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The Offer’ is too good to refuse

MIDDLEBURY — They came from all walks of life — physicians, hospice workers and grocery store employees, to name a few — all bitten by the acting bug.
But on July 26, this cast of unlikely Addison County thespians will take a common walk down the proverbial red carpet at Middlebury’s Marquis Theater, for the premier of their short film, “The Offer.”
“It is an extraordinary group of people; it was sheer fun,” co-producer and organizer Leslie Reagan-Caer said of the film, a 26-minute cinematographic pastiche that united a group of a dozen Middlebury-area friends for some fun, laughs and creativity that will splash across the big screen.
It was six years ago that many of “The Offer” players first assembled to film a fun-filled birthday tribute to one of their mutual friends, Victoria DeWind, a movie buff. They patterned their mini production after the 2006 film “Little Miss Sunshine,” a comedy/drama about a dysfunctional family’s efforts to enter a young daughter into a beauty pageant. Only the Middlebury crew named its satirical effort “Little Miss Solar Power.”
“This was a one-weekend shoot; an off-the-cuff thing,” Reagan-Caer, a screenwriter by trade, said of the 40-minute birthday film, shot in Middlebury. “We shot 30-some pages in one weekend.”
It proved a fun, successful endeavor that whetted Reagan-Caer’s appetite to do some more filmmaking. She took a local filmmaking class with instructor Mary Arbuckle to get more hands-on experience on the craft.
The “Little Miss Solar Power” group reunited in April in 2009 to brainstorm a new film project.
“All I asked for was some magic and mayhem,” Reagan-Caer recalled of her directions to the players.
Gradually, the group coalesced around the idea of a feature-length film called “The Pearl,” with some characters borrowed from stage, literature and film, including the Mad Hatter, the muses of comedy and tragedy, Don Quixote and Puck. The main character is “Umbrella Man,” who Reagan-Caer describes as a “lost soul” who is extended the professional opportunity of a lifetime, but meets an array of colorful characters at a business luncheon who prompt him to reflect on his future.
“It is a comedic push-pull between taking this offer and another one he is faced with at the end of this movie,” Reagan-Caer said.
The cast of 10, along with co-producers Reagan-Caer and Claire Adams, set to work fleshing out the storyline and breathing life into the characters. The actors had to meet on weekends and evenings to refine the project, as most have “regular” jobs. The cast includes local pediatrician Dr. Jack Mayer, retired physician Dr. Chip Malcolm, and several employees of the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op. Virtually all are Addison County residents.
 “We spent two-and-a-half years in improv, rehearsal and developing the story together,” Reagan-Caer said. “The most thrilling part for me was that initial collaboration.”
With around 60 pages of script in hand, the group turned its attention to assembling a crew, locations, shooting time, scheduling and other logistics of creating a feature-length film.
They learned the process was more expensive and complex than they had imagined.
“We realized that this was way beyond our scope,” Reagan-Caer said. “We sat down as an ensemble and had a huge decision to make: Do we continue to unfold this as the feature it had become… or do we cut it down?”
They chose the latter scenario, which resulted in a major rewrite that led to a shorter version of “The Pearl,” renamed “The Offer.”
With a more manageable script, tighter budget and new timeline, the cast spent many months tweaking and rehearsing “The Offer.” Along the way they hired a half-dozen crew members to tend to makeup, costume and other chores. Reagan-Caer, who edited the film at her home, is enthralled with how the film came together and how the players grew into their roles after having had little or no previous acting experience.
“A lot of what the first few years was about them getting to take risks, not just individually, but as an ensemble,” Reagan-Caer said. “I think it is clear when you see this film that everyone more than found their place — not just to embody these characters, but to go out and take risks.”
All of that prep work came down to two-and-a-half weekends of shooting in the Middlebury area, with interior scenes shot in Sweet Marie’s Restaurant on Washington Street.
“We laughed ourselves silly at rehearsals,” said Reagan-Caer, whose 7-year-old son Kian plays the role of Young Master Robin.
Adams did double-duty in “The Offer,” wearing acting and co-producer hats. She plays Thalia, the Greek Muse of Comedy.
“None of us had either been on stage or in front of a camera before,” Adams said. “So really, it’s interesting to be given this character not only to read the lines and put on a costume, but over a long period of time, the person who plays the character ends up being shaped by it.
“This was kind of a way to step into a character and associate with that character, while also becoming that person a little bit,” Adams added.
DeWind plays a waitress named Rita in “The Offer.” She is pleased to be joining the production after having been regaled by “Little Miss Solar Power.”
“Having not been part of (‘Little Miss Solar Power’), when (Leslie) decided to do another film, I definitely wanted to be in it on the other side of the camera, as it were,” DeWind said. “It was great to be part of the whole thing, from helping to create the story and taking all the steps with Leslie, even the twists and turns, to the last shot in filming. I got to experience first-hand all that goes into making a film; it’s a complicated process and Leslie, and Claire, brought us through it all. It was fun to have this amazing experience with my good friends, get to be someone else for a while, really play it up and get away with being Rita.”
DeWind, Adams, Reagan-Caer and the rest of the cast will reunite at 6 p.m. on Saturday, July 26, for the premier of “The Offer.” There will be a second showing of the film on Aug. 31. The creators plan on entering the “The Offer” in various film festivals and will perhaps give it substantial on-line exposure.
But will the cast assemble once again for another film?
“That’s a very good question,” Reagan-Caer said with a smile. “Our hopes for ‘The Pearl’ are still very much alive… It has been an incredible experience.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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