On the Big Screen
By Claudia Moore O’Brien, M.Ed ‘00
Two recent grads and a twin brother produce film, launch production company. James Deveney ’12, a communication major with a concentration in media arts, has created his first film, “Noah,” and co-founded an entire production company as well.
“Noah” is a film that deserves stadium seating, and it was accepted to the San Diego Film Festival in January and will be featured in the Bare Bones International Film Festival this month.
Professionally-produced with an original soundtrack, it also boasts solid acting from an original script.
The name of James’ company, Identical Films, hints that more fabulous films are to come.
It also hints that the Waltham native has an identical twin brother, Anthony, who is a critical part of the production team.
Both brothers have been interested in film since high school, and their mutual passion, combined with connections and experience James received at Westfield State, has led them to achieve some major goals.
When James headed to Westfield State to study communication in 2008, his brother Anthony attended Suffolk University in Boston. James, meanwhile, consumed every communication and film class he could at Westfield State.
He was especially interested in video production.
“The more I learned, the more I became interested in making films, rather than video production for television,” James says.
Anthony, on the other hand, couldn’t wait to get started producing films. After one semester at Suffolk, he withdrew to focus on actual production and then enrolled in the New York Film Academy – hosted on the Harvard University campus – for an accelerated film education.
James continued his Westfield State studies and met fellow student Andrew Johnson ’11, another film buff who would eventually round out the family team.
At the start, though, it was the twins who set out to develop “Noah.”
It took Anthony three months to write the script for the film. While it wasn’t the first script he’d written, James says it was the best one.
The story is set in an alternate present day America in which slavery was never abolished. The story follows an escaped slave named Noah as he tries to flee the country and reach a rumored freedom refuge in Canada.
After rewrites and edits, James and Anthony invited Johnson to join their recently-founded production company, “Identical Films,” which was trademarked, along with the logo. They began production of the film in the summer of 2011.
And then the real leg-work of the project began, with obtaining equipment first on the agenda. With a limited budget, the team went for one top-rated high-definition camera, a variety of lights, a microphone and boom.
“The equipment is important – the audience loses interest if the production –especially the sound – isn’t good,” says James.
With a budget that could not exceed $15,000 – the sum the brothers had saved – James used social media and other online resources whenever he could.
After renting a conference room at a hotel for auditions, the trio recruited talented actors willing to work for no pay. “We advertised on Craigslist for actors,” says James. “And with great results!
“In the independent film industry, actors are often willing to work to support the mission of the film,” he adds. “Our intent was to bring a new wave of independent filmmaking to the masses.”
Managing the details
James said the hardest part of making the film was finding the locations.
Throughout the film are long sequences that take place in a lush green forest that James says is actually four separate wooded areas.
The team rented interior locations, but that wasn’t easy either.
“We looked online for home rentals, summer rentals and even used our dad’s attic for one location,” says James. “A lot of potential renters were hesitant to rent to us when they learned we planned to shoot a movie.”
The team spent a week filming in and outside a rented vacation house. “We let the actors have the comfortable beds for the week. We slept on cots – that is, when we got to sleep,” James says with a smile. It was a grueling process, but ultimately, he says, “we got what we needed” from the location.
Costumes were purchased in second-hand stores. “I spent a lot of time in thrift stores,” James says. “I couldn’t get that scent out of my nose for weeks!”
Anthony and Andrew did most of the camera work. Andrew, who is a special education teacher in Malden, had a breadth of experience in on-set filmmaking. James says they wanted the film to have “an up close and personal atmosphere.” Anthony hand-held and manually focused the camera. “That way you get a more natural feel because the focus is where you need it to be,” says James. “We tried to make a film never seen before that would stay with the audience after they saw it.”
He says they were trying to convey a message of faith and hope.
When the film was shot, James and his co-producers did all the editing, including dubbing in sound effects such as doors closing, footsteps and shotgun fire. “We did it all using Final Cut Pro software on a 17-inch Mac laptop screen,” James says, adding, “and that included laying down our original score.”
“Noah” is a feature-length film of outstanding quality. James and his partners at Identical Films will be retaining all the legal rights. They want to insure creative freedom as they pursue filmmaking.
With the film completed, the next step for “Noah” is to be screened at a top-rated film festival. “Since festivals want to ‘premier’ a new film, we are entering the top-tier festivals, like Sundance, and then working our way down the prestige ladder,” explains James.
Though film is their favorite medium, both brothers are expressing their creativity by writing together, too. “We are adapting an old science fiction script into a novel,” says James.
This is new territory for them, but they charge ahead with full confidence.
“Whether we come up with good ideas or bad ideas, we are committed to writing every day,” says James.
With Johnson, the duo has also recently produced a black-and-white silent film.
The Deveney brothers have also been producing music videos for local bands, “which are a lot of fun.” The brothers work part-time jobs, James as a waiter, to save money to move to Los Angeles.
“We plan to move out to L.A. in about a year and a half. That’s where the industry is, so that is where we have to go. For us, ‘Noah’ is basically a resume for getting into the business,” says James.
“I want to make movies until I am too old to stand!” he says.
To view a trailer of “Noah” and keep up with new projects, visit their website at www.identicalfilms.com