A big chunk of Chris Pappas’ life is wrapped around filmmaking — on both sides of the camera.
Pappas crossed a major threshold when a professional film crew shot his psychological thriller “Tunnel Vision” in 18-days in and around New Castle.
Editing is under way in Los Angeles.
Pappas is head of Blackstone Pictures, which produced the film. He also plays a role in the dark drama, which he co-authored with writing partner Scott Barry of Los Angeles. Pappas said he started the script 16 years ago.
Blackstone supplied this synopsis:
When a jury fails to convict the serial killer who savagely murdered his family, one man must rise above his desire for revenge and descend into the deranged world of a sadistic predator to uncover the truth and finally get justice.
Pappas plays the man who loses his family. The lines he knew because he wrote them. Acting them was earned from meaty roles he’s played for films and TV over the years.
Unique among this project, as head of Blackstone, Pappas was responsible for practically every phase of the project, including raising the $100,000 to have the movie made in the first place.
He gives associate producers John Morgan and Geoff Peluso much of the credit for their insight into finding financial backers, based in part on the trailer Pappas showed them a year ago.
A lot of the money would be used for hiring the film crew (director, cinematographer, camera and sound technicians — even a makeup artist who flew in from New York City) and a cast of professional actors from L.A., New York and Pittsburgh.
They, in a way would be guests of Pappas, or, in Hollywood-speak, “Cristos,” which is the actor’s professional name.
But in New Castle, Pappas’ hometown, the pressure was on this CEO to play many leading roles, meet the needs of the director on one side of the camera and the chief of police on the other side, while operating under the oversight of Pappas’ mom and dad no less, Connie and Andy Pappas.
Some community members were extras and well-known locations were used.
Some of the out-of-studio scenes were at upwards of 15 locations including Weller’s Hardware, Starwood Lounge, a motorcycle shop, the Castleton Apartment Complex and the New Castle Police Department.
“Tunnel Vision” spent parts of three days filming at New Castle police headquarters.
Pappas was told by Chief Tom Sansone that conditions at the station were pretty bad, but as it turned out, pretty bad was perfect.
The station’s dingy jail cells, interview area and detective bureau were used in action dealing primarily with the arrest of the bad guy.
Sansone said a couple of city police officers were used in the background, but that professional actors played the cop roles.
“I played a small part as police chief with one or two lines,” confessed Sansone. “I won’t be quitting my job any time soon.”
Of the filming process, he was amazed.
“It was awesome to see how a movie is put together. I have a newfound sense of what is involved in making TV and movies.”
On Dec. 6, the next-to-last day of shooting, filming was done at Blackstone’s studio, a two-story rental home on Laurel Avenue.
The location provided a centralized location for the crew, actors and film-types to gather.
It was also where Pappas’ mother provided a homecooked meal to everyone for all but two days of filming.
The house was vacant when Blackstone took possession, but soon it was filled with everything from upholstered furniture and bedding for out-of-towners who crashed there to kitchen items Connie Pappas used to serve her buffet-style meals.
“Everything you see here was donated,” said L.A. director Delila Vallott, who slept on an air mattress upstairs. “When I walked into this place 15 days ago, it was completely empty.”
Vallot, who also directed the trailer, describes “Tunnel Vision” stylistically as “film noire meets ‘Sin City’ meets ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ meets ‘The Exorcist’ meets ‘Seven’ meets ‘Fight Club.’
“But it will have its own style,” she went on, explaining that the film will be marked by a lot of silences in scenes, some through editing, and some through her directing.
She says she’s inspired by filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, borrowing his technique of long holds on empty screens to build tension.
She said she told her art department and wardrobe crews she wants the look of the film “to be a little off.”
Clothes and hair are dark shades inspired by the 1950s but the film is not set in the ’50s. It takes place not in New Castle, but in Anywhere USA, which is always a little dark, according to the director.
But when New Castle was blanketed with heavy snow early in December, she had to switch gears, not fighting the fact that snow had arrived but plugging into the “cosmic pairing with the project.”
“This will make it better,” she rationalized.
Overall, her vision for the film is what enthused Pappas.
“I wrote a drama,” Pappas said. “She turned it into a psychological thriller.”
Not all “Tunnel Vision” actors are industry professionals. Cast in the role of Pappas’ son is 4-year-old Michael Steiger, son of Michael and Jodi Steiger of New Castle.
He had three speaking lines, which his parents helped him learn.
The next-to-last day of shooting, the youngster was playing his part in a pre-going-to-bed scene acted between him and L.A. actress Leslie Mills, who plays his mother.
The scene takes place on the living room sofa, and Michael is in green plaid pajamas waiting up for his father. When his mother tells him it’s time for bed, he protests by saying, “But he always comes at the same time.”
Huddled across from him in the living room were the sound and camera techs, and other bystanders that included his parents.
Crouched closest to the boy was the director who called “action” and then watched the scene on a monitor as it was filmed.
Not quite right.
“Cut” called Vallot.
Patiently, as a friend, she sidled up to Michael, complimented his delivery, but suggests they try it again, telling the boy, to “look in her eyes when you are speaking your lines.”
The actress and Michael return to their places. Quiet on the set is called and then scene 2, take 3, is re-filmed, just as before, with the mother, rising from the sofa, pressing bedtime, and Michael’s line delivery, in a scene that takes about 15 seconds to film.
“Circle the last one,” says the director. “We’re moving on.”
Michael’s luck with the line is a happy occasion met with a round of applause.
His father says Michael’s acting did not seem to conflict with the boy’s routine at pre-school or his enthusiasm for playing hockey with a local team in which he participates on Saturdays and Sundays.
While other “Tunnel Vision” scenes with Michael Steiger were being shot, Pappas’ mother was cleaning up the kitchen after her lunch of Salisbury steak and mashed potatoes was devoured.
She said when her son asked if she would do the cooking for the film crew, she said “Of course. I wanted to do whatever I could because this means so much to him.
“It’s why he came back here a year ago, to make this project,”
She describes her son, a 1981 New Castle High School graduate, as both an actor and an expert in karate. Off the top of her head, she lists favorite roles in films “Desperado” and “From Dusk to Dawn,” and guest spots on TV’s “ER,” “George Lopez” and “CSI Miami.”
Despite his rough screen image, her 6-foot, 190-pound is “just a normal son,” Connie Pappas assures.
Her cooking skills were not the only contribution she made toward supporting his endeavor. She also is an extra in the courtroom scenes.
“It was fun, but I’m not a movie actress,” Pappas notes — “Just a mom.”
Seeing “Tunnel Vision” up on the big screen is Chris Pappas’ goal.
He believes the editing process will be completed within the next six months.
After that, his next role as head of Blackstone Pictures, will be to find a film studio to buy the project and distribute “Tunnel Vision,” or find other options to develop the movie further.
Pappas intends to have some type of opening in New Castle when “Tunnel Vision” is ready, so everyone here who had a part in it can see how it looks.
Pappas has a leg-up on others who make movies, because of his first-hand knowledge of the industry from the more than 30 films he’s made.
“Hollywood is waiting to see a good project — something outside of the box.”
Maybe then his dark film, which he repeatedly likens to “The Deer Hunter,” will be a new bright spot in his unique career.
“I’ve come to the conclusion that this will be the most important thing I’ve ever done,” said Pappas, who came home to make the project his way.
And the price can’t be beat.
“If I shot this in L.A. it would have been 10 times more expensive than here.
“And I want to make the best possible film I can make.”