2014-10-17 / Community

City actress featured in film to be premiered in LA

By Ben Meiklejohn
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – A filmmaker who came to Maine for vacation 12 years ago, and never quite left, will premier his feature film, “Tangled 8,” in Los Angeles in January. John Seymore, who formed Maine Studios in 2008, filmed “Tangled 8” in Biddeford’s mill district and in Rangeley.

The film is based on the musical concept of variations on a theme, where a theme is repeated, but is slightly different each time. Consisting of eight vignettes, each with a different acting couple following mostly the same script, “Tangled 8” represents an experiment in filmmaking, an exploration into how varying settings and actors can render the same scene divergently.

“’Tangled 8’ is a film about film,” Seymore said. “I was casting for a short story where I wasn’t concerned with what age or race the actors were. After we were done with the auditions, I came up with the idea, ‘Why not do all of them?’ I thought about variations on a theme and thought, ‘Why not try and do that for film?’ – take a script and make it different.”

The script used in each of the eight renditions exposes the various emotions experienced when grieving over the loss of a romantic partner. The scenes showcase conversations and interactions between a living person and their deceased loved one.

Like the acting, the soundtrack for the film is also composed as variations on a theme, with a different variation for each scene. Seymore said Maine composer Donald Crandall composed each scene’s soundtrack as a variation of the song, “My Funny Valentine,” by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. The song is a show tune that appeared in the 1937 musical, “Babes in Arms.”

Actor Cindy O’Neil, 61, of South Portland, said she was surprised when Seymore told her he wanted her to play a part in the film.

“I thought this was a bedroom scene and didn’t think he wanted an older couple,” O’Neil said.

As part of the scene variation, however, Seymore changed the setting for O’Neil’s take to the kitchen with a conversation held over breakfast and coffee.

O’Neil said she started acting at age 45 and had no prior experience.

“I had a mid-life realization and had no idea I could do such a thing,” O’Neil said.

After auditioning for the part, O’Neil said Seymore told her, “We were so afraid you had just lost someone because it was so real.”

O’Neil said, “When you get to my age, the possibility of losing someone is more real.”

“My story was so real for me. I’ve been married 31 years, and when you’re married that long, you have a lot of fears along the way and find out how vulnerable we all are.”

O’Neil said her children have “left the nest,” and her father died recently, causing her to realize how “suddenly everything you had starts to go away.”

Seymore came to Maine after growing up in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. He became interested in filmmaking around 2007, while he was living in South Portland and working on marketing for a film production company.

Seymore said he is self-taught and does freelance work to help fund his own productions.

In 2012, Seymore moved to Biddeford and opened an office for Maine Studios in the North Dam Mill, where much of “Tangled 8” was filmed. Seymore now lives in Rangeley.

Seymore said the business side of filmmaking consumes more energy than actually making the films.

“That takes up most of my time,” Seymore said. “When I get to go to set, that’s the fun part.”

“Tangled 8” will premier in Los Angeles on Jan. 23 and run for about a week, after which it will be screened in about 50 to 75 theaters nationwide, Seymore said. A special screening for the press and friends was held at Nickelodeon Cinema on Oct. 9.

An interesting academic exercise, “Tangled 8” is similar to the experience of putting a favorite CD on repeat and listening to it over and over again. Or perhaps it is more like listening to a CD that has eight different mixes or edits of the same song. Although each rendition may in itself be an enjoyable piece of work, at a certain point, the continued repetition can begin to create a sense of discomfort for the audience, despite the variations.

The stylistic differences among the actors makes for fascinating explorations in “Tangled 8.” The wide range of Thespian techniques and approaches results in a film with something for everyone to like, as well as something for everyone to dislike.

Invariably, people like different types of actors and dramatic styles. With an acting range so wide, “Tangled 8” gives enough material for every viewer to select versions and actors they like, as well those they dislike.

While the film serves as an exercise of intrigue to actors and others in the film industry, it may be a lot for the typical public to absorb in one sitting.

The concept of the film however, remains an unresolved curiosity that may be more effectively fulfilled as part of a TV series, where each vignette is aired as a single episode – the same script, only slightly varied, with different actors and settings, repeats week after week, but stands alone, unfettered by the versions that precede or follow. This would at least take the element of viewer fatigue caused by repetition out of the equation.

O’Neill said she didn’t know who the actors of the other scenes were or how the scenes differed until she saw the film, but appreciated how a different dominant emo- tion is portrayed in each scene, each emotion representing a certain stage of grief.

“(Seymore) didn’t tell me, ‘Yours is going to be heartbreak’ … maybe he planned it that way … but for others it was anger, or denial, or something else. There’s a different driving force underneath what was happening in each scene,” O’Neil said. “There’s something that anybody could relate to because there’s such a spectrum of experience.”

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