'It's about collaboration'

TM Productions readies for premiere of 'The Author' at Park Theatre

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It’s been two decades of movie-making for TM Productions, but for Todd and Holly Mulholland and their sons Ethan and Thomas, there is nothing like an impending movie premiere.

On Nov. 10, the Mulholland family, along with their current movie’s cast, will premiere “The Author” at the Park Theatre in front of a full house of approximately 1,000 people. The screening comes after two years of writing, one year of casting and two years of filming.

The event will be a benefit for the Rhode Island Community Food Bank. Guests will attend free of charge, and will be asked only to bring a nonperishable food donation as their entry fee.

“We started this movie after the last premiere for ‘Reciprocity,’” said Todd Mullholland, who not only directs and produces the films but also writes the scripts. “It took me two years of writing it, but this was the first time it was a complete story before we started. It’s also the first time we did full auditions. We have a lot of Cranston people in our cast, we have people from California and people from New York, and we did our auditions at the Artists’ Exchange in Cranston.”

Two of the lead actors in the movie, Raymond Sleboda II and Ella Belsky, are the children of Todd and Holly’s fellow classmates from the Cranston High School East class of 1985. The Mulhollands had such a turnout of young actors and actresses for the lead roles that they created several additional young characters for the movie in order to include as many of their fellow alumni’s children as possible.

“The story is about a little boy who was born and raised in Pascoag. His parents were involved with alcohol and drugs and he was abused throughout his childhood,” Todd said. “He was bullied and picked on at school and he spent most of his time in the basement staying away from his parents. He would read books to fill the time. There was a suspense novelist whose books he read. As he grows up, he wants to be like the author of those books, who is like his mentor. He decides to start to carry out some of the writings like the author.”

Sleboda has some previous acting experience, having appeared in Benny’s commercials, and the Mulhollands enjoyed working with him.

“He is truly one of the oldest souls I have ever met,” Todd said. “At 9 years old, he was not just acting, but he was also helping me work the slate and he worked on the sound. He’s well-rounded and has a good work ethic.”

When it came time to choose the adult female lead, Todd hadn’t found the right fit.

“The auditions had taken place, we’d cast every single person for the movie except this lead,” he said. “We had a second round of auditions at the Artists’ Exchange, and one of the actors, Jeff White, had a friend who was prepping for ‘A Christmas Carol’ there, and she happened to be dressed as a ghost for her role. She was petite and had big eyes, which was what we were looking for. She was an award-winning Shakespearean actress, so she had the look and the talent. She had only done stage acting, this was her first movie, and she was absolutely the best actress I’ve ever worked with.”

This movie marks the first time that more professional actors are in the cast than amateurs.

“Our biggest coup was getting Cathy Ray, a former news anchor who came in and stole the show,” he said. “She was magnificent. She plays a character who is a billionaire.”

Other familiar faces include Pat Quinn of Quinn Funeral Home and former Cranston East educator Mark Colozzi.

“We filmed one scene at Quinn Funeral Home, but you’d never know that it’s a funeral home,” Holly said.

Other local filming locations also included Linden Place Mansion in Bristol, Robin Muksian’s farmhouse, cast member John Belsky’s home and an alumni-owned restaurant, Shanna’s Country Kitchen.

According to Todd and Holly, there are many behind-the-scenes secrets that are all part of the fun of creating a movie.

“We used one camera to film the entire film, using all different angles,” Todd said. “We used a blue light a lot in this movie. We often have to cut, reset and redo. There is no actual nudity, blood or gore.”

“The killer in the movie is always shown as hooded and masked, so you would never know that eight different people played the killer because that actor was super busy and we needed people to fill in when we were filming,” Holly said.

“We had a restaurant scene where we had at least 35 graduates from the class of 1985 as extras, many who hadn’t seen each other in 30 years,” Todd said. “We filled the restaurant tables with yearbooks from Cranston East, Park View and Bain. We had Cranston Herald newspapers on the table, and we filmed the scene just letting everyone talk and be together. They had a great, great time.”

Both Holly and Todd are sure that their cast members won’t soon forget the time that the Cranston Police Department was called by a concerned neighbor who saw some nighttime filming taking place in the parking lot behind City Hall with some questionable-looking characters, or the time they had to call in cast members to film a scene over again two years later, using a completely different location the second time around.

Through the magic of Todd’s editing, the look is seamless, and both agree that no one will realize part of the scene takes place two years prior in a different location.

“The journey is why we do this, the camaraderie, the stories, the fun – that’s my favorite part,” Todd said. “Holly has documented the entire journey with candid photos. The premiere event, that’s for the cast, we do that for them. It’s for them to have their night.”

The Mulhollands are grateful for the support of their friends and family, for all of the actors and actresses who gave their time over the two years to the film and to those who provided locations or services for use free of charge. They also thanked all of the alumni from the Cranston East class of 1985, including those in the movie in leading roles, or as extras, who have such a strong bond and who supported them through the years of making a movie from start to finish.

“The actors and actresses all say that this is one of their greatest experiences,” Todd said. “For us, each movie experience just gets better and better.”

TM Productions is a nonprofit, and they turn down sponsors each time they do a movie. They rely on donations and they pay for any expenses incurred each time. The goal is the pure enjoyment of the art of the craft and sharing that with others.

“I want to show the world that you can do this,” Todd said. “I want to show people what you can do when you enjoy the art itself. It’s about collaboration, about getting people together, and it’s about hearing people saying the lines that I created. Writing is so much fun to do. I almost cry every time, the first time when I hear someone say my lines. In 1988, I created my very first movie, and I watch that often to see where we have come from. This is like my third child. It’s a wonderful thing. It’s not for me, it’s for our kids and our grandkids. This is our legacy.”

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