The Hippo


May 27, 2020








Lisa Romagnoli

Lisa Romagnoli

Hometown: Manchester, attended Manchester Central, graduated NYU 2008
Current residence: New York, works for production company Kornhaber Brown.
Notable local films: Wicked Funny, Wicked Funny 2 (which was released 2013); the films started with a request by local comedians. They asked her to film their sets, but soon she became a regular at the Shaskeen Pub comedy night. She was living in Manchester at the time. 
“It had a strong response within the New England comedy community. … The idea of the second one was, do comedians need to leave New Hampshire to truly be a success?” She felt a similar internal struggle as a New Hampshire filmmaker.
Why film: “It’s a mesh of almost every type of art form. Audio, visual, writing, performance. It’s all-encompassing.”
Only Daughter
Distribution: Seven film festivals, including New Hampshire Film Festival, where it won NH Film of the Year in 2013; for details
Numbers: $20,000, raised on Indiegogo, 10 days, 25 locations (around Claremont), written/directed by Aaron J. Wiederspahn
Plot: Teen tries to find her father, gets more than she bargained for.
Passion project: Wiederspahn’s first film, The Sensation of Sight, had modest success, but he had difficulty raising funds for Only Daughter. “I couldn’t just wait for the big dollars and big names forever,” Wiederspahn wrote on the film website. “In May 2012, I decided that, come hell-or-high-water, I was going to get something made here in my state of New Hampshire.” Local friend filmmakers, actors with no film acting experience, and short shooting times kept costs down. Wiederspahn called it “raw and imperfect, intimate and sincere.”
Belinda Woolfson
Hometown: Milford
Resume: Born and raised in Milford; graduated from UNH 2009; studied comedic writing at Second City, iO theater; Intensive at Salt Institute, Maine
The Ellen Project: (Check it out in full at Belinda Woolfson has two life-long dreams: To tell people’s stories and to work for Ellen DeGeneres. 
“I really appreciate what she does. She uses humor as a wonderful tool to do good. It’s one of those shows that, when you watch it, it’s hard not to be happy,” Woolfson said.
The Ellen Project will consist of a webseries called Belinda Learns to Dance, which will be published at, and a documentary about chasing your dreams, which she’ll film in New England and during a cross-country road trip with noted filmmaker Ryan Ferguson. She has been and still is reaching out to find people who want to share their stories. The result, hopefully, will garner attention from DeGeneres and make her want to hire Woolfson. She’s been receiving encouraging emails and messages from all sorts of people; one dreamer aims to create a fleet of female truck drivers.
Jack Sanderson
Hometown: Jaffrey
Current residence: Los Angeles
Resume: Finding Santa (documentary); Disney Channel; Second City teacher; She Loves Me Not, which he wrote/directed 2013
Horror sells: “Eventually, I came to realize that I want to be a producer. I want to make movies that are warmer than what we usually see,” Sanderson said.
Hopeful New Hampshire project: Better Days; film/production dates unknown, hopeful for $500,00 budget
Better Days background: Sanderson wrote Better Days after encouragement from Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride, Robin Hood: Men in Tights), whom Sanderson worked with in 2013 for She Loves Me Not. They talked about their fathers, Sanderson specifically about the last days he saw his.
“That last day I saw him [Elwes], he said, ‘You have to write that into a script. Any older actor in Hollywood would kill to play that part.’”
Better Days is a fictionalized version of the last days Sanderson spent with his dad. His father had been in rehab recovering from a series of surgeries, but during his last visit, they drove to Walpole, to Sunapee, and to various life landmarks about the state together. The film dances about themes of last moments, relationships, and choosing how to leave the world.
Needless to say, Sanderson is anxious to film here.
“If I can’t shoot it there, I’m not going to shoot it,” Sanderson said.
Having lived here, he understands the distinct feel of the Monadnock region in autumn. Anywhere else won’t cut it.
“When was the last time you saw New England fall colors in a film? You don’t,” Sanderson said.
The challenge? Money, naturally. Potential financial backers have been uncertain about his filming in a state without tax incentives. 
Good Clean Fun
Film location: New Hampshire seacoast
Film/production dates: Spring 2015,
Produced by: Sabrina Velandry
Directed/written by: Markus Redmond
Budget: The goal is around $500,000
Distribution: Film festival circuit, online distributor
Notable actors: Jordi Vilasuso (Guiding Light, All My Children), Jennifer Bassey (All My Children), Jessica Morris (One Life To Live), Alicia Minshew (All My Children), Erica Leerhsen (Magic in the Moonlight)
Plot: A “good” wife decides to learn the art of being “bad” after discovering her husband has been cheating.
What Portsmouth thinks of film: “Film and media productions have direct and indirect benefits for Portsmouth, ranging from the expenditures on hotel stays, food, rentals, etc. … to showcasing our beautiful city with a dynamic, creative comedy,” wrote Nancy Carmer, economic development program manager in Portsmouth. 
Origin: Sabrina Velandry and Markus Redmond knew one another from working on K-11, a prison film Redmond starred in and Velandry promoted. Velandry lives in New Castle, Redmond in L.A., yet the pair clicked and kept in touch afterward. When Redmond began working a script that would eventually become Good Clean Fun, Velandry insisted it be shot on New Hampshire’s coast. When he flew out to take a look, he was hooked.
“I want to showcase the area right off the bat, like how it’s done in films like Manhattan or Midnight in Paris. In Midnight in Paris, you don’t see anything except wonderful shots of the city before the movie even starts. Portsmouth is such a gorgeous area, and I think it should be seen, I think it should be recognized,” Redmond said.
Spin the Plate
Film locations: Nashua, Boston
Budget: Still in the process of raising funds; hoping for $15,000
Film phase: Post-production; updates at indiegogo page
Film plot: An average-guy hero tries to win the battered heart of a sexual abuse heroine.
Numbers: 35 cast and crew, 29 days of filming
Film origin: Spin the Plate is husband-and-wife team Tom and Donna Anastasi’s 25th anniversary gift to one another. Donna wrote the book, Tom wrote the script and assembled the cast and crew as producer.
“We’d thought that maybe there would be a play version of this someday,” Tom said. (He’s active in the New Hampshire theater scene.) “But this whole area — Boston and New Hampshire — is a character in the movie. Visually, we really wanted the story to be outdoors. We needed to have a lot of scenes in locations, and it just lent itself more to a film than a play.” 
Pretty much everyone is a volunteer, Tom said, and so filming took a while. Money went directly to equipment and food, so the film office was a great help.
“The film office in New Hampshire is really supportive of indie filmmakers. … We filmed in Nashua on Main Street and they let us use one of the buses in the morning. … In the city of Nashua, parking is an issue, but they gave us several parking spaces for an entire weekend. That was a huge deal because of continuity. If you’re filming a scene for three hours, you can’t have cars appearing and disappearing.”
turtle tales
Production Company: Sweaty Turtle Entertainment (
Current project: In post-production for Fraternitas, about an award-winning journalist/recovering drug addict; pre-production for Treasured, about a murder, and Beyond Perdition, a post-apocalyptic tale about the last people on Earth.
Distribution of choice: Screening parties, Hulu, Netflix, Amazon
How they make money: Promotional videos, commercial projects, commissioned work
Kickstarter: “It’s kind of a double-edged sword. It’s a fantastic idea, but it’s become so over-saturated,” said Rick Dumont, who leads Sweaty Turtle with his wife Carla. “In order to really get your message out about your project, whatever it is, you have to spend a ton of time developing the visual project page. …. You definitely have to have something that’s captivating and intriguing and visually stimulating, depending on how much you’re asking for.”
Working with community: If they work with businesses, it’s often before or after regular business hours. Sweaty Turtle has also worked with New England College for Fraternitas. “We had a bunch of kids sitting in a classroom for us. … The best night, for The Bond [completed], we filmed at RJ’s in Dover [no longer in business]. The owner of the bar set up a dollar drink night to get a good background for us.”
Why film: “It’s such a monumental art form. There have been times when I ask myself, ‘Why can’t I just take an easel and paint?’ … I love all the headaches, all the casting, the directing, lighting, every single aspect of making a film. … It takes so many people.”


Hollywood, NH
Indie films, filmmakers and festivals in the Granite State

By Kelly Sennott

 If the term “Hollywood East” was coined to describe the growing film industry in Massachusetts — where studios have been flocking the past 10 years to snag a piece of its nationally famous tax incentive program for filmmakers — then New Hampshire is, arguably, slowly becoming “Indie Hollywood East.”

Though we’ve lost New Hampshire-set films like Labor Day to Massachusetts because of that tax incentive, the motion picture industry has been growing in New Hampshire anyway, in part because of its close proximity to Massachusetts and in part because of its flourishing film festivals.
In particular, the state has been drawing a certain kind of filmmaker, the kind used to long days, tight budgets and passion projects, the kind used to wearing all kinds of hats. They’re drawn to the diverse landscapes, farmscapes and cityscapes, and when they come here, they revel in the local support and lax permit system. It turns out we’ve got our own slice of Hollywood East here, and it has an indie flavor.
“While having more studio films here would be wonderful, we are getting a lot of calls from independent filmmakers,” said Matthew Newton of the New Hampshire Film & Television Office. “I want the word of mouth to grow, that New Hampshire is a very different kind of film friendly.”
It started on Squam
Since Academy Award-winning On Golden Pond was shot on Squam Lake in 1981, other notable movies that have been filmed in the state include Jumanji, filmed in Keene 1995; In Dreams, shot on the Seacoast in 1999; and The Cider House Rules (also filmed on the coast in 1999), which won two Academy Awards. Scenes from The Skulls (released in 2000) were shot around Hanover, and Live Free Or Die (released in 2006) was filmed entirely in Claremont. (The state’s tourism office has a film tour you can travel to see the on-screen sites at
Of course, most of these were made before the explosion of the tax-credit scene. 
“Pre-tax credits, movie studios would do nationwide searches for locations,” Newton said. “If they found a location they liked, they’d find things around that location that might also work. … Now the studios are just looking for tax credits.”
Which is fine, he added; the state’s seen noteworthy indies post-tax credits, like The Sensation of Sight, released in 2006, which was written and produced by Aaron Wiederspahn and filmed in Peterborough, and In Your Eyes, which was filmed in 2012 and released in 2014. The script of the latter had originally called for Connecticut, but the filmmakers said in a release with the New Hampshire Film & Television Office that they kept moving north because they needed snow and because they wanted the film to be “authentic,” from architecture to landscape. They filmed in Exeter, Claremont, Windham, Bedford and Exeter.
“When they were scouting, they found there were all hands on deck when they came to New Hampshire,” Newton said.
The film office ensured they received everything they needed, including a couple miles of railroad in Claremont, one of the more unusual requests for the film office.
During fiscal year 2014, from July 1, 2013, through June 30, 2014, there were 205 project inquiries (up 22 percent from last year), 63 completed projects (up 43 percent last year) and 178 total filming days in New Hampshire. Feature-length and short films are included among those numbers, as are commercials and catalogue shoots. Between these productions, there’s activity amongst the state’s eight film festivals, its 48-Hour Film Project and the schools, like Keene, that are teaching film.
Why we want them here
Last year, $1,081,000 was brought into the state thanks to productions made here. Additional revenue comes from events like the New Hampshire Film Festival, which brings in people from all over the country. 
Economic Development Program Manager for the City of Portsmouth Nancy Carmer says the parking garage, shops, restaurants and streets are always brimming with visitors that weekend.
But the extent of local films’ value has been of great debate in New Hampshire. Our Film & Television Office, dedicated to expanding business activity and employment through film, has been an “on again, off again” thing since On Golden Pond in the ’80s. It didn’t become what it is today — an office that consists of exactly one person, Matthew Newton — until 1998.
It’s the New Hampshire Film & Television Office’s job to connect filmmakers with the communities that will best fit the filming requirements. It works with the New Hampshire Film Commission, which consists of representatives from the Department of Transportation, the New Hampshire Division of Parks and Recreation, the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association and the Business and Industry Association of America, among others. 
A lot of communities have taken great pride in having films made in their neighborhoods. When The Sensation of Sight wrapped up in Peterborough, locals were sad to see it go. Some had performed as extras, and businesses extended hands to cast and crew. 
“People in Peterborough were thrilled to have them here. It was a very exciting thing. You have stars walking around. … When it happens like that, communities tend to feel like they’re part of the crew,” Newton said.
Claremont — yes, Claremont! — has become a hub for indie filmmakers the past 10 years. It’s even on the town’s Wikipedia page. It started with Live Free or Die, which starred actors like Paul Schneider, Zooey Deschanel, Aaron Stanford and L.T. Putney and was created by Seinfeld writers. Claremont restaurant owner of Time Out American Grille, city councilor and volunteer firefighter Nick Koloski has worked as location manager for four Claremont productions. 
“Everyone [in Claremont] realized it’s not really that intrusive. You can read stories about a town being taken over, and people getting upset. … I think here people realized it was rather unique. The people that came in, even though they were from Hollywood, they were approachable. They signed autographs, took pictures, talked to people. It was user-friendly for the city,” Koloski said.
In their enthusiasm, locals did whatever they could to pitch in.
“People offered props and to volunteer on set, to help out in any way they could,” Koloski said. “When they needed the roads to look like it had rained for continuity purposes, neighbors came on set with garden hoses and started wetting the street for this fresh, rained look. … The police actually did the driving scenes in Live Free Or Die, and they allowed their cruisers to be used. …  Filmmakers in some areas have been written fines for simply putting equipment down on the sidewalk, and [the crew] became nervous when the sheriff approached. … Instead of writing a ticket, he extended his hand and said, ‘Welcome to the community.’” 
Indie productions like Only Daughter and In Your Eyes have also been filmed in Claremont for this same reason; for Only Daughter, Koloski and his mom Mary catered to the cast and crew during their 10-day stay free of charge because they knew what their time in Claremont meant for the local economy.
“Every time a production comes in, they ask about lodging, hardware store locations, rental equipment,” Koloski said. “They hire local EMTs because they need an on-site medic. … In Your Eyes had people from L.A., some of whom had never walked on snow before. … They cleared out the boots, hats and mittens and hand-warmers at various local stores.”
Indies pour in
We have, without doubt, lost a number of films due to our state’s aversion to tax breaks. Massachusetts, in addition to The Heat, American Hustle and The Way Way Back, has also taken away films that really should have been made here.
For example, “Happy Madison pictures — Adam Sandler’s roots in New Hampshire are deep, and many of his movies are supposed to be based here, but he’s at the mercy of who’s paying for everything,” said Dan Hannon, a New Hampshire-based screenwriter, filmmaker and co-founder of the New Hampshire Film Festival. “When you have third-party financing entities, there’s an amount that comes right off the budget. It’s hard to beat.”
It was after Bill 540 — New Hampshire’s attempt at establishing a film tax credit — was rejected that Newton discovered our niche. Low-budget, independent filmmakers were still calling, inquiring about the state’s film opportunities. They heard about how well filmmakers were taken care of by locals via word of mouth.
“As big as entertainment looks from the consumer side, it’s small on the creator’s side. When I go to festivals and meet other filmmakers, we talk about how we shot and how that area was,” said filmmaker Jack Sanderson, who’s trying to get his flick, Better Days, made here. 
Time is money in film production, and Newton said they also like the fact that they can film a diversity of locations — amongst mountains, coastlines, farms and cities — in a shorter time, and can do so with little worry about permits. 
Massachusetts-based director/screenwriter Mark Lund, who filmed much of his 2013 film Justice is Mind in Merrimack and Nashua, has rarely experienced so little hassle. Sabrina Velandry agreed; she’s producing Seacoast-based film Good Clean Fun, set to shoot this spring.
“Mass. may boast tax credits, but there’s lots of filing and paperwork. … And to film anywhere in Mass., you need to have permits, which can cost as much as $200,000,” Velandry said.
Plus, with indie films, it can be more about the story than the money.
“The great thing about indie films is that your major special-effect budget is small because the most important effect is a good story,” said Markus Redmond, the screenwriter, actor and director for Good Clean Fun. “The truth of the matter: The really good stuff is not coming from [Hollywood]. It’s coming from other places. Technology has made it so that really good films can come from anywhere. … We don’t need any more Hollywood. We don’t need any more jaded angry people. That’s what Hollywood attracts — when you have that much stuff going on, what happens is that it comes to be all about money. And when it becomes all about money, creativity is shoved out of the way.”
Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Twitter
You really can’t skate around the fact that you’ve got to have at least some money to make a film. Expert filmmakers with boastful résumés might find financial backers who can trust they’ll be reimbursed — eventually — but for more amateur filmmakers, Kickstarter is king — or Indiegogo, Twitter, Facebook, or other social media tools for crowdfunding. Hannon said he’s never seen so many New Hampshire filmmakers utilize the Internet in raising money. These sites allow artists to introduce a project — usually with a witty, informative video — and invite backers to supply as little as $10 each. In return, backers often get gifts like DVDs or T-shirts.
Belinda Woolfson, a young Milford-raised documentary filmmaker, recently raised $10,000 for The Ellen Project on Kickstarter to help with her documentary about chasing dreams (hers, as the name suggests, is to be on Ellen). Raising money this way is a skill of its own.
“It’s really one of those skills I’ve had to force myself to learn how to do. I’m still not comfortable asking people for money. But it got to the point where I believe in this so much that I’m willing to do anything to make it happen,” Woolfson said.
Crowdfunding can be time-consuming, which is why Lund prefers finding individual backers. But even outside of fundraising, social media has become integral to the indie film industry.
“In 2010, we had a lot of budget cuts. My advertising budget got cut completely, so I went exclusively to social media. This is where the filmmakers are. They’re using Twitter, Facebook, and in that year, we saw a 41-percent increase in inquiries,” Newton said. 
He tweets and posts (@nhfilmoffice, all the time about film activity and promoting local crowdfunding projects (which is done indiscriminately).
Making a living
To have a film career here, New Hampshire film producer Karlina Lyons says, you have to do everything. Corporate stuff. Client work. Lyons works for an animation company in Portsmouth called Hatchling Studios, and she also performs jobs big and small for large-scale, big-money productions. You have to learn how to wear many hats, and you need to be willing to travel when the New Hampshire passion projects don’t pay all your bills.
Filmmakers here must also be pro at stretching a buck. Only Daughter, which Lyons co-produced in 2013, made headlines for its remarkable budget — $20,000, funded by Indiegogo— and film time, merely 10 days in 25 locations with just a handful of cast and crew. It made the rounds at at least seven film festivals, including New Hampshire’s, where it won numerous awards, including NH Film of the Year. They saved money by working with Koloski and renting a lake house for the 12 cast and crew members to sleep and shoot in for 10 days. 
Indie filmmakers here recognize that they’re not always working for cash.
“I’m investing time in something because I hope it will pay off in the long run, whether financially or through future connections,” Lyons said. “The way you get work is by working. Even though Only Daughter was a passion project — I essentially volunteered time there — it connected me to other opportunities and other jobs.”
The least-emphasized aspect in filmmaking, but arguably the most important: How are you going to make money, or at the very least break even? Your distribution profit needs to be greater than your expenditure, one of the biggest reasons indie filmmakers work so hard to keep costs low. 
If you’re crowdfunding, perhaps it’s not such an issue; if you’re promising financial backers you’ll eventually pay them back, it’s critical. 
“The biggest hurdle is distribution,” Lund said. “You’re telling investors, ‘Wait three to four years before you get your money back.”
His film, Justice is Mind, has had about 19 screenings since its release a year ago. At the time of the interview, the film would soon show a few more times, at film festivals and on a cruise ship. For individual sales, he’s planning on Amazon and a few online distributors. 
“We didn’t rent it to theaters,” Lund said. “We’d screen it for one night and fill it to near capacity. … Most independent theaters have an independent film night kind of thing.”
Some filmmakers will choose to submit to festivals. It can be helpful to raise funds, but only if the film is accepted, or even better, wins awards. Lund decided against it.
“We forgot about trying to get into the big ones, like Sundance. They take like almost 5,000 submissions and they only screen 100. … Between Sundance, Toronto, Berlin, it’s a decision: Am I going to wait to get accepted? You could be waiting months.” 
Marketing was also crucial, and he discovered it was much easier to get press for an independent screening than a slice of a festival, which can have upward of 100 films.
How to keep growing
There has been growth for the Granite State, even within the incentive boom. Some filmmakers see Massachusetts’s proximity as a regional advantage; there are more producers, talent, crew and equipment nearby because of its recent “Hollywood East” designation. Work is just over the border for when passion projects don’t pay up.
Hannon thinks film festivals have helped, too. At current count, there are eight in New Hampshire, and as one of the NHFF co-founders he’s noticed a difference in submissions: The first year, 2001, saw 65 submissions, 14 of which were from New Hampshire people; this year saw 850, and 75 were from New Hampshire. 
The question is how to keep the momentum going. Newton says it’s all about the kids, which is one reason the New Hampshire Film & Television office started the successful New Hampshire High School Film Festival in 2008.
“We have a number of high schools that have actually integrated that into their media production programs, as an end-of-the-year project kind of thing,” Newton said. “The whole idea is to get the film festival to bring awareness about what’s happening here in New Hampshire. … We’re losing our youth to other states. It’s that whole Stay Work Play mentality.”
Some young filmmakers, like Woolfson, have decided against moving out west to make films. (Though she is — see her side box profile — willing to move to L.A for Ellen DeGeneres.)
“I thought about moving to L.A., but that’s a challenge in its own. If you’re an independent filmmaker, sometimes being in a smaller location is more beneficial, in a way,” Woolfson said. “You have the support of the community, the support of a close group of friends, whatever it might be.” 
But then, says 28-year-old Manchester native filmmaker Lisa Romagnoli, there’s not as much room for young filmmakers to grow. There’s simply more happening in New York and L.A., and thus more opportunities to learn. (Indeed, a good number of the filmmakers interviewed for this story only came back to New Hampshire after learning about the industry in L.A., New York and elsewhere.)
Romagnoli lived in Manchester for a bit after school at NYU. During her time here, she filmed Wicked Funny and Wicked Funny 2, about the underground comedy scene in Manchester. The films were extremely low-budget; the second was funded with $1,500 from Kickstarter. She’s since moved to Manhattan to work at a video production company, Kornhaber Brown.
“You need an infrastructure around you to gain experience and truly understand how the industry works and to improve your craft,” Romagnoli said. “I was getting some jobs [in New Hampshire]  ... but there just isn’t the wealth of work that there is in the big city.” 
When you’re an experienced filmmaker, like Ken Burns, for whom Romagnoli interned during a semester, it’s different. He already knows, and knows very well, how to make good films. People know him, and he knows people.
“He has a grant that continuously funds his projects,” Romagnoli said. “He has long-term deals with PBS. … Most filmmakers would kill to have the setup he has.”
Romagnoli is currently writing a short film she’d like to enter in the festival circuit. She’d like to film in New Hampshire; after all, her craft began here while she was at Manchester Central and attending the New Hampshire Film Festival youth program with Dan Hannon. She says her hope for New Hampshire film relies on Massachusetts.
“If Massachusetts is going to grow more and develop their filmmaking, it could eventually spill over,” she said.
Close-knit niche
“I love the work I did in New York — I worked in children’s educational television — but I love living and working in New Hampshire because everything is very accessible,” Lyons said. “People here welcome my phone calls, and businesses are excited to bring these projects to town.”
She also likes the film people here; true, there are fewer filmmakers per capita than in Massachusetts and New York, but because it’s so difficult, the only ones left here are the ones who are very passionate about the art.
“It’s too hard a job not to have fun doing it up here,” Lyons said.
Things get done fast here; the state is small, and the network is well-connected. If you need a road, an RV, a house to work on, it’s within reach without great cost or struggle. Chances are, there’s somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody. 
“There’s a misconception that all the film office does is make phone calls to Hollywood and try to play with that crowd to get film projects here,” Newton said. “That’s so not what I do, and not what the film office does. … It’s about relationships. It’s about how we can help you. … This is about having filmmakers who really enjoy creating here in the state and having community people loving having projects here. That’s what I want to see happen.” 
As seen in the September 18, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

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