is the grass any bluer...

is the grass any bluer...
on the other side?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Brian Hampton's CHECKING IN Is Ready For the Big Screen!

A few years ago, THE JUNGLE FUN ROOM came to Studio Players, much to Lexington's delight.  Playwright Brian Hampton had a Lexington connection with his play CHECKING IN, which premiered at Actors Guild of Lexington to much acclaim.  In the meantime, CHECKING IN has been made into a movie, was filmed in one week, has been  edited and guess what?  The movie is ready and waiting to be enjoyed by one and all and will soon open in New York City.  With all the excitement in the air, it seems only proper to revisit Hampton's story and update it a bit, find out how CHECKING IN made its way to the big screen.

Allie Darden and Alex Maddox in a hilarious scene from
Brian Hampton's entertaining play,
presented by Studio Players, 2010
Hampton tells me that he started writing CHECKING IN around 1999. "The inspiration was true life -- my very funny, mixed-matched group of friends from high school. They make me laugh so hard, and we’re always there for each other even when time comes in between us. We went from seeing each other every day in high school to now that we are adults and living our lives, seeing each other just once in while. We all decided to meet for a weekend years ago in Atlantic City without any significant others or children. It was a blast. And then, soon afterwards, one of us went through a very personal struggle in her life. When we tried to rally around her, we found out that we were too late. I merged those two moments for the story of CHECKING IN to address what that all meant for us and our friendship."
to see my prior post about JUNGLE FUN ROOM and
Brian Hampton, just click on the linky link above ;-)

Though he enjoys a successful writing career today, CHECKING IN was Hampton's first play. "I had never written a play. So I just went with my gut. It took me over six years to complete the first draft. It was really trial and error."

The play went from an idea to the stage to the screen after taking its sweet time and finding its own progressive path.   Hampton explains he had to be resourceful to jump start the whole process, then a measure of good luck came into play.  "After having a couple of readings in New York, I knew I wanted to see it on stage. I didn’t know what I was doing, so I Googled contemporary playwrights and read their bios. I saw that some of them had won awards, had world premieres, stuff like that ... but I had no idea how they got there feet in the door. So I started to Google the awards that they had won, and it led me to a book called The Dramatist Sourcebook. It lists all the theatres in the country and what their submission procedures are. I circled all the theatres that seemed to be looking for new work with small casts. One of the theatres I circled was Actors Guild of Lexington. I must have sent out 100 letters, samples, or scripts. I got a lot of rejection letters as well as some nice complimentary “no’s.” Then one of the letters I got was not a rejection letter but more like a 'to be continued' letter. It was from the artistic director of Actors Guild at the time. He said he liked the script, but he was leaving that year. He said he would leave it on his desk for the new artistic director to read it. That artistic director ended up being my college buddy, Rick St. Peter. He read it and liked it a lot. Then we saw each other later that year for a college friend’s funeral. Seeing our group of college friends, reconnecting years later, that’s when he really connected with the story."

  Hampton tells me he realized the play should be made into a movie at the urging of theatre goers who enthusiastically embraced his work.  "It’s funny. Audience members have really been responsible for me making it into a film. I have them (and the cast) to thank for putting the bug in my ear."  For the first production, Rick had auditions in Lexington. That was a great cast and so much fun -- and that’s when I met Allie Darden who plays Brooke. Then, for the NYC premiere, I asked Allie to come in and play Brooke again because I couldn’t imagine doing it without her. I played Ben again, and then I filled in the cast with New York actors and friends. Natalie Buster (Catherine ) has been my friend since college, Jenn Caryn (Liz) and I have been friends since my days at the zoo (i.e. THE JUNGLE FUN ROOM), Beverly Lauchner (Summer) was my Hillary Parker in the world premiere Fringe production of THE JUNGLE FUN ROOM, and Anna Nugent (Penny) was my golden ticket discovery from the CHECKING IN auditions. They are all wonderful people and actors. All of us reprised our roles for the film."

Since he himself played a lead role, Hampton knew who he needed to direct the movie in his stead.  "Because I play the character of Ben and I am also producing it, I knew I needed Rick’s eye. I trust him completely. I feel very comfortable with him directing this story. He just gets it."

When asked if he did all the "legwork" himself, or did he have some assistance, Hampton was quick to credit his friend and soulmate, Roy Chicas.  "I did all the producing legwork, yes, with Roy as my checks and balances. He went along for the sight visits, listened to all my ideas, stuff like that, and he was a huge help in making decisions and pushing me forward when I hit road bumps. It was one of the longest, hardest, craziest experiences I’ve ever had putting it all together -- butI had a great support system with Roy and my friends. I’m so glad I did it."

How did the funding for the movie go? "I raised money on which is a great way for friends to help you out on a project. Because the plot has to do with high school friends, I also had a Prom fundraiser here in NYC at a bar. Then, I filled in the rest of the money I needed with things like my tax returns and my birthday and Christmas presents for the last two years," he laughs.

The entire movie was actually filmed in just one week?  "Absolutely .. It’s been a few months now, and looking back I both can and cannot believe that we did it all in a week. It was like camp. Camp Checking In. It was really fast, emotional, exciting, hard, fun … and we were all crying at the end. There were only 10 of us -- the 6 cast members, Roy, Rick, Michael, and my great friend Marya Spring who was our Unit Production Manager. It was pretty amazing. We were all so proud and happy."

Michael Stever is an actor-turned-filmmaker, who shot the movie and is editing it as well.  "Among many things, he worked on the documentary The Golden Age of Broadway, and his own film, Saturday Nightmares: The Ultimate Horror Expo of all Time!   I met him a couple of years ago at a panel discussion I did for the Midtown International Theatre Festival where “Checking In” had its NYC Premiere.  He gave me his card, and I kept it.   Two years later, there he was shooting the movie with us. He’s pretty incredible.  He can literally do anything.The CHECKING IN movie will "definitely have a premiere in NYC when it’s done, and then I’ll start submitting it to festivals...and I would love to bring it to Lexington. Then we’ll see what happens!"
Former AGL Artistic Director Rick St. Peter -- here seen
working with one of Lexington's
most talented leading ladies Allie Darden --
 directed the Lexington stage premiere of
CHECKING IN at Actors Guild of Lexington and in
its reprisal in New York several years ago.  St. Peter,
a longtime friend of playwright Brian Hampton also was
at the helm during the filming of the movie, which
is to be released soon (stay tuned...I'll let you know)!

Hampton is fond of working with both Allie Darden as well as his college buddy, St. Peter.   "Allie and Rick are amazing to work with. Plus, at this point, they are like family to me.  Allie is a true professional. She is 100% prepared. Her talent is incredible. She just nails everything. It’s so impressive.  Plus, she makes me laugh like no other. There was one point of the filming when Natalie (Catherine) was getting ready for her really serious scene and Allie genuinely touched her arm and said something to her to encourage her. To me, though, it looked exactly like Shelly from THE JUNGLE FUN ROOM, and I started to lose it. Allie looked at me, and said, 'What?' And I said 'Don’t even speak. We’ll talk about this later. I won’t be able to take it.'  Of course, she couldn’t resist, and she whispered, 'Shelly?' And we both lost it. We were like children in church. We got in trouble and had to go in the other room. We couldn’t even look at each other for about 30 minutes. I adore Allie. She is a great person."

"Rick is amazing to work with for me because I trust him immensely. It’s not easy to act in your own work. And with Rick, I can completely let go of worrying about everyone else and just concentrate on my own performance. I’ve known him for almost 20 years, so there’s that ability to speak in shorthand to him, and he immediately knows what it is that I need. He also has a great understanding of the six characters because he’s known them since 2005. He directed all of us in the NYC production, so a lot of the nuts and bolts of the work had been done."

Brian adds, "It was just all about restaging it for the camera with the help of Michael Stever (who has truly created magic in the filming and editing) and keeping us true and believable for this new form. "


When you meet Brian Hampton, your world changes.
He is so full of enthusiasm and kindness, it just instills the same sort of love for life in those fortunate enough to become his acquaintance.  I wish him, Allie and all involved in the making of CHECKING IN all the best...and I'll look for them in the movie theatre soon!
peace, y'all,

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