Published April 18. 2014 2:00PM Updated April 19. 2014 5:48PM
Wally Lamb’s best-selling novel “Wishin’ and Hopin’” will be made into a film — and it will be shot in eastern Connecticut this summer.
The Rocky Hill-based Synthetic Cinema International will produce this warmhearted, humorous story about a 10-year-old boy’s life during the 1964 Christmas season in fictional Three Rivers, Conn.
The movie project came about, in a way, through a Norwich connection.
Synthetic co-owner and producer Andrew Gernhard happens to be a Norwich native and a 1995 graduate of Norwich Free Academy, where he was a student of Lamb’s.
“A couple of years ago, we reconnected on Facebook," Gernhard said. “That’s when I approached him about possibly doing one of his novels as a feature.”
While Lamb’s books have been optioned by film companies before, none has been made into a movie yet.
Lamb is an executive producer on this project, essentially overseeing everything, but he is not writing the screenplay; John Doolan, who has worked before with Synthetic, will be. Colin Theys will direct.
Lamb could not be reached for comment.
The filmmakers are scouting locations now for the shoot. Gernhard said they are looking at Norwich, Bozrah, New London and Willimantic. He is touring NFA next week to look at the auditorium there as a possible site for the movie’s final sequence.
“When Wally wrote this, when you read ‘Wishin’ and Hopin’,’ (Three Rivers) is Norwich and New London. Really, that’s what it is. So we wanted to keep it true to what he had in his brain,” Gernhard said.
In addition, a lot of the architecture in those locales tends to be period, so, with the right props and with actors in the right hair and wardrobe, the appropriate era can be easily recreated.
Casting is expected to begin in a couple of weeks. The filmmakers are hoping to get some name actors involved and will also be holding local auditions for extras, probably sometime in May.
“We definitely want locals to be extras and possibly to get a line here or there,” Gernhard said.
“Wishin’ and Hopin’” is a decided — and intentional — change-of-pace for Synthetic. Southeastern Connecticut movie fans might recall that Synthetic filmed the zombie flick “Steve Niles’ Remains” in Norwich and around the region in 2011. After a brief theatrical release, it aired on the Chiller Network.
The 10-year-old company has, in fact, focused on monster movies and thrillers in the past but is now expanding beyond that.
“Everybody thinks of us as the monster guys,” Gernhard said. “Really, it’s funny because a lot of local people haven’t seen our latest stuff, which is very serious, haunting and character-driven stuff. They only know us from, like, ‘Assault of the Sasquatch’ and ‘Banshee!!!,’ which are these campy kind of things. The newer stuff is bigger budget and more story-driven than shlock-driven.”
The team behind the camera for “Wishin’ and Hopin’” are Synthetic veterans. Colin Theys has done work as a director and digital effects artist there since 2007. John Doolan’s credits include three adaptations of novels or comic books into full-length features for the Chiller Network.
Speaking about adapting “Wishin’ and Hopin’,” Gernhard said, “The book was so funny. It was so rich with characters that I want to make sure it gets translated into the script. So we are writing the script, with all of us looking at it and Wally looking at it as well, because I want to make sure his characters are maintained.”
As far as the shoot itself goes, the toughest part will be filming a December story during July. Fortunately, most of the scenes are interiors. For the exteriors, Gernhard said, the director is planning on shooting them as they are and then digitally adding snow later on.
Gernhard expects that “Wishin’ and Hopin’” will get a limited theatrical release and then TV and home video play as well.