My debut novel, The Turncoat, is a romantic spy thriller set in occupied Philadelphia in 1777. My first career was in public history and I’m now a filmmaker, but I’d never had the opportunity to direct a project shot at a historic location. Fortunately, there was a terrific site, the Shirley Eustis House, near my home in Boston that could stand in for locations in the City of Brotherly Love. It’s an amazing place, a hidden piece of 18th century Boston tucked away in a quiet residential neighborhood. And my film school classmates Charles DeRosa and Peter Podgursky were game to come out from Los Angeles and spend two (rainy!) April days there with me. Charles is a professional cinematographer and he had just gotten a snazzy new RED Epic camera, the same model that Peter Jackson used to such effect on The Hobbit, and we were eager to try it out.
Back when I worked at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem I’d run a Halloween theater festival called Eerie Events, which was six nights of ghost stories told by costumed actors in historic houses. We had a cast of close to 50, so I knew a lot of talented theater professionals in the Boston area. Fight choreographer and family friend Kim Carrell volunteered to take a week off from his studies at the University of Exeter and fly home to design and direct our fights. Leads Angie Jepson Marks and Liam McNeill were game to practice with pistols and swords and we lured members of local reenactment groups to join us as background players with the promise of molasses cookies and 18th century fun.
But shooting at a historic site can be challenging. Electricity is limited, so we had to make the most of natural light. And most historic houses don’t allow open flames indoors–so no candles in the night scenes! Fortunately, we a had a friend who is an effects designer. That candle you see flickering in the background when spymistress Angela Ferrers delivers her lines…is digital.
A native of Bergenfield, New Jersey, Donna graduated from Yale with a degree in Classics and Art History and then moved to Boston. For many years she managed architecture and interpretation at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, and wrote and directed the Witch City’s most popular Halloween theater festival, Eerie Events. She earned an MFA in film production from the USC School of Cinematic Arts, where she produced several award winning films. Donna has been a sorority house mother, a Disney/ABC Television Writing Fellow, a WGA Writer’s Access Project Honoree, and a staff writer on the ABC primetime drama, Cupid. Her screenwriting credits include episodes of the animated series, Tron: Uprising. Her short fiction has appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and Albedo One. The director of several award-winning short films, her most recent project, The Night Caller, aired on WNET Channel 13 and was featured on Ain’t It Cool News. She is married with one cat and divides her time between Los Angeles and Salem.
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