Production on The Sisterhood of Night ended this week, but for many local kids involved in a variety of different ways in the Kingston-centered production, the memories will last long after the film is released. Working as extras and interns, many kids from the area had their first experience with Hollywood filmmaking without having to travel to Hollywood to get it.
Quinn Baganz is a senior at Kingston High School. An aspiring filmmaker with a YouTube audience, Baganz said he wanted to get involved with the production of the film as a precursor to a planned course of study in college which would eventually lead to a career in the industry.
“I was just going to do an internship for the film, but they made me an extra and then a character,” said Baganz. “I pretty much went along with it to learn, and [acting] never entered my mind. Not even close.”
Baganz wound up in a more prominent non-speaking role as Mike, best friend of a character named Travis. “I started off as an extra in the movie, and they liked me for some reason and made me a character,” Baganz said. “I guess I fit the character they were looking for perfectly.”
Amy Hutchings, a veteran casting director and Kingston resident, has been an instrumental figure in the production of the film. Based on a short story by Steven Millhauser, The Sisterhood of Night is billed as a teenage update of the Salem witch trials. Though set in a town in New Jersey, Kingston proved to be a perfect stand-in, said Hutchings. Though a small portion of the film was shot at George Washington Elementary, the bulk of the school-oriented scenes were shot on weekends and during off-hours at Kingston High.
“Kingston High School is fabulous,” said Hutchings. “It’s a beautiful school.”
Kingston Central School District Superintendent Paul Padalino said the production seemed like a perfect fit, not only because of the wide range of architectural options across the district, but also because it would give so many kids a chance to participate. In a high school with its own television station (KHS-TV) and a brand new media center (the Carnegie Library building), that’s significant.
“When they came with this idea, I thought it was a really exciting opportunity, and not only for some recognition for our school and our community,” Padalino said. “Are we making big money on this? No. Not at all. But the schools are there, they’re going to use it, and maybe somebody else will see it and other production companies will want to use them too.”
Hutchings has been casting child actors since first breaking into the industry with Sesame Street during its first 10 years on the air. She said something she learned early on is as true today as it was then: Experience isn’t always necessary.
“It really depends so much on the individual,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if they’ve been in front of the camera before. If they’re comfortable in their own skin, they usually can take to a situation like this.”
One thing extras and interns have learned is that film shoots take a very long time, and there’s a lot of waiting for something to happen.
“You show up in the morning, from probably 7:30 to 9:30, and then you sit around and pretty much wait for them so finish up a scene and call your name and you’re up,” said Baganz. “You do the scene, and then there’s lunch, probably six hours after you start. And then it’s the same thing again. There’s a lot of waiting, but it’s worth it.”
For Baganz and others working as extras in the film, little of that time was spent in wardrobe. For the most part, kids were given instructions on what they should — and should not — wear to the set.
“I had to go to wardrobe for two or three scenes, but other than that we wore our own things,” said Baganz. “We couldn’t wear anything with logos.”
The production made use of a considerable amount of local talent, though there are a few familiar faces in the cast. Kal Penn may be most familiar from the Harold and Kumar film series, or his regular roles on popular television series like House, M.D. and How I Met Your Mother. Kara Hayward, fresh off her celebrated performance in the Wes Anderson film Moonrise Kingdom, is one of the leads. But while some kids might have been starstruck at first, Hutchings said the down time on set often goes a long way in breaking down those barriers.