattle's Center House Theatre.
Now, however, another of Lamb's novels, "Wishin' and Hopin'," is definitely on its way to a theater near you. It is currently being filmed in local towns, including Norwich.
Produced by Connecticut-based Synthetic Cinema International, the screenplay was written by John Doolan, who worked closely with Lamb, and is directed by Colin Theys.
According to Synthetic Cinema President Andrew Gernhard, there's already a bidding war underway for the film's distribution, and it is expected to eventually be broadcast on TV and available through subscription services such as Netflix.
The film boasts an impressive cast, which Gernhard credits to the work of casting director Valerie McCaffrey and producer Zach O'Brien.
"Some of these actors got involved because they're big fans of Wally's books," Gernhard said.
There's Molly Ringwald of "Sixteen Candles" and "Pretty in Pink" fame, whose role is a flamboyant French teacher at St. Aloysius Gonzaga Parochial School, located in the fictional town of Three Rivers. The year is 1964.
Cheri Oteri, known for her tenure on the cast of "Saturday Night Live," plays the role of a Catholic nun/school teacher. The musician Meatloaf plays a priest.
The main character, Felix, is played by Wyatt Ralff, most recently seen in "Moonrise Kingdom."
Other cast members include Broadway actress Krysta Rodriguez (from "Smash"), Camilla Banus (from "Days of Our Lives"), Sosie Bacon (daughter of Kyra Sedgwick and Kevin Bacon), Annabella Sciorra and Danny Nucci, as well as a number of talented young actors.
Even Lamb has a role, as a school janitor. "The irony is, I can't fix a damn thing in my own house," he said.
His scene involves hanging a Christmas wreath. Seems simple enough, but "they had me do it 15 times. I finally asked if I could have a stunt double," Lamb said, and laughed.
Lamb has enjoyed coming to the set almost every day, he added. "I'm supposed to be writing a new book, but this is too much fun," he said as he was repeatedly stopped to pose for photos with fans.
On Aug. 3, about 250 extras dressed in their best 1960s outfits joined the cast for a final scene in the movie, a Christmas play put on by the students "that goes horribly wrong," Gernhard said.
The film is expected to be released in time for the holidays.
Sunday was day 15 of filming at Norwich Free Academy, Gernhard's alma mater. "I haven't been here since I was 18 years old," he said.
It was at NFA that Gernhard met Wally Lamb, who was his English teacher. The two recently reconnected via Facebook.
In the intervening years, Gernhard and partners Rich Lucas and Bonnie Farley Lucas – and a hardworking and talented technical crew – built Synthetic Cinema into a respected film company. Until now, however, the company has been known for horror movies. Their film, "Dark Hall," is set to air on Syfy in October, Gernhard said.
Gernhard declined to disclose the film's budget, but did say the project has benefited from state tax credits. This is a smart way to bring film and TV projects to Connecticut, he said, and it has a ripple effect.
Partner Rich Lucas agreed. "For the past 12 years, we've done everything we can to hire local," he said. This includes catering, crew members and cast. While a film is a short-term job, it also provides valuable experience that will help crew members find more work in the field, he said.
The next stop for this film is Willimantic, Aug. 7-12, including scenes at the house where Lamb, who lives in Mansfield, penned some of his novels, as well as the magnet school for the arts on Main Street, where a scene about the "Ranger Andy" TV show will be filmed.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun