August 24, 2007


Underground film

Science fiction film being shot in the city


Photo by Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Makeup artist Katheryn Timerson applies makeup to “torture victim” Tyler Narby prior to shooting a scene. The “burns and cuts” took about 90 minutes to apply.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The long, dark hallway running through the basement of St. Mary’s Parish Center is creepy enough on its own: stripped ceilings atop stark concrete walls and a cold, stone floor lead to a series of gloomy, barren back rooms apparently long forgotten by the parish.
Add some atmospheric lighting, a naked bed frame lined with wires to simulate a torture device and a moaning, beaten “victim” discarded in a corner, and the hallway becomes downright sinister.
“This will be the money shot,” Dave Narby said Monday, describing a scene in his independent science fiction film “Cell” in which his character will be dragged down the hallway by armed guards and tossed into the torture room, where he’ll come face-to-face with an ominous intelligence officer.
“(The officer will) lower his visor, snap his glove or something, and then we’ll cut away,” Narby said. “The audience will never see exactly what happens, but they know it’s something really bad.”
Narby, a 1985 Homer High School graduate, is both producing and starring in the film, which he describes as a “future science fiction psychological thriller shot in film noir style.”
The film was originally slated to be shot in a barn in McGraw, with key set pieces like the titular cell and the torture chamber constructed by the crew, but constant traffic outside made filming there impractical.
“It pretty much started with the hallway,” said Mark Lickona, director of religious education at St. Mary’s and a longtime friend of Narby’s, describing how the production came to be filmed at St. Mary’s. “A big piece of the film is this long hallway, and I said to Dave, I’ve got a great hallway that might just be perfect.”
Narby and his crew turned the parish building basement into the sets that will be featured in the majority — aside from a few flashback scenes shot in outdoor locations — of the roughly 85-minute film.
“We totally transformed the place,” said Teresa Rhinehart, a Cortland native who is working as “key grip,” responsible for maneuvering lighting and sets in the production.
The cell, where a majority of the action in the film will take place, was constructed to have four “floating walls,” allowing the room to be expanded or contracted depending on what sort of shot is needed, Rhinehart said.
A large aluminum square outside the cell “window” was installed to bounce golden light into the cell and provide an “irradiated atmosphere,” reflective of a post-nuclear future, said Toby Orzano, a Tully native who is serving as a grip and as assistant director of photography for the production.
Much of the ambiance needed for the torture room was already intact, Narby said, although various ominous props will be added when the scene is shot.
“We’ve really been able to do a lot of great stuff with that little space — we’re so grateful to St. Mary’s for letting us shoot there,” Narby said.
While Narby and director Bill Mitrus, a longtime friend and collaborator, blocked out a scene Monday, makeup artist Kathryn Timerson put the finishing touches on a ghastly burn wound that covered half the upper body of David Narby’s younger brother Tyler, who is playing a torture victim in the film.
“We did that to him,” joked actor Jim Razmovski, who is playing one of the two imposing guards in the film, pointing to the charred, bloody effect that Timerson had created.
Timerson noted that creating the wound had been fairly simple, requiring a layer of gel for texture, fake blood for color and some gray powder for a burned, ashy look.
“Then we cover it with a layer of liquid latex, which we can peel off to give the effect of skin peeling,” Timerson said.
Quality makeup and sets are essential, Narby said, but just as crucial to what he hopes will be a sleek, professional look for the film is the process he’s using to film, shooting the movie in uncompressed high definition, a process that, until about a year ago, was unavailable to independent filmmakers.
“The images we’re getting are just fantastic,” he said, adding he hopes to include with his finished film a mini-documentary for fellow independent filmmakers showing how the technology was utilized. “I really think everyone will be amazed that we got the picture and sound quality we did for the money we spent.”
The film’s budget is about $50,000, which Narby said is both a challenge and a blessing.
“When you’ve got an unlimited amount of money to throw at a problem, you’re not going to stretch your imagination too much, but if your money is limited, that’s when the creative juices really start to flow,” he said.
Narby credited the crew working on “Cell,” many of whom are local film craftsmen he contacted through the Internet, for helping to make his dream a reality.
“They are really just dynamite, they’ve worked just as hard and are just as talented as any professional crew I’ve ever seen,” he said. “And the best part is we’re having a great time doing it.”
For Rhinehart and Orzano, Narby’s film offered a chance to pursue their careers locally for a change.
“It’s pretty rare to find work in Cortland,” said Orzano, who is a film student at Rochester Institute of Technology.



More lawsuits likely over issue of county conflict attorney

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The unified opposition by two county judges to the county’s newly created conflict attorney position may spark further lawsuits from within the county.
The Legislature voted Thursday against hiring an attorney from outside the county to pursue legal action against County Judges William Ames and Julie Campbell, however County Attorney Ric Van Donsel told legislators that he would likely have a recommendation as early as next week that the county either join a suit filed by the Public Defenders’ Office against the judges, or file its own suit.
Meanwhile recently hired Conflict Attorney Tom Miller said Thursday he expected to file his own Article 78 lawsuit stemming from the fact that the judges have taken a number of cases away from him in Family Court.
“My clients are being taken away without the authority to do so,” Miller said.
Miller said he would be filing suit within the next couple of days.
Ames and Campbell have been sued by Public Defender Keith Dayton because, due to their belief that the conflict attorney position was not created legally and therefore is not valid, the two judges have been removing Miller from cases assigned to him.
Miller was hired, and his position created, by the county to handle cases that pose a conflict for the Public Defenders’ Office.
For instance, Dayton’s suit revolves around a husband and wife opposing one another in a custody suit. Miller was assigned to represent the husband because Dayton’s office would have had a conflict representing both parties, but because Ames objected to Miller’s position, the judge removed Miller from the case and reassigned it to Dayton’s office.
Miller said Thursday that he has been pulled from 12 cases by the two judges.
At Thursday’s legislative session, County Administrator Scott Schrader told legislators that a quick reaction to the judges’ edict on the conflict attorney — which Schrader says is inappropriate and not within their authority — is necessary.



County drops plan to waive tax lien on house

Staff Reporter

The forgiving of a Department of Social Services lien on a long-vacant Stewart Place home was withdrawn, apparently for the last time, from the Legislature’s agenda Thursday.
While the issue appears to be out of the Legislature’s hands and back in the hands of DSS, both sides of the political fight that has emerged from the issue vowed to continue to push for what they believe is right.
The resolution to forgive a $73,000 lien on property at 17 Stewart Place in order to allow Sandy Aloi, who lives next door at 19 Stewart Place, to take ownership of the property by paying the roughly $11,000 in back taxes owed, was pulled by Budget and Finance Committee Chairman Ron Van Dee (D-5th Ward).
Van Dee said he was comfortable with allowing DSS to handle the issue at this point, but also said during the meeting that he did not regret pushing the resolution initially, because it expedited the process of finding an owner for the property.
“What I have tried to do is get the South End cleaned up,” Van Dee said. “I think I made an issue of it and moved it forward, and I hope other legislators would do the same thing.”
After the meeting, Van Dee stopped short of saying he would not revisit the issue.
“I couldn’t say that. I’m going to continue to be a pain in the butt until something is done with that house,” he said, adding that he did not care who purchased the property as long as it was fixed up.
Meanwhile Republican Kathy Wilcox, who is challenging Van Dee in the 5th Ward, continued to question Van Dee’s motives in initially seeking to forgive the lien.
Wilcox has drawn attention to the fact the Van Dee, Aloi, and Aloi’s attorney, Mary Leonard, are all members of the county Democratic Committee, and has questioned who gave Aloi authority to gut the inside of the house, which Wilcox says devalued the house greatly.
In a letter to legislators, Wilcox asked that the Legislature request an investigation from the state Attorney General into “the deliberate devaluation of an estate,” and that the County Bar Association investigate the conduct of Leonard.
“This may be over as it relates to the floor of the Legislature, but it’s not over in terms of the improprieties and the money that is still owed to DSS,” Wilcox said.
Wilcox noted that a deed, filed with the County Clerk Wednesday but dated Aug. 24, 2006, listed Aloi as the owner after purchasing the property for $16,000.
If the property changed hands, Wilcox said, part of the sale cost should have gone to paying the back taxes.
“Where is that money and why hasn’t it gone towards paying the taxes that are owed,” Wilcox said. “If (Van Dee) really wanted the taxpayers to get their money back, he would have advocated for DSS to handle the lien in the first place.”
Most legislators appeared to agree the matter is best handled by DSS, which has more than 200 similar liens.