Mystic natives Peter and Jason Filardi are showrunners for a TV series based on Stephen King short story
Peter and Jason Filardi, who grew up in Mystic, have each been successful writers in Hollywood for years, but on their new project, they are working together.
This marks the second time the brothers have collaborated professionally and the first time they’ve taken on the role of showrunners for a TV series.
They are turning Stephen King’s short story “Jerusalem’s Lot” into a 10-episode series for the Epix network. It’s called “Chapelwaite,” after a gothic manor at the heart of the story. Filming is taking place right now in Nova Scotia with star Adrien Brody, who won an Oscar for his performance in “The Pianist.”
Originally, the plan was to have the series airing by now. The Filardis — Peter lives in Guilford now, Jason in L.A. — were each packed and ready to head to Nova Scotia in mid-March to start filming. Of course, that is when the pandemic hit North America, and the related shutdowns meant they didn’t go anywhere then. It wasn’t until July 5 that they finally made it to Nova Scotia.
They spoke about the project by phone on a recent Sunday, as they were polishing scripts for episodes 9 and 10. The filming is scheduled to wrap on Dec. 18, with air dates not yet determined.
As for their previous credits, Peter’s include writing the films “Flatliners,” a 1990 release featuring Julia Roberts, and 1996’s “The Craft,” both of which were recently made into new movies.
Jason penned the screenplays for “17 Again” (starring Zac Efron, 2009) and “Bringing Down the House” (Steve Martin, 2003).
Jason says that collaborating with Peter has been “awesome. For most of our careers, we’ve always done things on our own — and vastly different. Peter’s always done the darker stuff, and I was doing comedies, but in past few years, between things that we were doing, we would get together and write more horror stuff together, kind of for fun, to see what happens. Actually, the writing process together is really easy and fun. It’s nice to work together. This is really a pretty incredible thing to be up here together doing this.”
The Epix network asked the Filardis to work on a horror western idea, and they were doing that when Epix president Michael Wright told the brothers the network had a Stephen King property and wondered if they might be interested in developing that instead. They jumped at the chance.
The property was the short story “Jerusalem’s Lot,” which was a precursor to “‘Salem’s Lot.”
Obviously, the Filardis and Donald DeLine — who are executive producing the show together — had to expand the original material quite a bit, since the tale was going from a short story to a series consisting of 10 hour-long episodes.
The Filardis haven’t spoken to King at all, but the author has to OK the writers for a project based on his work. Peter had done a couple of King adaptations in the past, including the 2004 TV miniseries version of “‘Salem’s Lot.”
“(Peter) was already on Stephen’s list. I kind of piggybacked,” Jason says with a laugh. “So we write the pilot, and (King) reads the pilot and has a big say on whether it goes forward or not.”
King liked the pilot, and the TV series took off.
Peter says, “The greatest satisfaction of working on ‘Chapelwaite’ has also been its greatest challenge. Writing a ten-hour story for television is the equivalent of five feature films. That’s a much bigger canvas than either of us have ever taken on.”
At the same time, he says, the greatest pleasure “has been tackling this opportunity with my brother.”
A nod to Mystic
The story focuses on whaling captain Charles Boone, played by Brody. His wife dies, and he inherits a family estate in Maine from distant cousins he barely knows. When he and his family settle into the house, Stephen King-like things ensue.
The main character wasn’t a whaling captain in King’s short story.
“My brother and I have always been intrigued by the whaling industry because of Mystic and Mystic Seaport,” Jason says, adding that they made Boone a whaling captain “because we loved the history of Mystic. For years and years, we’ve talked about wanting to do a New England story together, and of course, we’ve always hoped it would shoot in Mystic. But this was really our chance to do that. You’ll probably recognize a lot of familiar Mystic-type names (including Denison and Morgan) when you watch it.”
The Filardis did write a Mystic-based script before. A couple of years ago, they wrote a haunted boat story set in Mystic that was sold but wasn’t made. “Chapelwaite,” though, is their first joint project that has been produced.
What is a showrunner?
As showrunners, the Filardis have a voice in pretty much every aspect of the production. Writing for TV is very different from writing a feature film, they note. When someone writes a screenplay, he turns it in and, if he’s lucky enough for someone to make it, he might — or might not — be kept on to do some rewrites. But he has no say in casting, costumes, and so on.
A showrunner for a TV show, though, is a part of every process, from wardrobe, hair and makeup to picking the horses that actors ride.
It’s a process the Filardis are learning as they go.
“As a showrunner, every minute of your day is taken up with something,” Jason said. “You’re constantly writing, because you’re constantly reshaping the script, as we’re doing right now. If you’re not doing that, you’re meeting with stunt people, or animal wranglers … And then you’re on set to make sure it’s being shot the way you want it to be shot. In TV, the writer has power. It’s not like that in film. People here really do bring forth your vision.”
Filming during a pandemic
COVID-19 has been a big hurdle to overcome in a lot of ways for the production.
Americans weren’t allowed into Canada. Only four people involved in “Chapelwaite” are American — the Filardis, Brody and DeLine — and they got in through essential worker status.
Once in Nova Scotia, though, they had to quarantine for two weeks. They needed to stay in their apartments, with groceries delivered to them and with days filled with Zoom calls.
“We’re tested for COVID twice a week,” says Jason. “Then the set is a whole other thing. Everybody wears a different colored mask. That determines who you can be around and where on set you’re to stay … It’s been another big learning process.
“But we were beyond lucky because Halifax, Nova Scotia, has pretty much stamped out COVID … They’re still cautious, of course, but they are living their lives normally here — people are at restaurants, they’re sitting at bars.”
For “Chapelwaite,” the Filardis had 10 weeks to write 10 episodes, which is not the norm — it was a fast process. They wrote five scripts and hired two other writers to do the other five. Since writers don’t have the same voice, the Filardis then looked at the latter five scripts and rewrote them so that they all sound unified.
When the Filardis were writing together, Peter was in Connecticut and Jason was in California. They would discuss ideas while on Skype and develop the story. When it came time to write, they’d outline things and then split the outline, with each of them writing one half. They’d send their halves back and forth.
“I think Stephen King’s works adapt so readily to the screen for at least three reasons. I’m sure there are more,” Peter says.
“How does anyone fully distill another’s gift or particular genius? For me, Stephen King is primarily great at creating a high concept story. And there’s more to that than just saying ‘A haunted hotel’ or ‘A High School outcast with telekinesis.’ It means creating great character dynamics within the high concept. Fundamental conflicts between grounded, freshly drawn characters, interacting in a pressure-cooker environment. Those are three great ingredients that I frequently find in Stephen King’s work.”
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