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In Branford native Matt Berman's third feature film, The Wedding Pact, Mitch (Chris Soldevilla) and his best friend from college, Elizabeth (Haylie Duff), make a pact to get married if both are single 10 years after graduation. Once Mitch hears Elizabeth's called off her wedding, he drives across the country in the hopes of following through on the deal. Like Mitch, Berman's journey took him from Long Island Sound to the Pacific Ocean to find his love: filmmaking.
With a special screening of The Wedding Pact at the Madison Art Cinemas last week, Berman, a 1987 graduate of Branford High School, brought the film back to his home state. The project-which he wrote, directed, and produced-was shot in only 12 days. Post-production was completed on April 22. The film does not yet have a domestic distributor, but Berman says he's grateful to be able to share his project with the shoreline community and to thank those who have supported him along the way.
"I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to screen it...It's a great feeling," says Berman, who cites films such as the Star Wars franchise, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Back to the Future as inspirations for his decision to make a career in film.
Although Berman has previously written and directed two other films-including Hollywood & Wine starring Chris Kattan and David Spade, which he co-wrote and co-directed with Kevin Farley, and the short Dumb & Out, which premiered at the New Haven Film Festival in 1997-he says The Wedding Pact is the first project that is truly his own.
"This is the first film that I can say is 100 percent completely my vision. I wrote the entire script by myself; I shaped the script by myself; I, for the most part, cast the movie by myself," he says.
Berman's parents, Ronni and Steve Berman, say the first time they saw their son on stage was when he emceed a prom fashion show in high school. While in college at Franklin Pierce, he had a sports radio talk show for two years, but he never showed a true inclination for filmmaking until he moved to California to pursue a career in casting after graduation. There, he worked as a page at Paramount and as an intern at the casting company for Fraiser before beginning to write, and eventually direct, films.
Ronni Berman describes The Wedding Pact, originally titled A Love/Like Ours, as "mainstream" and "a feel-good romantic comedy that guys will take their girlfriends to-we hope-and not hate it."
During a one-week visit to the set in July, Ronni Berman filmed a small part with two lines and said both she and husband were struck by their son's leadership.
"We were in awe. Absolutely in awe. We asked, 'Is that our kid?'...I never thought he'd do anything like this. He was your typical-as his teachers would say-smart kid, but not a great student. It's amazing to watch when he has people work for him and they do what they have to do," says Ronni Berman. "The best thing about it is people will give him 150 percent, because he makes them feel like if they weren't doing what they do, this movie would not be good enough."
Soldevilla and Scott Michael Cambell, who plays Elizabeth's current fiancée, Jake, in The Wedding Pact, both say Matt Berman's attitude and work ethic helped to fuel the success of the project.
"You always felt comfortable, and he was very open to collaboration and people bringing up little things and kind of running on the fly," says Campbell. "When you have speed bumps like you always do in filmmaking, you kind of just work them out and it became one of those processes where everybody was just very happy to be onboard, and I think that's a testament to Matt because he's the one who was at the helm."
Soldevilla says that after working with Berman in 2000 on a film titled Big Wind on Campus, Berman told him he wanted to write him a leading part for a movie in the future. Soldevilla, however, says he brushed it off as another empty promise, but was pleasantly surprised to hear Berman had followed through.
"He's one of the few people in that business who's a man of his word," says Soldevilla.
Although Berman was the writer and director of the film, Soldevilla says he never felt confined to Berman's vision.
"I really got the chance to bring what I wanted to do to it and once you kind of create and be open to it, it's really nice, because you get to just kind of have fun, and when you're doing comedy you get to find more ways of playing with it," he notes.
When asked how working with Berman was initially, both Soldevilla and Campbell jokingly say the experience was "horrible."
Says Soldevilla, "That [answer] kind of defines the feeling on the set: We had a lot of fun, and that's about the best thing I can say about Matt-the fact that we all had fun comes right down to who he is."
The journey to The Wedding Pact, akin to Mitch's journey to marrying Elizabeth in the film, was not always smooth, though, as Berman's parents note.
"It's so hard. It's the kind of business where you're constantly knocked down and if you're not resilient and you don't bounce right back up again, forget it. It's impossible," says Steve Berman. "Even if you bounce back up it's almost impossible, but [Matt's] that way. He has a passion for and a love for the business and he loves what he does."
Matt Berman notes that with the unusually limited time frame on production, he found it was important to find people who were as passionate about the material as he was.
"It's been a long journey. This has been my third feature that I've done. After each one that you do, you sort of learn things not to do on the next one and you get more efficient at doing things," he says. "One of the things I've definitely learned on this one is to surround myself with people that are there to support me, not just there to cash a paycheck and move on. They support my vision and help me, guide me through the process of making the best movie I can."