A year ago, in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene, local families struggled without power for an extended period while cleaning up debris-strewn yards.
That struggle was a bit more complicated for Westport native Sarah Koskoff and her husband Todd Louiso, who were under a tight deadline and a limited budget to complete the filming of their feature-length dramatic comedy, "Hello I Must Be Going," which debuted to favorable reviews at the Sundance Film Festival in January. The movie opens in theaters beginning Sept. 7.
Scenes were shot in Westport and other sites throughout Fairfield County, among them Sherwood Island State Park, Vineyard Vines clothing store and Tavern on Main restaurant, both on Main Street, the Saugatuck Yacht Club and the Norwalk Inn.
Koskoff, the independent film's screenwriter who now lives in California, and Louiso, its director, had only 20 days to capture the footage and performances they needed from their cast, which includes Melanie Lynskey (who has appeared in the TV sitcom, "Two and a Half Men," and movies like, "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" and "Ever After") as the protagonist Amy Minsky, Blythe Danner as her mother and John Rubenstein as her father.
"It was crazy. The beaches were just demolished. They were shut down ... Trees were snapped in half cutting off power lines," Koskoff, a graduate of Staples High School, Class of 1985, said of trying to film in Westport in Irene's aftermath. "We had our share of challenges. It was very seat-of-the-pants filmmaking. Our days were cut in half sometimes ... but it ended up being fine. We got through it," she said, largely with the help of relatives who still live locally.
"I couldn't have done it without them. That's why we chose to (film) here. It would have been impossible any other way," Koskoff said. Her gratitude to family and the number of local businesses and government agencies that assisted the production are listed in the film's credits.
"We are very excited to be included in this film. It's not only great exposure for our brand, but all the local businesses in Westport," said Lindsey Worster, vice president of brand communications, for Vineyard Vines.
Koskoff said Fairfield County can be off-putting to those people who don't know it. "It seems like it's a very closed community. Growing up here I just knew that wasn't the case. Westport loves the arts and would be thrilled to have a movie shot here. It's a much more open part of Connecticut. It's like the Bohemian part of Fairfield County and Connecticut," she said.
Other locations that may be recognizable to audiences when the film opens in theaters are the Saugatuck and Hillspoint areas of Westport and a park in the SoNo section of Norwalk next to the Stepping Stones Museum. "That's a great little playground. That's where we are for the scene (with) her niece," Koskoff said.
One of the big houses used for filming was in Darien, "a beautiful part of Darien on the water," Koskoff said.
Koskoff's familiarity and level of comfort with the region led to some of the film location choices. Others were obvious choices because "a lot of it was written into the script."
In some cases she simply made phone calls to people she knew. "I know this person and I know this kitchen and I know it would be perfect and I'll make that call. It was very easy (to get locations)," said Koskoff, a former actress who met her husband-to-be when both were working as actors on the set of a television sitcom. He played a serial killer; "and they both lived happily ever after," Koskoff joked.
Both have stopped acting -- she to write and he to pursue directing. "It's a great way for us to have more control over our work if we work together ... and we wouldn't be so much at the whim of the business," she said.
"Hello I Must be Going" is Louiso's third directorial endeavor. His previous efforts are "The Marc Pease Experience" and "Love Liza," which starred Academy Award-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman. Koskoff was also in "Love Liza." She has appeared in numerous television shows, including, "The X Files," "MacGyver," "Chicago Hope" and "Murder, She Wrote," and films such as "That Thing You Do" with Tom Hanks, "The Clearing" with Robert Redford, and "If These Walls Could Talk."
But Koskoff has gladly made the change to off-camera roles as script and screen writer and playwright.
"I was more interested in language than I was acting from a literary perspective," said Koskoff, a theater-trained classical actor. "I loved doing Chekov and Shakespeare. I loved the language, really," she said. But when she loved to Los Angeles she ended up doing television comedies and dramas.
"At the same time I was writing plays," Koskoff said. Eventually she lost interest in acting, preferring the creative process of writing. "When I sat down to finally write a screenplay there was a much more natural connection with screen writing," she said.
Her work as an actor was not wasted. Koskoff said that experience informs her writing. "I do relate very much to actors. I know what they're going through, and I feel like it serves me really well because I really have to act out all these scenes that no one will ever see. I do it in private," she said. The role-playing is important to her writing process because it helps her determine whether the dialogue she gives her characters rings true.
It is especially true in "Hello I Must be Going," an unconventional love story whose protagonist explores the range of her emotions in search of self-esteem and her own voice, as her mother talks about "gallivanting the globe." Amy's love interest, Jeremy tells her, "Sometimes it's easier to be what other people want you to be rather than fight it."
While there is no over-arching message of the film, Koskoff said she hopes that line resonates with people.
"I think it's true of people in general that we all feel pretty pressured and it gets tiring to live up to expectations personally and professionally and then we lose ourselves in the process, we lose what we really actually care about and stop asking the question, `What's important to me, what's meaningful to me? Is this something that I'm just being told is important and so I've accepted it or do I really care about it?' " Koskoff said.
She worked on the script of "Hello I Must be Going" for several years before it was produced.