Father and daughter team up on indie film project
A year’s worth of work will bear fruit on Tuesday, June 4, when the lights go down at Wilton’s Bow Tie Cinema and the indie film Janie Charismanic is screened for the first time for cast and crew. The 90-minute movie was directed by Ila Duncan, who worked with her father, executive producer Woodson Duncan. They are the creative team behind Wilton-based Judith Studios.
Janie Charismanic is the story of a woman trying to put the pieces of her life back together after leaving the world of rock ‘n’ roll.
“She has a tendency to burn bridges, she has no friends,” Mr. Duncan said of the character known to the audience only as Janie. He and his daughter sat down with The Bulletin at their Wilton home last week to discuss the film.
Janie calls on a former lover — the man who got her into the music business in the first place — to help her and he finds her an office job. There she meets another man, and although their backgrounds are completely different, there’s a connection.
“The film explores the relationship,” Ms. Duncan said. “The movie is about a piece of her life.
“One of the things I like about Janie is she’s a woman and a really strong character,” Ms. Duncan continued. “She’s a really unique and fully fleshed-out character who’s accessible to all audiences, and I think that’s rare and I’m glad she turned out that way.”
The film was shot locally. In fact, the studio’s headquarters were in Cannondale, Ms. Duncan said. Luca’s Ristorante was another Wilton location. The Black Bear Saloon in South Norwalk and Toad’s Place in New Haven are also featured in the film, and scenes were shot in Stamford, Tolland and Old Saybrook.
This is not the father-daughter duo’s first foray into moviemaking. The pair teamed up in 2011 to make I Hate Tom Petty, also about the music world, which Ms. Duncan directed at the age of 19. That film has a distribution agreement and will be released on DVD and pay-per-view.
“What has to be figured out is a theatrical release,” Mr. Duncan said. Still, he was very proud that “a 19-year-old’s film” has the interest of a distribution company when 5,500 indie films are produced a year.
I Hate Tom Petty won an Award of Merit at the Accolade showcase in San Diego and was one of the most viewed films in the online FreeStyle Life exhibition.
Janie Charismanic has also attracted the attention of a producer’s rep in Los Angeles. Although the film has missed this year’s festivals, the Duncans will still pursue commercial distribution.
The star of Janie Charismanic is Josie Marie Smith, who also appeared in I Hate Tom Petty.
“She was very reliable, very professional” with “an amazing voice,” Ms. Duncan said. “She was so easy to work with.”
Playing opposite is Anthony Marks, a professional actor who might be familiar to audiences from his work in P.C. Richards & Sons commercials. “He was very charming and it come across on the screen,” she said. “They had great chemistry.”
Janie’s former lover, Max, who helps her get back on her feet is played by veteran actor Eric Roberts. His character “is the fulcrum for the shift” in Janie’s life, Ms. Duncan said.
Also playing an important role in the film is Janie’s band, portrayed by Fight the Fear of Woodbury, voted “best indie rock band” by CT music awards.
“With our first movie, we had actors portray the band,” Ms. Duncan said. “With this one we got the band to act, which they did phenomenally well.”
They used a fair amount of Fight the Fear’s music, and Mr. Duncan also contributed several songs.
“The songs we wrote were to tell the story,” he said. “One tells her back story,” one is written about Janie presumably by someone else, “and another is about her personality.”
“For the most part, the songs he wrote equate to the songs she tries to write being in a band,” Ms. Duncan said of her father’s work.
Although his day job is in the finance industry, Mr. Duncan is no stranger to the rock ‘n’ roll scene.
In his early life, “he was involved with Iron Butterfly and Mike Pinera,” of Iron Butterfly Ride Captain Ride fame, Mr. Duncan’s wife, Tina, said.
“Music was always a strong interest of his,” she added.
The soundtrack also includes performances by violinist Aaron Rosand of New Canaan and Jerad Fink, who is under contract to Warner Brothers, as well as the music of Keaton Simmons, James Prosek and Troutband America.
Ms. Duncan, now 22, is a graduate of Wellesley College with a degree in Japanese studies. Neither she nor her father had any experience in filmmaking when they undertook I Hate Tom Petty, but they were undeterred.
Both learned a lot from the first film, lessons they were able to apply to the second.
In particular, Ms. Duncan strengthened as a director, and admitted to being intimidated when she began working on the first movie.
“We got what I wanted for the most part,” she said. “I was intimidated by the crew and their experience. This movie I was able to say, ‘This is not what I want.’”
“Ila knows how she wants to show it, how to advance the story,” Mr. Duncan said. “Ila also has an open mind. If you have a lot of creative people, you have to be flexible.”
She listened to suggestions proffered by the actors and director of photography, who was Kevin Robinson of Ridgefield, but in the end, it was up to her to say whether the suggestions would help tell the story.
Ms. Duncan has more ideas for more stories and wants to move into writing screenplays.
“She has two ideas, then when she’s finished we’ll make them into movies,” Mr. Duncan said.
Ms. Duncan would not reveal too much about her future projects except to say they will represent “a major genre shift.”
“My main interest is writing a lead female character accessible to everyone,” she said.
Of working with her father, Ms. Duncan said, “It’s great sometimes and difficult sometimes. Overall I’m very lucky. He’s very supportive.”
“Ila has a really good eye for film, for story, for character, and definite ideas for how they should look, start and end,” Mr. Duncan said. “I think it will be really clear she has a talent for this.”