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Home-grown film was made in Pennsylvania

August 09, 1999

MovieBy DON AINES / Staff Writer, Chambersburg

photo: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer




CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - An unsolved murder, tangled sexual relationships, a car chase and "The Snake Guy" are some of the plot elements in "Ecclesiastes," a feature-length movie made in Franklin County that will debut next month at the New York International Independent Film and Video festival.

"When people ask what the movie's about, I say 'about 90 minutes,' because it takes so long to explain," said Chuck Reisse, the assistant director of the film.

A synopsis of the plot: A woman is murdered in 1971. A quarter of a century later, one of the men involved is murdered, while another tries to pin the killing on the film's protagonist. The story is set in fictional "Antrim County."

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It was shot on video and a shoestring, according to Paul Leeper of Fayetteville, Pa., the writer, producer and director. He termed it "ultra-low budget" at $35,000, including about $15,000 in "deferred contracts" to actors and businesses that won't see a dime unless "Ecclesiastes" turns a profit.

"After it's been screened by a few festivals, we'll start to negotiate for a distributor," said Leeper. If one is found, he said the movie would "go straight to video."

Leeper, whose day job is as a criminal justice planner with the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, said the genesis for the film dates back three years when Rick Summers, owner of Pro Arts Recording and Sound Co. in Chambersburg, "asked me to develop a project."

"It takes a lot of courage to admit, but we were both in the AV (Audio Visual) Club" in school, Leeper said. They were out of touch for 20 years, but met again at a wedding where Leeper was the photographer and Summers the disc jockey.

Summers became the executive producer and has a small part in the film.

Pro Arts normally makes commercials, promotional videos and public access TV shows.

Principal photography took about a year and was completed last October. Reisse and Leeper edited the film.

"Ecclesiastes" has some familiar faces - or voices in the cases of Lisa Harding and Rick Alexander - who have a morning radio show on WIKZ-FM, Mix 95. Harding plays assistant district attorney Laura Noble. Alexander, her real-life husband, has a funny bit as a car salesman.

Paul Keifman, an electrician from Chambersburg, plays Lee Badham, the heavy. Leeper plays Paul Grogan, another assistant district attorney involved with Noble.

The mysterious character, Mort, was played by Kyle Webb. "He was a friend of mine from college. He lives out in Vegas now," Reisse said.

Because Webb wasn't always available, at least six people, including a woman, doubled for him in different shots, Leeper said.

Some of the sound effects looped in during editing were homemade. A car driving through gravel was coffee grounds rubbed on cardboard. When Leeper is hit in the knee with a tree limb, it's a bag of pistachio nuts being crunched.

Pro Arts is in the Professional Arts Building on Penncraft Avenue, which provided many of the exterior and interior shots. It doubled as a nightclub and courthouse in different scenes. Actors sometimes never met, joined only by close-ups and establishing shots, according to Reisse.

If all goes well, "Ecclesiastes" could be in video stores next year, Leeper said.

The box-office success of the low-budget film, "The Blair Witch Project," offers "a glimmer of hope" for independent filmmakers, he said.

Leeper hopes to put any profits into a more ambitious project, tentatively titled "Judas."

"What I want to do is take one of the Gospels and place it in a contemporary setting," he said.

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