Filmmaking | Interviews

Claws and Effect

1 Jul , 2005  

Written by Sara Faith Alterman | Posted by:

Todd Norwood discusses his feature film 'The Wayfarers,' which debuted at the Boston International Film Festival and is set to screen at Woods Hole in July.

Utter the phrase ‘New England’ to just about anyone, and you’ll likely prompt memories of a few unequivocal basics. Picturesque seaside scenery. Crisp, jewel-colored autumns. The snap and crunch of a freshly-picked apple or a compliant lobster claw. Writer/director Todd Norwood has done a fantastic job of capturing the essence of Northern Massachusetts in his debut feature film, "The Wayfarers."

A New Hampshire native, Norwood attended film school at Emerson College in Boston before making the ubiquitous Westward expansion to Los Angeles. However, he prefers to shoot in the motherland, and it shows. "The Wayfarers" embraces the littoral culture that so strongly flavors New England life by centering around the family of a lobster fisherman. Though the scenario has the potential to alienate audiences outside of the six-state cluster, it does the opposite, weaving universal themes of family and self-exploration.

The saltwater story is peppered with comedy. Protagonist Alex Wayfarer comes from a long line of lobster fishermen, but he isn’t at all attracted to the lifestyle, choosing instead to flee his coastal home and create a life for himself in the city. A call from his hilariously fatalist mother, Fran, compels him to return home, where the booze-swilling matriarch has decided to host a "remembrance" ceremony for herself so that her loved ones won’t have to wait for a funeral to say nice things about her. Orbited by a wonderfully quirky cast of characters (including a proctologist uncle and a brother obsessed with Don Johnson circa the mid-1980s), Alex ponders clan, conflict and crustaceans against the backdrop of one of those poignant fishing villages that New Englanders love to love.

SFA: "The Wayfarers" obviously has some really strong New England ties. What gave you the idea for making the film about the son of a lobsterman?

Norwood: I spent summers around that area, around Rockport, so it seemed like a good world to set something in. It’s naturally kind of funny, people’s obsession with lobsters and fish, the family’s obsession with it. Not that I know anybody firsthand who is a fisherman, but I spent a lot of time in that town. I have sympathy for Alex for his not wanting to be a lobster fisherman like his father — I can relate to that, his not wanting to get on the lobster boat at five in the morning. I thought that was a nice conflict for him, to not want to follow in his father’s footsteps. And it was great to get some beautiful shots out on the ocean. It was a good excuse to get out on a boat.

SFA: So the shoot must have gone well.

Norwood: We shot it in September, and it was great! It was, actually, the best shoot I’ve ever had. We shot it in eleven days, and it was one of those rare times when cast and crew become like family. Nobody wanted to leave at the end. The shoot actually went so fast—we were so on schedule that the three days at the end we were able to just improvise, and do random stuff. We had had a lot of rehearsals and we used a lot of theater actors, so we just kept rolling and did these really long takes so they wouldn’t break character, which was great.

SFA: Tell me about the cast; first of all, the main character is played by Chris Norwood. Are you related?

Norwood: He’s my brother. We hadn’t worked together before professionally, but he was always in my movies growing up. It’s funny—he just came in to help out reading, and he read for this one character, and it became obvious that he was perfect for it. It was a lot of fun to work with him. Some of the cast members had worked on a previous short film of mine, so I sort of wrote the roles for them. I really didn’t have to go out and find a lot of new people, which was really good. But, the new people that we did find, it was a treat to find them. We just really gelled.

Todd Norwood
[Click to enlarge]

SFA: What was your experience like shooting in Rockport? It is a small New England town, but that area has attracted quite a bit of filmmaking activity over the past few years, what with "The Love Letter" being filmed there, and "The Perfect Storm." Was the community pretty receptive to your presence?

Norwood: Once in awhile the locals would look over while we were shooting some scenes and I could hear them talking about it, but it’s not like shooting in Los Angeles, where everybody is so jaded about it. Everybody was fantastic. We shot in this restaurant, The Chowder House, which was great, and we used a fruit stand — we just stopped by the side of the road and asked to shoot there. The whole community was really supportive, and it was great.

SFA: One of the things that made me really excited about this film was the richness of the characters. They’re so colorful, and I have to ask — were any of them inspired in particular by anyone in your life, past or present?

Norwood: I’ve been writing for a number of years, doing different types of films for a number of years, and I finally figured out that if I could use some of the supporting characters as mixtures of people I knew, then I could be a little bit autobiographical.

SFA: How did those people feel? Did you let those people know that you were going to magnify their personalities, or did you keep it as a surprise?

Norwood: While the characters are comic characters, I’m not making fun of anyone at all. Although, when I did my first table reading, we were going over the whole script, and we got to one of the last dinner scenes; I looked across the table at my brother, and I think we both realized that it was seeming like a family dinner from years ago. It was cool — that was a good feeling when we both realized that. So maybe it’s somewhat autobiographical, but I didn’t want to make the film too autobiographical.

SFA: So having been born in New Hampshire and having gone to film school at Emerson in Boston, and then moving to L.A., what was the hardest part of making the transition for you? How is it different; the arts community in Boston versus filmmaking in Los Angeles?

Norwood: Some of the best parts are also the worst parts. Everybody out there [in L.A.] is doing something in the business, which is a great thing when you first move there, but at the same time, everybody is doing something in the business. You get the feel out there that a lot of people are a lot of talk, that everybody’s got a screenplay or a headshot, and that gets old after awhile. And there’s no weather out there! But of course, there are opportunities out there that we don’t necessarily have in New England yet.

SFA: One of the biggest complaints that I hear about the New England filmmaking scene is that it’s often regarded as a training ground or a jumping off point for people who want to garner experience and then move to New York or Los Angeles. The existing community here is trying to galvanize and figure out ways to make the New England area more attractive for filmmaking. As someone who sounds like you are attracted to making films here, would you have any suggestions as to what would make New England more compelling to filmmakers?

Norwood: It’s funny that you say that, because though I’m currently in L.A, I’m trying to make films in New England! It’s a question that you can approach from a financing point of view—it would be great if there were some tax breaks for investors, for example. But it can also be approached from a ‘crew’ point of view. I think New England is a desirable place to film, so I’m not sure what to say about how to make it more so. I really like shooting here. I love the weather, I love the scenery. I’ve used local crew and actors, equipment companies. We put ads in the paper, and, actually, on!