Lights Camera ‘Empire’

He fell in love with movies at an early age.

With the release of his film “Empire,” Matthew Swanson has seen his dream come to fruition.

“It is something that I have wanted to do as long as I can remember — since I was a little kid. I loved watching movies as a kid and it seemed like a thing I wanted to do in my life,” Swanson said.

The Ashville resident wrote, directed, and produced the 76-minute film which over a seven-year period.

“It’s been filmed over the last four years. The entire project has taken seven years,” the director said. “The script took a little over a year to develop, the writing for it (took) probably about six months.

From Left Lewis Ecker, associate producer, supporting role, Matthew Swanson writer, director, producer, and Paul Schermerhorn, co-producer, leading role discuss a shot for “Empire.”

The film stars Alyssa Raimondo as River Carrington, Patricia Culliton as Sarah Hindle, Paul Shermerhorn as Jesse Allen, and Steve Johnson as Jack. Other members of Swanson’s core crew include M.K. Smith, audio engineer, Nigel Eastman, cinematographer, and Mike Brunacini who wrote the theme for the movie. Shermerhorn is the co-producer and Johnson is the associate producer.

The film shows Carrington teaming with Hindle to investigate the demise of a famed explorer. Carrington learns of Hindle’s true intentions and attempts to make amends for her own mistakes. Aided by Allen, Carrington battles Hindle and her partner Jack to uncover a truth that will shake her and the city to the core.

“When we were developing the script, we tried to come up with connections to like local legends, history-type things. Our story took such turns after the original premise,” Swanson said.

And if you see the film and scenery looks a little familiar, it should. The film was shot in many local locations including The Spire Theater, the Train Station before its conversion to The National Comedy Center, Prendergast Library, Lake View Cemetery, Burgett And Robbins Law Offices, Willow Bay Commerce, and the Landmark Restaurant. Other locations included Johnson Farms in Busti, Panama Rocks, and Pittsburgh, Pa.

“The more time you put into a scene, the more worthwhile it becomes afterword,” the director noted. Swanson said before the train station was remodeled for NCC, the building’s interior was used for a courthouse scene. “I think that was one of the most rewarding scenes because of the amount of time and preparation. We prepared that scene for about a month.”

The director said there was a casting process for the film that included 32 people. “(For) our first casting call, we pulled in 32 people (and) we cast people from there. We added people along the away. Those actors knew other actors that would fit the roles and in most cases they did,” he said.

“Empire” was shot digitally where DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) cameras with video capability were used. “It was important to be able to change out the lens on the cameras,” Swanson said.

By changing out lenses, Swanson attained the looks he was seeking. The scenes were stored on flash media. Microphones were used to separately record dialogue. “Most of the audio that is heard in the film is re-recorded.”

Re-recording means actors watch a scene and re-record their voice parts to match what is on screen. Re-recording is done in case of wind noise or loud background noises. It’s called looping or ADR (automated dialogue replacement), and it may also be referred to as dubbing. “We didn’t have to do it for every actor, but 90 percent of the lines we had to re-record,” the director noted. Most everything was filtered through Apple’s Final Cut Pro.

Although Swanson did not go to film school, he did take some film classes at Jamestown Community College as well as taking classes in high school. He will be the first to tell you that he had to learn on his own while assembling his core crew.

A typical day of shooting consisted of finishing work at their respective day jobs, and then arriving on set to shoot for the next four or five hours. “If we were lucky, we could go into a place (location) and bring props in to set up the scene. We worked constantly over the past seven years total and (the last) four years for filming,” the director said.

In the last three years is when the majority of the editing was completed. “We edited as went (along), but we realized that we had to refine the editing,” Swanson added. Everything that was cut (edited out) was saved, but, he said, most of the scenes that were shot were saved.

During shooting, Swanson found he even had to add footage.

It’s a collaborative effort that draws Swanson to filmmaking. “I really loved the whole process,” Swanson said. “I guess seeing something come to fruition that was started years and years ago. I think the payoff seeing those things come up on the screen was really enjoyable.”

He is also thrilled by the the actors’ expectations of the project. “We didn’t expect much at first. We didn’t know what we were getting into. This was our first big project. Seeing the looks on their (actors) faces when they saw the final product is something that’s priceless. That’s hard to experience any other way than having the finished product,” he noted.

Although the film was made over seven years, Swanson said waiting between shots was frustrating at times. The movie was filmed through winter, spring, summer, and fall, and the main part of the story covers four years, but the backstory covers about 54 years, he said.

Swanson said he has some ideas for a next project, but nothing has been finalized.

“Hopefully the development process for those (ideas) will be fairly quick. I like to film what I put on paper,” he said.

The DVD is available at The Fenton History Center and Dorian’s Plus Salon, 308 N. Main St. For more information, visit facebook/brownhatproductions.

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