From Fitch High School graduate to Lifetime movie producer
It's no exaggeration to say that Richard Switzer is on the filmmaking fast-track.
Consider this supersonic time frame: Six months ago, he was graduating from Robert E. Fitch Senior High School in Groton. Today, at age 18, he's producing a Lifetime movie starring Eric Roberts and Tracy Nelson.
His first feature film as a producer, "A Fatal Obsession," is in the midst of a 12-day shoot in southeastern Connecticut.
Switzer has nurtured the project from the beginning. He put an ad on a Craigslist-like site about wanting to develop a Lifetime-like movie and got a response from George P. Saunders, who has written 30 screenplays, including seven that became Lifetime films. They came up with a plot that Switzer describes variously as "a little 'Sleeping with the Enemy' and "like a scary 'Mrs. Doubtfire.'"
Specifically, a woman named Christie and her teenage daughter escape from Christie's abusive husband. He then undergoes plastic surgery and insinuates himself back into their lives. Nelson plays Christie. Roberts plays the pre-surgery husband, with David Winning as the later version.
Saunders, who also acts in the film, wrote the script, with feedback from Switzer.
When he learned Switzer's age, Saunders says, "I was astonished. I've never met anyone quite like him."
Switzer says his first day on set "was amazing. I sat behind the camera and watched the screen. Honestly, it's better than I pictured. ... Tracy and Eric are so talented that they deliver better than I could think of."
Roberts, who has wrapped filming, earned Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for "Runaway Train" and Golden Globe nods for his performances in "King of the Gypsies" and "Star 80." Nelson has acted in movies including "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" and in TV shows ranging from a starring role on "The Father Dowling Mysteries" to a guest shot on "Seinfeld." She had previously worked on two of the Lifetime movies Saunders had written, and he suggested her for "A Fatal Obsession."
Getting Roberts and Nelson onboard made it easier to raise funds for the movie, Switzer says.
Director/executive producer James Camali and cinematographer Ronnee Swenton hired the crew; Camali also handled the financing.
As for Switzer, Nelson says, "I was imagining a 40-year-old guy. But he definitely knows what he's doing. He's a future mogul."
In his job as a "Fatal Obsession" producer, Switzer developed the project, gathered the cast and supervises the filming. Once the movie is finished and edited, he will get it distributed.
The diminutive, youthful Switzer doesn't fit the part of a staid producer. Instead, he's a live wire, joking and chatting people up.
Switzer grew up in Queens, N.Y., and moved with his family to Groton when he was 13. His father is retired from the Navy. Switzer went to high school here before moving back to New York after graduation. He is a student there at the School of Visual Arts.
Switzer knew, from age 8, that he wanted to be in the film business. He was thinking about directing and writing screenplays, but when he learned what a producer did, it seemed a good fit for him. He does still hope to direct in the future.
During high school, he focused on film — including making his own, often working with his best friend, Colin Chase, who plays Remington Moses' romantic interest in "A Fatal Obsession." Switzer took a video production class at Fitch and was an assistant teacher in the film studies class when he was a senior.
Filming in this region made sense, Switzer says, since the creative team knew a lot of people and realized they could secure good locations at competitive prices. They've shot at such locations as Yantic Falls in Norwich and the Mystic & Noank Library.
On Wednesday night, before shooting a dinner scene inside Chacers Bar and Grill in Norwich, Tracy Nelson talked about the movie. It's giving her the first opportunity to act on screen with her daughter, Moses, who is a junior at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. They, naturally, portray mother and daughter.
Working together, Nelson says, "is fantastic, and we get along very well. What's nice is there's that history there for us."
She recalls that, at a younger age, Moses contemplated becoming a marine biologist. But she eventually was drawn to the performing arts, which is, after all, the family business. Nelson is the daughter of singer Ricky Nelson and actress-artist Kristin Nelson, and she is the granddaughter of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson of the TV sitcom "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet." Moses' father is actor William R. Moses, who starred in "Mystic Pizza."
Nelson says that, working on this project with her daughter, she has had a wonderful sense of connection and passing the torch.
After "A Fatal Obsession," Switzer is heading to L.A. for a film starring Jamie Kennedy. For that, Switzer didn't develop the story but found the script and decided to produce it; he's bringing in Moses and Chase to act in that piece. Switzer will have the same responsibilities he does on "Obsession" but will also arrange the financing.
Still, there's something special about his work on "A Fatal Obsession."
"When you actually had a hand in the writing of the script and coming up with the story and characters," Switzer says, "it's like giving birth to something."
Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the roles of "A Fatal Obsession's" director/executive producer James Camali and cinematographer Ronnee Swenton.
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