Movie films in area Cemetery

OBSERVER Photo by Mary Heyl Buffalo area filmmakers Bethany Olczak and Scott Sloan, who is operating the camera, filmed the beginning scene of their new movie “John Doe” at Dunkirk’s Willowbrook Park Cemetery last weekend.

Perhaps the only feature more noticeable than Willowbrook Park Cemetery’s arched entrance is its scarcity of visible gravemarkers from the road. It was this very feature that made the beautiful cemetery located on Dunkirk’s Central Avenue the perfect location for scenes in Puritan Road Productions’ latest film, “John Doe.” Co-directors and co-producers Scott Sloan and Bethany Olczak, Buffalo area natives, have shot scenes throughout the Buffalo area, but it was Dunkirk native and lead actor Jordan Rosas who led the pair to this scenic spot in his hometown.

“John Doe” is considered a suspense thriller with a heavy dose of science fiction, according to Sloan, and tells the story of a man on a lifelong quest to avenge the death of his father. John, who is played by Rosas, never knew his parents and spent his childhood in abusive foster homes until he ran away at the age of 12. John learned on the street, fast becoming the best and most ambitious thief in town.

He soon discovers that his father was killed by a group of people whose secret vault he attempted to access beneath a local hotel. John assembles a team of specialists perfectly suited for the job, and sets out to complete what his father died trying to do. Sloan explained that the movie takes John on “a path that will lead him somewhere, and most importantly ‘someWHEN’ he could have never expected.”

Making “John Doe”

About three years ago, Sloan, a Hamburg native, started Puritan Road Productions with his sister, Jenn. The name of the company is inspired by the road on which one of their childhood homes is located. Sloan began his film career by making music videos, but, speaking of “John Doe,” “This was always my long term goal. I spent 2014 through 2016 writing the screenplay, and then I met Beth, who has an extensive background in theater and acting.” The movie is Sloan’s first feature-length film, and the first project that he and Olczak have tackled together.

OBSERVER Photo by Mary Heyl Dunkirk native Jordan Rosas and Anna Krempholtz of North Tonawanda star in Puritan Road Productions’ upcoming movie “John Doe,” which recently brought the cast and crew to Willowbrook Park Cemetery to film the first and last scenes of the movie.

“Originally, this was just supposed to be an art house, ultra low budget picture that we could do as best as we can,” Olczak explained. “The more people that get involved, the more they contribute and the more it grows. Now it’s pretty much a full-on, full-scale production.”

Sloan and Olczak explained that creating a film takes a village. A prime example is Olczak’s friend, whom she contacted when work on the movie began. “Keith Lukowski, owner of Macrocosm Productions, LLC, has been instrumental in helping us to achieve our goal of bringing Scott’s manuscript to the screen,” Olczak explained. “Through his production company he has provided us with sound and lighting equipment as well as financial support when we’ve hit a wall. In an industry where the stakes are high and competition is stiff, we think it’s important to note that there are those willing to elevate one another without a promise of a return on their investment. These gems are in it for the art. For the magic.”

The movie is being filmed throughout western New York at private homes, local businesses and other non-traditional venues. Most recently, Olczak said, “We were able to shoot at the Kevin Guest House in Buffalo, which is the first hospital hospitality house in the country. They’re opening up a secondary building — the Russell J. Salvatore House — that they’ve just finished renovating. They actually squeezed us in for a week to shoot there!”

Sloan and Olczak selected Willowbrook Park Cemetery for a very specific reason. Sloan explained, “We have to make part of the cemetery look like it’s brand new and that there’s only one grave there, because it starts in the 1980s. Another scene has to look like it’s 30 years later, a developed cemetery. This is perfect, actually, especially since almost everything is groundstone here…We love the area and we want to make this a local production, and not a local production that has everything brought in from somewhere else.”

Sloan and Olczak have plans to return to the Dunkirk cemetery for another day to shoot more external shots, but last week’s filming involved some of the most important parts of the movie. “The cool part, I think, for the area is that Willowbrook Park Cemetery is the very first scene and the very last scene in the movie, which is why we wanted to film in the same place,” said Olczak.

OBSERVER Photo by Mary Heyl Dunkirk native Jordan Rosas and Anna Krempholtz of North Tonawanda star in Puritan Road Productions’ upcoming movie “John Doe,” which recently brought the cast and crew to Willowbrook Park Cemetery to film the first and last scenes of the movie.

Jordan Rosas

Actor Jordan Rosas of Los Angeles, California was instrumental in bringing the movie to Dunkirk. “I didn’t know where we would be shooting, but when I read the script, it called for a cemetery and I immediately thought of Willowbrook. I thought it would be a great spot for it, so I suggested it to the producers. They came out here a couple of weeks ago and took a look at it, and they loved it. The people at Willowbrook were awesome in letting us shoot here, and the mayor’s office was instrumental in securing this location…It’s really cool shooting a film in your hometown,” Rosas reflected.

Rosas grew up in Dunkirk and graduated from the University at Buffalo, where he studied theatre. In 2016, Rosas performed in the movie “Good Times Never Come,” which filmed in Buffalo and is available for streaming on Amazon. Olczak first noticed Rosas in that movie, and immediately thought of him for “John Doe,” so she and Sloan reached out to him about starring in their movie.

Since last December, Rosas has lived in Los Angeles, where he has continued to develop his acting career. Before “John Doe,” Rosas starred in a production of “Romeo and Juliet” in Los Angeles. “I was playing Romeo, which was cool because that’s always been a Shakespearean dream role for me, and I was hoping to be able to play it before I aged out of the character. I was very fortunate. Before that, earlier this year, I did a couple of short plays for some play fests down in Hollywood. I did a short film with a friend of mine from the University of Southern California in their graduate directing program. I like to stay busy!”

In addition to his live performances, Rosas has acted in eight films, and “John Doe” is the second feature film in which he has played the lead role. “This is my largest film role to date,” Rosas stated. Not only did Rosas recently shoot “John Doe,” in Dunkirk, but while he was here, he also visited family members, who include his father, Dunkirk Mayor Wilfred Rosas. “This is actually my first time coming home since I moved out there,” Rosas grinned.

For Rosas, the role of John Doe has been a welcome challenge. “There are a lot of scenes to prepare for and a lot of interesting character development with John. He’s a pretty reserved type of guy, so it’s an interesting challenge to show a character without being overly expressive.”

Olczak agreed. “It’s a challenging role,” she explained. “Jordan plays a sociopath, so there’s a lot of internal things that he has to communicate, although he’s really not supposed to show a whole lot of emotion…We’re lucky to have Jordan. It’s a challenging role and he’s nailed it.”

Anna Krempholtz

Actress Anna Krempholtz, an East Aurora native, stars opposite Rosas as Sally Brown, John Doe’s girlfriend. Krempholtz explained, “Sally is a ‘professional thief’ — she’s pulled off a lot of heists over the years. Her role in the movie is that she’s there with John, trying to talk him out of his plan because she feels he’s in over his head. Basically, what she wants is to run away with him and live happily ever after, which is interesting because she’s in a profession that doesn’t necessarily allow for that!”

Krempholtz got involved with “John Doe” when she saw the audition announcement posted online. After contacting Olczak and Sloan, she made an appointment to do a reading and was happy to get the role. “When I got the role, I didn’t know anyone involved in the movie,” she explained. “But now it feels like we’ve known each other for a really long time!”

Krempholtz is no stranger to the stage or the screen, as she has acted in numerous live productions, commercials and short films. She studied theatre at Niagara University, and is also a professional scenic artist. “I paint the sets for stage shows and the films that come into town,” Krempholtz said. “I’ve always been into drawing and painting, but when I went to theater school for acting, I did a minor in set design. It’s pretty cool because I get to do that as a day job, and then come in at night and do the acting!”

After “John Doe,” Krempholtz is performing in several productions in Buffalo. In February, she is acting in the play “Medusa Undone” at the New Phoenix Theatre, and in April, she stars as Ophelia in the Irish Classical Theatre Company’s production of “Hamlet.” “‘John Doe’ is my first feature-length film, so there’s definitely a lot more shoot dates, which is exciting. It gives me a lot more time to work on my character. It’s been great to work one-on-one with Jordan and work closely with Scott and Bethany, too,” Krempholtz reflected.

Krempholtz, who now lives in North Tonawanda, hadn’t quite experienced Dunkirk before shooting “John Doe” at Willowbrook Park Cemetery. “I had to get finger-printed here once when I was working for BOCES,” she laughed. “And I’ve been to the lake, of course, but Dunkirk itself? No, but it’s a pretty beautiful town.”

Filming in Dunkirk

Filming in Dunkirk has been a highlight, it seems, for many involved in the making of “John Doe.” “Jordan is a great advocate for Dunkirk,” Olczak explained. “He said, ‘Come out and we’ll take you there, and we’ll show you around.’ We stopped at the boardwalk and had lunch at Off the Hook. It was a great day, and we’re so close to Buffalo…There’s definitely a possibility of future films being shot in Dunkirk. Everybody has been so easy and nice to work with. Without the support of people like Mayor Rosas and his staff, we would not be able to succeed.”

Rosas noted the importance of western New York’s unique look to the film-making industry. “Film has sort of had a trickle-down effect in terms of location, where everyone was shooting in Hollywood and LA in the same studios and the same locations. People out there raised the prices, and it became expensive to do the same stuff that everybody else had done,” he explained. Rosas referenced the increasing number of films that have been shot in Buffalo in recent years, including “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” which filmed a chase scene in Buffalo in 2015.

“Now it trickles down to Dunkirk and the smaller cities around Buffalo,” Rosas added. “Many of Dunkirk’s old brick buildings still have the original architecture from the early 1900s and even mid-century. There’s such a cool look here and not many people know to shoot here, but it’s getting more noticed.” Rosas referenced producer and director Gregory Lamberson, who filmed portions of his new movie, “Widow’s Point” at the Dunkirk Lighthouse last month.

Next steps

Olczak and Sloan plan to finish shooting “John Doe” by the end of the month and then begin the editing process. “We’ve already had some interest for distribution, so we’re just following up any leads that we can get and enjoying the process,” said Olczak. “We actually have our SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) status pending,” she added. “It’s a union and anybody producing a film can apply for signatory status so that anyone involved in the film can get points or credits toward becoming a union card holder. Everybody that’s involved in our production has deferred payments, so if we sell the movie, then they make something, but it’s not a guarantee…Between the experience and getting them something like that, a lot of people are willing to come on board, even if we can’t pay them up front.”

Sloan added, “We won’t be going the film-festival route if this is union. If we have to hit the festival circuit, we will, but I think more likely, it would be like a streaming movie. One of those channels is kind of our goal right now and that’s what we applied for.”

For Sloan, not only has the process of writing the screenplay been exciting, but seeing his creation come to life has been the fulfillment of a dream. “Just to see people, especially extremely, extremely talented actors like I have, to see them bring somebody I made up in my mind to life — even better than the way I made them up — just melts my heart. That alone is worth it to me.”

Fans can track the progress of “John Doe” by following “Puritan Road Productions” on Facebook. Sloan and Olczak are planning for the movie to debut sometime in 2019.

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