By JEFF LAMPE
For The Weekly Post
ELMWOOD – Walkers through Elmwood Township Cemetery had their morning stroll interrupted Tuesday for a rather unusual happening.
A movie crew was busy in the west side of the cemetery shooting a scene for the independent film “Wardcliffe,” directed and written by Peoria native David Ferino.
Ferino’s film – his first full-length narrative feature – tells a tragic father-son story set during the 2020 COVID quarantine.
The film crew of 25, gathered from Los Angeles and various other locales, is expected to work in Elmwood for two weeks and will shoot at several locations, including 203 E. Evergreen St., once home of the late Middle Tap owner Don Ferro.
That brick house, its 1960s-era wood paneling and bathroom played a pivotal role in bringing the movie to Elmwood.
“I posted on Facebook searching for a property that we could shoot in, and a member of my family found a friend (Lea Lizabeth) who had an empty house in Elmwood,” he said. “It was perfect for us.”
While checking out the house, Ferino and his crew decided they could shoot all but one scene in Elmwood. The only non-Elmwood scene planned is at Georgette’s Flowers in Peoria.
Other locations in Elmwood are Bean’s Family Market, Elmwood United Methodist Church, a site near Elmwood High School and various city streets.
“Really, the fact that everything is in such close proximity made it a much more efficient production,” said Ferino, 36, a Peoria Richwoods graduate. “We’ll be able to save a little bit of money based on Illinois tax incentives. And Peoria, Elmwood, these places aren’t charging the insane rates you would get in southern California.”
That’s an important consideration for independent filmmakers, whose budgets pale in comparison to those of major studios.
Roger M. Mayer is producer of the film and said he is also financing the project. Mayer said the total budget ranges between $44,000 and $400,000.
First asked merely to provide Ferino advice, Mayer went well beyond that.
“I said, ‘Nope, I’m not just going to give him advice, we’re going to make this movie,’” Mayer said. “It’s a character study of two people locked into a situation that’s not one of their choice who find themselves at odds with one another. And they have extenuating circumstances that just make it more unpalpable, particularly for one of them, that ultimately ends in a tragic conclusion that will transform their lives forever.”
Mayer said it will take 12 days of shooting to complete the movie, which is based on Ferino’s 73-page script. Crew and actors will commute from Peoria.
“It has a voice and a vision,” Mayer said. “I think it’s going to have a powerful something to say.”
Ferino has lived in Los Angeles for the past 14 years and said he only returns to Peoria to visit his parents for special occasions and holidays. Among his previous works is a feature-length documentary on the band Morphine called “Cure for Pain.” He has also directed several shorts, including “Nocturnally Yours,” “The Fortune Teller” and “Run!”
Among Ferino’s claims to fame is starting his career as an intern for Martin Scorsese while attending film school at New York University.
His shorts have played at various film fests and he has submitted several entries to the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, which is where he and Mayer hope to see “Wardcliffe” play next year after editing is completed.
“I worked for Sundance for 14 years and I really want this shown there,” Mayer said.
While he said he could not recall ever visiting Elmwood, Ferino said he is greatful for the hospitality shown his crew so far.
“I just want to express on behalf of myself and the crew our deep gratitude to the City of Elmwood for opening their arms to us and for the Bean family being so generous with us,” Ferino said. “You don’t get this everywhere and the kindness that has been shown to a bunch of crazy interlopers feels really nice and we feel very taken care of.”
Elmwood Police Chief Aaron Bean will have a cameo in the movie, Ferino said.
“We love local talent,” he said.
Playing the father in “Wardcliffe” is Joel McKinnon Miller, who spent the past eight seasons as Detective Norm Scully on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” a sit-com that aired on Fox and later NBC.
“I really like the script and what David Ferino did with it,” McKinnon Miller said. “Sometimes it’s not always for the money, it’s for the project. And this is a good project.”
Also in the cast as a background actor is Eric Gore of Peoria, who has performed in various local productions and has one other movie on his resume, “Dead to Me.”
“I was a corpse in that one, so it’s a step up,” Gore said. “At least I’m alive in this one.”