Husband and wife moviemaking team Ellen Bartola and Matthew Grove are atypical indie filmmakers: They made a family-friendly film, Falling to Peaces. And they did so in an organized fashion.
Grove studied film as an undergraduate in the mid-’80s and did a couple of cinematic stints after college. But he reluctantly left cinema for a more lucrative computer-programming career. His inner cineaste re-emerged when he met his wife in 1992, and the pair wrote a big-budget murder mystery set in Colonial Williamsburg called Colonial Mist. But when the couple went looking for funding, investors balked at their blank film resume.
In the hope of gaining filmmaking cred, Bartola and Grove formed a production company, Anders International, and co-produced the low-budget Falling to Peaces. They enlisted friends, family, and co-workers to raise the cash to make the film, which they shot over 18 days in August 1997. Postproduction, done during the couple’s free time from their day jobs, took almost a year.
In the film, hero Ed Thomas is a suburban Everyman: He lives in a nice house (it’s Bartola and Grove’s Herndon home) and has a wife prettier than he deserves. He’s got vices, too: Camels, Hostess doughnuts, and an ongoing feud with his father. The latter becomes a Big Problem when Dad’s 65th birthday rolls around and a twist of fate forces Ed to host his hated pa’s fete. Antics between Mom, Dad, Granddad, and assorted houseguests ensue, resolving ultimately into a feel-good, sentimental pic that, I confess, had me in tears.
“We wanted something everyone can relate to,” says Bartola. To make a good independent film, she says, “You don’t have to be eaten alive by some monster in the woods.” Bartola’s referring to the hyper-successful Blair Witch Project, which won a coveted spot at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, while Falling to Peaces did not. Grove says their film isn’t the “quirky, artistic thing festivals look for.”
But Virginia’s Regal Cinemas was impressed. The chain is screening the film in three of its suburban theaters for a two-week trial run beginning this Friday, Sept. 24.
It’s likely that the couple’s family-friendly fare won them these coveted screens. Says Grove, “We’ll always go for the Hollywood mentality.”—Jessica Dawson