November 30, 2006
[An old article that I came across which gives a little more background on The Novice – although there is no mention of Amy, it’s still a good read!]
Cast, crew and bystanders threw quick, anxious looks at the threatening sky — dark except during the short-spaced lightning bursts — on the set last week of the independent feature film “The Novice.”
Mostly, their attention was on a goat — a goat that seemed intent on giving one interpretation to the scene being filmed, whereas the director wanted another.
In other words, director Murray Robinson — a Mobile native who this past weekend concluded a month of principal photography at locations in Mobile and Baldwin counties — desired the goat to move in a particular direction.
Take after take, the goat went the other way. Actors Jacob Pitts, Alan Arkin and Joanne Whalley, who were all nearby, awaited their turn in front of the lens.
Eventually, Robinson got his shot — or, at least, some compromised version of it.
Then the rain fell hard and sent everyone and a great deal of expensive moviemaking equipment racing for the shelter of the St. Joan of Arc School on Ann Street, which in the movie is standing in for the fictional Seaside Rescue Mission.
“You have to be willing to compromise,” said Robinson a couple of days prior to that frustrating scene with the goat. “Every single day on the set, somebody comes up and you have to compromise this, change that and accommodate the other. You have to accommodate an actor or just accommodate a physical reality.”
For instance, Robinson explained, a doorway too narrow for the camera dolly can cause an intricately planned moving shot to be restaged as a static affair, with the movie camera bound to “sticks” — meaning a tripod.
“Then it goes the other way, too,” Robinson said. “Sometimes you end up getting something that’s far more than you wanted. But you have to adapt. There’s a thousand decisions every hour, and some of them are all you can hope and more and others are not.”
After years spent making TV commercials and working in other capacities on other people’s movie projects, Robinson is thrilled that filming of his first feature went so well.
“In fact, it has gone a lot better than I ever would have hoped,” Robinson said a few days shy of wrapping the production. The last day of filming was Saturday.
Even the weather cooperated, for the most part. That’s saying a lot for a four-week period that was so wet with rainfall. It was one of the soggiest Junes on record across much of the region, with three times the normal rainfall in some areas and July on a similar track.
But, said the director, “When you need it to rain, it rains. When you don’t need it to rain, it clears.”
He jokingly credited the movie’s producer, Fairhope-based Scott Lumpkin and a veteran producer on many movies shot in the area, for arranging the weather.
In the latter half of last year alone, Lumpkin lensed two feature films in south Alabama. “Dead Birds,” a Civil War era ghost story, is headed to a theatrical distribution. “Bayou,” a horror film shot deep within the watery Mobile-Tensaw Delta, is on a fast track to home video distribution.
Unlike all the other movies Lumpkin has worked on in and around Mobile, “The Novice” is actually set in Mobile.
“This movie says ’Mobile,’” Lumpkin said. “It’s very much Mobile. It captures the essence of Mobile.”
The film’s lead player, actor Jacob Pitts, said he valued the opportunity to come to the South and make a movie. The New York-based thespian’s past roles have included parts in the features “Eurotrip,” “K-19: The Widowmaker,” “Pipe Dream” and “Zen and the Art of Landscaping.” On TV, Pitts has appeared in such series as “Ed,” “Sex and the City” and “Law & Order.”
“I have never really been down here,” Pitts said during a short break from filming, while one of the crew members dried his shirt with a hair dryer. His shirt was damp from sweat after Pitts repeatedly fell from a faux-concrete wall during take after take of what may be just one shot in the finished film.
“One of the great things is you can go to different places,” Pitts said. “I have gone to Canada. I have gone to the Czech Republic. You can just go and experience cultures that you never would. It’s exciting to go from New York and come to Alabama, where it is an incredibly different culture.”
Recalled fellow actor Arkin, “I did a film here a long time ago, in Selma, about 35 years ago. It’s very relaxed. It’s very easy going, very loose — a very pleasant place to work.”
Arkin — a veteran actor, author, director, singer and composer — has a long resume that includes parts in such films as “Catch-22,” “The Seven-Per-Cent Solution,” “Glengarry Glen Ross” and “Gross Pointe Blank.” On TV, he recently had a lead role in the two-season cable series “100 Centre Street.”
The movie he made in Selma is “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter,” first released in 1968.
What sets “The Novice” apart from the typical studio-made, Hollywood movie these days, Arkin said, is that, “there are no murders and there are no car crashes.”
He said, “I play a Jesuit priest. I’ve never played a Jesuit priest before, so I thought I would give it a whirl. Murray also said he liked the idea of me doing some improvising, and that is my background — improvisation. So between the two things, I got excited.”
In 1960, Arkin became a member of Chicago’s Second City Group, co-starring in the improvisational revue “Second City.”
Pitts found something similarly appealing in Robinson’s script for “The Novice.”
“I was attracted because it was a movie set in religion but not about religion,” the younger actor said. “It’s just an interesting backdrop.”
The plot of “The Novice” involves a pair of Jesuit seminarians who come to Mobile to work in a soup kitchen. Pitts plays the main character, Peter, and co-star Matthew Carey portrays fellow seminarian, Gilbert.
Carey, who has had a number of roles in feature films and has been a guest player on such TV shows as “24” and “ER,” said he particularly likes his part in “The Novice” because his character has an arc to follow. The character develops through the film and does not wind up, figuratively, in the same place he begins.
About his character, Carey said, “He’s this kid who wants to become a Jesuit. That’s what his purpose in life is. At the beginning of the film, he is focused on that. … Through the course of this film, over the summer, he and this other guy go to this mission called Seaside. Their paths change and make them realize what they are really meant for.”
Offered Pitts, “It’s not a typical coming-of-age film where you have a character who is with the wrong girl or something like that. It is more someone who has chosen this path. … It turns out that, like every other path, there are compromises and there is disappointment. Facing those, you either decide to stick with that path or choose another.”
Lumpkin said he and his filmmaking partners intend to “go all the way with this one,” aiming for a major theatrical distribution of their movie in 2005. They hope to enter the finished movie in major film festivals, where it may find that distribution commitment.