On a raid of Vineyard thrift shops Mariaclara Zazzaro, 24, carries a toolkit with gaffer’s tape, an X-Acto knife, fishing line, a paint kit, glue, and Streaks And Tips hair dye. She already owns two banker’s lamps, the production designer’s favorite prop.
“It’s like being MacGyver on low-budget films,” says Miss Zazzaro, production designer for the film Mow Crew, which is to be shot on Martha’s Vineyard this summer. “On a big-budget shoot, if you want something dirty you use fake dirt, because the actors don’t want to get dirty. But that stuff’s expensive. On a low-budget film, you just stamp on the thing.”
Mow Crew is a romantic comedy about an Island landscaping team.
“I think it might be the first movie with that focus,” said writer-director Taylor Toole, 29, a Vineyarder on his third movie, sitting in the Vineyard Playhouse in Tisbury, where a steady line of hopeful Vineyard thespians filed in clutching head shots and résumés. Mr. Toole, together with a skeleton crew of four from a 20-person team had came up from New York earlier this month to hold auditions on the film which will begin shooting Memorial Day.
The plot — as far its writer is happy to reveal — revolves around a young couple playing music on the Vineyard. Eric (who will be played by Aaron Barr) works on a landscaping team which spends time fighting off a rival crew, spends his spare time playing music in bars with his girlfriend, Sage (Ashley Owens). One day in August they are discovered by a big shot music producer and are offered a future of fame and fortune in L.A.
The two leads, cast last month in New York, performed a four-song set at The Wharf in Edgartown, closing with a cover version of Skid Row’s 1989 heavy metal hit I Remember You (there are no details, but glam metal is also thematically relevant).
Though musician Aaron Barr, 27, spent several years of preparation for the part in terms of singing in bars, this is his first acting gig. For Ashley Owens, an acting veteran at age 20, the closest thing to rock and roll on her résumé are musicals. The two are pooling skill and experience for this job which requires them to write much of the film’s soundtrack themselves.
Having met four weeks ago the two have drummed up four of the six songs which will feature in the movie. Aaron leaves messages on Ashley’s cell phone and she practices the vocals or adds lyrics. “It’s platonic, for now,” said Aaron, of their relationship.
Mr. Toole is well-researched on his subject: born and bred in Oak Bluffs, he spent several summers mowing lawns as a teenager before heading to Los Angeles. He worked for Tea Lane nursery, a Chilmark firm which will feature as the landscaping company in the film.
He first acted as a third grader in Children of Divorce, a play staged at the Vineyard Playhouse. “A friend and I used to make action films in an abandoned building at the Tashmoo cliffs in third and fourth grade,” he said, but by high school he realized he was interested in filmmaking rather than acting.
After studying at Emerson College in Boston, Mr. Toole got a job as camera operator on Project Greenlight, a reality show about getting films made, and then as writer’s assistant on the HBO series Deadwood.
Meanwhile he was returning to the Island in the summers to film, making short film Standing Up, in 2002, which was shot on 35mm film.
“With Standing Up I spent all my time managing resources,” said Mr. Toole, who found the expense involved in shooting on that film stock meant spending most of his time fundraising, turning to friends and family for support.
Then, in 2006, he did the opposite, shooting Black Eyed Girl on video and paying for it with money he made working on Deadwood.
As his first full-length feature film, Mow Crew is the largest project so far, with a crew of 20, budget of $200,000 and a scheduled three-week shoot. But it will be shot on 16mm, and Mr. Toole is aiming for a more successful middle ground between approaches to production to his first two films.
“It’s not like I’m writing up a business plan and taking it down to Wall Street,” he said, “or selling off the international rights. I’m not at that stage. But I’m not putting the coffee can in front of my parents either.”
Meanwhile production designer Miss Zazzaro was happy to be here scouting locations for the not-so-big-budget shoot — especially happy not to be looking for permission from chain brands whose logos so often invade the frame on city shoots.
“I spend most of my time covering up signs,” she said. “It’s nice to be able to do something else.”
Taylor Toole and the crew will be coming back to the Island in May to hold call-back and further castings. Check online mowcrew.com for updates.