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    Entertainment
    Monday, July 15, 2024

    You gotta have heart: InVicta Entertainment is a labor of love

    Tiffany and Doug Lively, owners of InVicta Entertainment, pose for a portrait at their offices in Noank Thursday May 9, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    If Alfred Hitchcock had worked from the office of InVicta Entertainment in Noank, “Rear Window” would have been a tourist marketing film and Jimmy Stewart wouldn’t have been in a wheelchair. He’d have been on vacation.

    InVicta, y’see, is located on the third floor of a shingled building in the Noank Village Boatyard with an open interior floor plan containing every possible type of photographic and filmmaking equipment, not to mention an impressive collection of framed movie posters. But the windows on three sides — and an outdoor deck — overlook a spectacular array of boats, Mason’s Island, Ram Island and Long Island Sound that suggests a cover story in Condé Nast Traveler.

    “Yeah, the view can be distracting, but in a good way,” said Tiffany Lively. She and her husband Doug Lively own InVicta, a 10-year-old filmmaking, editing and directorial company whose efforts include movies, commercials, corporate branding segments, music videos, feature length documentaries, and commercial and artistic photography.

    InVicta is technically a two-person shop, but the Livelys have a strong core of area talent they trust and can draw from on any given job. Included in that group is Alec Asten, whose company Firesite Films, just down the path in Noank from InVicta, is a close friend and frequent collaborator. Another is George Sherman, who does most of the motion graphics work for InVicta.

    “We enjoy working on all of our projects, but we really love doing documentary pieces that feature local businesses and schools,” Doug said. “We interview business owners, teachers and athletes and get to make these three-minute ‘here’s what we do in the community pieces’ that reinforce the fact that we’re part of this community.”

    “By the time we started InVicta, we’d been working in the area so long that we had a lot of connections and relationships,” Tiffany added. “To be honest, we were already known for the quality of the work we do and the creative talent we put into it.”

    The couple has lived in the area since 1994, and their decision to be here would in itself make a compelling film mixing elements of romance and devotion to family, determination, a passion for art and storytelling and unexpectedly finding a small-town New England home far away from the tense but star-spangled film scenes in Los Angeles or New York.

    Fated partnership

    Tiffany and Doug met at the Maine Media Workshops in Camden in the early 1990s. Doug is a native Californian who grew obsessed with movies.

    “You’re talking to a nerdy kid,” Doug said. “My dad managed movie theaters in L.A. and every week I’d go in the afternoons and just watch movies. At the same time, I grew up in a conservative religious environment where the attitude about the movie business was that it’s the work of the devil. So a dichotomy was kind of there.

    “To me, though, I learned there are stories that are universal and through the medium you can get people thinking about the human condition. Cinema is an art form that’s bonded Tiffany and I.”

    In Los Angeles, Doug eventually owned his small but successful film editing and cinematography company. In that context, in 1992 he was invited to teach three-week Intro to Film Production and Intro to Film Lighting courses at Maine Media Workshops in Camden. Tiffany was the person assigned to be his assistant.

    From Wilmington, Delaware, she grew up fascinated by photography and studied it in college — along with finance at the behest of her father, who wanted her to have a fallback career in case her artistic pursuits didn’t work out.

    One of the students in Doug’s production workshop was a vice-president at Sonalysts in Waterford, which was readying what would be a world class filmmaking facility and sound stage. The VP suggested Doug should visit because there might be a lucrative position for him.

    “After the workshops, I drove down (to Waterford) and overall I wasn’t real impressed,” Doug remembered. “What they were doing with the soundstage was very impressive, but it was a stand-alone defense contractor building in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere.”

    Doug returned to Los Angeles — and Tiffany went with him inasmuch as their romantic relationship had already blossomed. She quickly landed a job with world renowned celebrity photographer Douglas Kirkland, who photographed everyone from the Beatles and Marilyn Monroe to Tome Cruise. Between Kirkland and Doug’s business doing well, it seemed, Tiffany said, “as though the stars had aligned for us.”

    New England-bound

    A few months later, though, Sonalysts came through with an excellent offer for Doug and in 1994 they took the job.

    “Sonalysts said they wanted to do anything they could to expand their media presence,” Doug said. “My ultimate goal in life was always to write and direct movies, and there was a lot more chance to do that at Sonalysts.

    “And we’d started to think about raising a family. Even though Tiffany had just gotten a dream job with Goodman, we didn’t think L.A. was a great place to raise children. The Connecticut shoreline represented a much better environment. Then we’d discovered Mystic and fell in love with it and New England. There’s a sense of history and place and small town community we wouldn’t get in metropolitan areas.”

    Doug started at Sonalysts in 1994 and worked there for 19 years. The opportunities were indeed amazing. He orchestrated the first-ever ad campaign for Mohegan Sun, then he and a few colleagues started Sonalysts’ small feature film division. It was there that Doug wrote and directed “Mystic Nights & Pirate Fights,” a family adventure movie about three boys who follow clues to a lost pirate treasure and discover along the way that friendship, courage and trust are more valuable than hidden gold.

    “Honestly, no one’s ever seen it,” Doug laughed, perhaps exaggerating inasmuch as “Pirate” was screened at the USA Film Festival and enjoyed popularity through television distribution in 12 countries. “The truth is, the film got swallowed up in the traditional indie film cycle. We were naïve. The North American distribution company had a similar film coming out, so they sat on ours. All told, it was a two-and-a-half year project, but we learned a lot.”

    Over time, though, the funding and distribution processes changed significantly in independent films and Sonalysts became more focused on making commercials and corporate media work. Eventually, the creative aperture narrowed and the original concept of Doug’s position shifted with it. In 2013, he was laid off.

    “It was heartbreaking because Sonalysts had so many resources, but this was also an opportunity for us to have our own little production company, which was something we’d always talked about,” Tiffany said.

    Going out on their own

    And InVicta was born. Their first effort was a self-written documentary called “Identity Project” about folks across the country from various backgrounds whose lives have been transformed after becoming Christians.

    It’s a source of slight embarrassment and amusement that “Identity Project” is still a work in progress. For one thing, InVicta’s services have been in-demand from the start. For another, the couple has raised four children: David, Sadie-Mae, Elizabeth and Luke -- all of whom have worked in various capacities on InVicta projects, and all of whom, Tiffany said, “have creative genes” ranging from film to music and the restaurant business.

    “We’re the last people to tell our kids not to pursue a dream,” David said.

    Among Invicta’s clients are Christina’s Ltd., Harbor View Landing Coastal Accommodations, Airscent Diffuser Oils, Southcoast Health, Cox Media, the Guardian, the Hartford, and more — and two InVicta commercials have aired during Super Bowl games, one for United Illuminating and one for Yale New Haven Hospital. There’s also the completed documentary “Faith and Medicine.”

    That Hollywood connection

    A huge moment for InVicta occurred Wednesday, when the Livelys were on hand in Madison Cinemas for the premiere of a short comic-horror film called “Damn Handy.” The movie was written and directed by Mystic native Peter Filardi, who wrote the films “Flatliners” and “The Craft” and adapted Stephen King’s “Salem’s Lot” for a TV film starring Rob Lowe. In 2021, “Chapelwaite,” a mini-series based on a King short story and written and directed by Filardi and his brother Jason, starring Adrien Brody, aired on Epix.

    On “Damn Handy,” the Livelys served as co-producers, Doug was the movie’s director of photography and Tiffany served as camera operator. It’s the second Filardi short film they’ve worked on after the release last fall of another comic-horror short called “Hazardous.”

    “I’m a HUGE fan of ‘Flatliners,’” Doug said. “It’s an amazingly original film and Peter Filardi is someone we knew of and greatly admired as a writer and as a filmmaker’s filmmaker.”

    It was fortuitous but unexpected, then, in 2021, at the height of COVID, that their friend/collaborator Asten walked into the InVicta offices with Filardi and actor Roger Clark, best known for his award-winning performance capture portrayal of Arthur Morgan in the video game “Red Dead Redemption 2.”

    Filardi and Clark were looking for a local production company to help make “Hazardous” as a downtime project to boost spirits during the epidemic. The concept was an exercise in community filmmaking using a mix of industry professionals, family members and friends and local high school students.

    “Roger and Peter were just so great and nice,” Doug said. “They wanted to do this project because the world had been turned upside down and this represented something that was fun to do — just for the sake of being fun to do.”

    In June 2022, the group started filming “Hazardous,” in which the dangers of smoking aren’t as deadly as cessation therapy.

    “We just rolled up with our kids and piled out of the car and it was like, ‘Oh my God! It’s the Partridge Family making a horror movie,’” Tiffany said. “And it worked. Peter is just so collaborative and allowed us to bring our ideas to the table.”

    That included son David Lively composing the soundtrack for the film and daughters Elizabeth and Sadie-Mae playing onscreen roles.

    “Hazardous,” with InVicta handling cinematography, was released last fall and did well on the festival circuit — so well that Filardi and Clark decided to do “Damn Handy” with many of the same crew members and family and student participants.

    The story is about a plumbing job gone horribly wrong, and “Damn Handy” has already been selected for the Block Island Film Festival in June. Filardi is also submitting to many indie festivals that typically take place in the autumn.

    “So now there’s a second film with Peter and Roger that we’re all very proud of,” Tiffany said. “Our hope is that, with two under our belt, maybe we can do a full length feature. Obviously, Peter and Roger are very busy, but we all see, I think, this is a great crew and we’re a great team.”

    Clark and Filardi agree.

    “The Livelys have opened a whole new world of regional filmmaking for me,” Filardi said. “Doug, Tiffany and their composer son David have all the talents required to deliver professional grade entertainment, whether it’s features, pilots or shorts, right here at home. They’re an inspiration.”

    And Clark added, “Doug and Tiffany Lively are a powerhouse of a film couple that make a priceless contribution to every film they’re a part of. Their experience, eye and dedication makes either of them my ‘go to’ cinematographers in New England.”

    “It’s a joy to be able to do this work,” Doug said. “Tiffany and I don’t have to talk much because we both know what the other’s thinking. There’s no tension, which is probably unusual in this business. The idea has always been to approach everything professionally but with creativity and always heart.”

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