At a time when local creators are struggling bring their visions to life during the pandemic, one Red Hook filmmaker managed to shoot an exciting murder-mystery while still safely adhering to the state’s social distancing mandates.
By enforcing six-feet of separation between castmates, cutting down on non-essential crew, and testing everyone regularly, “Indie” artist Elias Plagianos finished off the pilot of “Hudson Falls,” a crime drama about an LGBTQ science professor who mysteriously quits her job at a university and opens a craft brewery. The show’s protagonist quickly finds herself in a tricky predicament when a private eye comes to town, and the secrets of her small upstate college town begin to unravel.
Plagianos filmed the series’ first episode — starring Richard Kind, Jessica Hecht, and Tara Westwood, among others — while adhering to the state’s COVID-19 guidelines, which forced the filmmakers to get creative, according to Plagianos, whose roots in Red Hook go back at least a decade to his work on the fantasy-thriller “The Crimson Mask.”
“We actually wrote this project to be shot in this sort of crazy world,” he told Brooklyn Paper.
Adding to the complications, the artist was forced to limit the amount of one-on-one scenes to keep the show on track — which was not ideal for television, but was aided by the sprawling North Brooklyn warehouse where the filmmaker shoots most of his work.
“Keeping with the new guidelines, you can’t have these crazy scenes with a lot of characters, and, in a television series, you really need to have one-on-one scenes, so it was a challenge to have this giant ensemble of a cast,” he said. “But because of the way we shot the pilot, we were able to do these one-on-one scenes and, I think, film it in a really clever way. Everyone was always more than six feet apart, and if they weren’t, they’d been tested thoroughly.”
And with “virtually no crew at all,” Plagianos also had to push through filming quickly to avoid blowing their budget on repeated COVID testing.
“It had to be incredibly quick because the COVID exams were very expensive and you needed to do it every three days, so we had to wrap the entire production in one week or we would have lost all of our money on that,” he said. “But on the flip side, because we had such a short window of filming, we were able to get this incredible, dream-like cast.”
The “Swiss Army Knife” crew consisted of just a cinematographer, sound recordist, and prop master, and they all kept at least six feet from each other, as well as the actors — who even did much of their own hair and makeup.
“Everyone worked together to say ‘how can we pull this off?’” said Plagianos, who added that there was a surprising bright side to uphill battle 2020 presented.
“The silver lining is that it probably would have been impossible to get all of these acts together the same week pre-COVID,” he said. “It was just so exciting to get all of these television legends all in one show — and they were so gracious. They all went out of their way to do a lot more than they normally do, and to keep everyone safe. They were extremely understanding of the circumstances, and because of that, we were able to tell the story in an environment that allowed our actors to give a great performance, but in a very safe way.”
One of the show’s stars, Tara Westwood, was even integral in streamlining the filming process, Plagianos said.
The actor and producer — known for roles in productions like “The Grudge” and “Law and Order” — helped the crew at “Hudson Falls” research newer, faster COVID testing, that she ultimately convinced the Screen Actors Guild to okay for filming.
“When we shot in July, New York City did not have access to surplus COVID exams,” Plagianos said. “We started the week New York allowed production, and we jumped in there with this crazy plan, and we had to do it under very strict SAG rules — and they required a really specific COVID exam, one that New York did not have — so the production team, led by Kathlen Burke, Brett Demeron, and [Tara Westwood] actually did this extensive research just to find something that fit the qualifications.”
“The guidelines when we wanted to start were that [cast and crew] had to get a molecular test, but you had to get your results in 72 hours. At the time, no one was getting tests that quickly,” Westwood explained.
Knowing people who were high-risk and getting quick results, the star discovered the Phosphorus RT-qPCR test, and “fought like crazy” to have SAG approve it — and when they did, it was back to work for her and the rest of the “Hudson Falls” team.
“Waking up [the first day of filming] and getting to go practice my craft — there’s no feeling quite like it,” she said. “The reality is these days, when this is the type of business you’re in, you’re grateful to get back to work.”
And Plagianos was equally grateful for Westwood’s help in securing the fate of the project.
“Without her, we probably would not have been able to film this pilot,” he said.
“Hudson Falls” will premiere at festivals starting next summer, but in the meantime, the Brooklyn-based filmmaker says he’s making the most of the new hand he’s been dealt.
“Since we shot that show I’ve been approached to shoot other shows as well because we sort of know how to navigate these waters now,” he said. “It’s been exciting and rewarding.”