“Fitful” – On the Set of Rich Brauer’s Upcoming Film


Fitful, an independent film written and directed by Rich Brauer is full of something fresh. Perhaps it’s the Michigan air. Or maybe, it’s more than that.

Story and photos by
Traci Grant

The bright blue, sunny skies and sounds of seagulls echoing through the air, as waves crash gently against the sand, hardly feel like the setting for a dark suspense film. In fact, scenery like this is what one might expect of an escape to paradise. Except for just one thing: the S.S. City of Milwaukee. Formerly a train ferry, the steamship is roughly 77 years old and nearly 400 feet floating in Manistee, Michigan.

It’s downright eerie, concurrent with the film’s title. According to writer/director Rich Brauer “fitful” is intended to convey, “a state of mind at night when not sleeping well…[an] unsettling feeling…along the lines of frantic.” The low ceilings inside the ship contribute to a consistent sensation of entrapment, despite the vast open waters of Lake Michigan. With hardly any light, but what seems like multitudes of cabins carved into the walls and plenty of long, narrow hallways, there is no doubt that something could go awry.

FitfulAnd something does, during the filming itself. During the shooting of a shower scene involving poor plumbing, the ship’s own plumbing succumbed to its scripted failings. While trying to send sludge through the showerhead, a loud boom suddenly fills the narrow hall. A second attempt is made – “Action!” – and a crew member shouts, “the kitchen just exploded!” The ship, however, is more than just a conduit to fright. Renee O’Connor, one of the film’s lead actors, adds, “The ship has its own presence. The ship is a character in the film.” Other characters in the film include Grant Krause as Mr. Semperton and Larry Joe Campbell (According to Jim). He plays Vigs, the ship’s caretaker.

Fitful tells the story of a woman named Paula (O’Connor), whose job as in inspector for the Historic Trust leads her to examine a new prospect, a 400 foot steamship. When her car is disabled, she spends the night on the ship with Vigs, and a very fitful night ensues.

Campbell’s role as Vigs allowed him to return to his native Michigan, and he was delighted with the opportunity to film there. It was clear, though, that Campbell came to work. Practicing his lines in a room apart from where the crew was filming, he sat in costume, a blue one-piece spattered with “blood” stains looking every bit the ominous Vigs. But as soon as he glanced up to smile, it was evident that his somewhat unsettling presence was merely the result of a fine wardrobe.

The wardrobe of the film is well-suited to the cobweb-filled, ceiling-stained, spider-filled ship. Campbell’s character, Vigs, is a slob who spends his life on a boat. His greasy, worn attire, resembling a dirty plumber is exactly what the filmmakers were aiming for. For O’Connor’s Paula, the standard Chicago working-girl apparel would suffice. But that doesn’t mean O’Connor didn’t get her share of the grime. Both she and Campbell encountered plenty of eels and other slimy substances. Campbell even observed that his food was beginning to taste like fish as he leaned over and inhaled the smell of his weeks-old costume.

Larry Joe Campbell

But certain stomach-turning elements are to be expected in a suspense film, and considering Fitful is also a comedy of sorts, they’re almost inevitable. On the blend of these two genres of film, O’Connor says, “[Fitful] has a very peculiar tone to it. It’s a dark comedy thriller. I was intrigued by the comedy aspect. The script…was so quirky! And interesting. After I finished the script, it probably took me an hour to try to figure out what the whole thing was about.”

Providing some clarity, O’Connor adds, “Paula [has] been celebrating a recent event where she helped an item become embraced by the organization. On her way back to Chicago, she stops by this ship to try to help them become a member as well and everything starts to go wrong [laughs]. The whole film is a series of small events that happen to her and she’s confused by a lot of it…She’s completely emotionally involved in each scenario.”

Emotionally involved in the project itself is of course its passionate writer/director Rich Brauer (pictured left, center). Brauer is quick to praise his actors, saying that O’Connor brings “so much to the table.” Brauer was content after a couple shots, and his positive attitude – “that was great” could be heard frequently – was contagious on set. Cast and crew chatted over lunch on the ship’s deck, and everyone aboard applauded O’Connor after she endured a downpour of eels and sauerkraut in the shower scene. That particular scene, and all scenes in fact, were a team effort on the part of the hardworking cast and crew, who, unlike the film’s slogan -“just try to get some rest”- never seemed to. It is this diligence, as well as the script’s quirkiness that will hopefully make Fitful stand out.

Fitful will go straight to DVD with a release planned for this winter.

"Fitful" Crew

To read more of Renee O’Connor talking about Fitful, check out our exclusive interview at www.thestarscoop.com/2009/renee-oconnor-fitful.php

For more information about Rich Brauer or the Traverse City, Michigan production company, Brauer Productions Inc., visit www.brauer.com

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