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    Tuesday, October 04, 2022

    Lifetime movie films in Mystic: It’s a thriller

    Crew members adjust the set between scenes Wednesday May 18, 2022, while filming “How to Live Your Best Death” at the Inn at Mystic. The movie, by Synthetic Cinema International, will air later this year on Lifetime. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Mystic — A woman with sleek blonde hair and dressed in a chic fuchsia suit strides out of a suite at the Inn at Mystic. All seems normal, until you see what the inside of the suite looks like.

    One room is populated by several life-sized cut-outs of the woman herself, smiling and looking self-assured. Some images have her holding a book she wrote, titled “The Cheat Code of Confidence.” Copies of her self-help tome are piled on a bureau, and framed posters extolling the virtues of her publications hang on the wall.

    It all indicates that this woman, who is a life coach, might be a little more unsettled and unsettling than she seems.

    And no wonder: It’s all in the service of a new Lifetime thriller that was shooting Wednesday in Mystic.

    In the film “How to Live Your Best Death,” a woman named Kristin hires a life coach to help improve her life, love and work. But the coach, named Ashley, becomes abnormally focused on Kristin’s life. Ashley turns out to be psychotic. Things spin out of control.

    “How to Live Your Best Death,” which will air on Lifetime later this year, is by Synthetic Cinema International, which is based in Rocky Hill and has shot many TV movies in southeastern Connecticut in the recent past. Last year’s bumper crop included “Sand Dollar Cove,” “Sugar Plum Twist” and “The Holiday Fix-Up.”

    The current production, directed by Rachel Annette Helson, stars Danielle Baez as Kristin and Alissa Filoramo as Ashley. Baez’s credits include the movies “Balloon Animal” and “Ascension.” Filoramo’s include “On the Mountain’ and “Devil’s Triangle.”

    Between scenes, Filoramo spoke a bit about the part she’s playing.

    “She’s a layered character, where, on the outside looking in, you may think she is quote-unquote evil just because her methods are really extreme. But I think she truly believes she is doing the best thing for her clients. When her clients succeed, she succeeds,” Filoramo said.

    Ashley’s methods might seem selfish, but the character believes she’s doing the right thing for others, Filoramo said.

    Filoramo hasn’t gotten out to see much of Mystic during the filming, but she has been here before. She visited the town before she became an actress, when she was working in graphic design. She used to design products for museums, and that included for the stores at Mystic Seaport Museum and Mystic Aquarium.

    Doing stunts

    Because this is a thriller, stunts are inevitable, and Anthony Hoang is the production’s stunt coordinator. He didn’t want to give away too much of the story but said the stunts for “How to Live Your Best Death” involve “fighting and foul play” and “some creative deaths.” He did say that one character attacks another with a golf club.

    “What’s great about movies like this is we have the actual actors doing their own stunts, no doubles. ... I’m lucky because the actors we’re working with here are so on top of everything. They pick up notes fast, and they know how to move,” he said.

    Hoang got into this line of work after he was a clown with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Someone suggested that the physical abilities he used as a clown could translate to a new career in stunt work. He has been the stunt coordinator on a number of projects with Synthetic, and his other work has included a couple of times being a covering stunt coordinator (meaning filling in for the permanent stunt coordinator) on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.”

    Filming in Norwich

    The crew for “How to Live Your Best Death” was scheduled to shoot scenes in various parts of the Inn at Mystic: the Rocks 21 restaurant, in the parking lot, at the front desk.

    Synthetic also rented five rooms at the inn to work out of, since the company doesn’t have trailers on this production.

    Andrew Gernhard, who is owner and producer of Synthetic, said this is a relatively small production.

    “It’s a very tight movie. We’re moving fast on it,” he said of the 14-day shoot that is wrapping up this week.

    The cast and crew already have shot at Foundry 66 in Norwich, which is a co-working and small-business development center, along with the next-door Cream coffee shop. Also providing locations: La Stella Pizzeria; Latin Quarters; and Rosemont Suites.

    Gernhard expects Synthetic to deliver the film to Lifetime in early August, so it might air sometime between late August and October.

    Other movies in the works

    Synthetic is in post-production on another movie, “Ghosts of Christmas Always,” which will air on Hallmark this holiday season. It was shot all in Hartford and is set in Hartford; in other words, the city isn’t standing in for a different location.

    The cast and crew filmed at such familiar locales as the Capitol, the Bushnell Park Carousel and the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch.

    “It feels like a Connecticut-slash-Hartford movie, which is very fun," Gernhard said. "I think people are going to get a kick out of it this Christmas.”

    Synthetic is also in development and in negotiations on a number of other projects.

    “I think we’re actually going to start (to work) in other states, which is sad,” Gernhard said. “I think we’re going down to Tennessee for a big Christmas movie — not Hallmark, but it’s another big studio. I’m in the middle of negotiating now.”

    Tennessee has enacted a major tax credit for productions. While Connecticut offers about 30%, Tennessee is at 40% to 50%, he said.

    “It’s going to bring so much business to Tennessee. But obviously, our home base is Connecticut, and we’re still going to be pushing Connecticut because that’s where we want to be,” said Gernhard, who grew up in Norwich and lives in Gales Ferry.

    Want to be a production assistant?

    Synthetic also recently worked with the state of Connecticut and Middlesex Community College as the college established a production assistant training bootcamp for Connecticut residents. The program will run June 27-30 at Middlesex Community College in Middletown, with daylong sessions and at a cost of $150.

    So many movies are coming to Connecticut that they need more people working on them, including in starting positions like production assistants.

    “We got 70 resumes in last year of people who wanted to be production assistants — people who were in college, people who were in high school. We used them on all of our productions, all seven. So they all worked between Netflix and Hallmark and Disney+,” Gernhard said.

    The idea with this program is to give people some initial training before they start working.

    What do production assistants (nicknamed PAs) do? Gernhard explained, “They come onto the production, and typically every department is assigned some production assistants, whether it’s one or two or more. They basically help that department, whether it’s art, camera, production. ... It’s base level work, but it’s a way to get to know what all the departments do, and it’s a good way to begin.”

    It’s also a great way to network.

    “Everybody that I know that we used last year is either still working as a PA or jumped onto actual departments, which is super-fast. Usually, it takes years. It seems now, in under a year, you’ll be in a department, because there’s such great need for television and film people, not just in Connecticut but all over, because the skills you learn here — you know, we’re hoping you stay in Connecticut, but you can take them anywhere,” he said.


    Actress Danielle Baez walks onto set Wednesday May 18, 2022, while filming “How to Live Your Best Death” at the Inn at Mystic. The movie, by Synthetic Cinema International, will air later this year on Lifetime. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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