Ferrante returns to LMC

About 20 people crammed into a small, dimly-lit hospital room in the Los Medanos College nursing department, where movie director Anthony C. Ferrante was coaching actors and crew through the last few shots of the day, trying to get all the stuff he needed before the 10-o’clock deadline.

“Set! All come back. Background. Roll sound,” conducted Ferrante before calling “action” on the set of his new movie “Forgotten Evil.”

There were about 20 minutes left for the writer and director to finish the last two scenes for this shoot because these actors and this location wouldn’t be available the next day — there would be no refilming if he missed something. But his experience in making his SyFy Channel phenomenon “Sharknado” series had trained him to think on his toes using a strategy he later called “Sharknadoing it.”

“We use what we have and figure out creative and fast solutions so we can finish our day on time and on schedule,” said Ferrante, adding that the final scene may not have been what he originally wanted it to be, but the compromise he came up with made it far more creative than what they would have done if they had two hours instead of 15 minutes to film it.

Whitney Spence, a talent production assistant for the movie and former LMC drama department student, said all the chaos was worth it and necessary.

“The days definitely seem to be very hectic but in a good way,” said Spence, and “12 hours seems like long enough to get a lot done, but it really takes a lot of time and hard work to make each shot look amazing.”

Ferrante, who had been filming at LMC since about 3 p.m., finally said “that’s a wrap” a little after 10 p.m. on that Thursday night, Aug. 25.

“You guys rock! Thank you,” shouted Ferrante. But the celebrating was short lived because they had to immediately clear out the building before the doors would be locked on them, trapping all their equipment inside until the morning.

This movie was a bit different from what the self-described horror guy said he was accustomed to making, but after creating and directing the Sharknado series, he was given the freedom to push his artistic boundaries. So, when his producers asked him what he wanted to try next after wrapping up work on the latest Sharknado installment, he said that he would like to do something different — a movie with no sharks and just people talking.

“Forgotten Evil” is about a woman suffering from amnesia.

“Something happens, some blunt force trauma to her head by some horrible person, we think,” said Ferrante of the character played by Masiela Lusha.

But just as Lusha is beginning to piece her life back together, whoever tried to hurt her in the past comes back to town.

In the first idea for the film the antagonist was known to the audience, but Ferrante wanted to go in a different direction.

“The thing I got caught up on was I wanted to create a mystery,” explained Ferrante, adding that he didn’t want viewers to know right out of the gate who the villain is. “And, so, now the fun part in this is making sure that everyone is a suspect.”

This change in plan gave Ferrante the freedom to decide how he wanted to portray each of the actors in the film.

“I can adjust and play it either nice or slightly sinister, and I do that with a lot of the characters,” said Ferrante, who had the cast members perform their scenes with varying tones. “So, then in editing, I can kind of decide what is too much and what is too little.”

Although Ferrante was scheduled to film his dramatic suspense thriller locally over a 14-day period, with the final day of shooting set for Friday, Sept 2, it wasn’t until the day before that he knew he was going to be filming at LMC.

The film called for a hospital set and the crew had originally planned to film in a convalescent hospital, but it didn’t have the look they were after and other spaces they had surveyed were too hard to secure.

“So, at the last minute this became available,” he explained. “Everything else has been pretty much planned, but with certain things you just kind of go with the flow.”

It might seem odd, though, that a movie director from Los Angeles would want to film his next project in the relatively unknown cities of East Contra Costa County, but Ferrante is no stranger to the area — he grew up here.

After graduating from Antioch High School, Ferrante took film classes at LMC and worked on the student-run newspaper, The Experience, in various positions, including photo editor and editor-in-chief, before transferring to San Francisco State. But he never thought of coming back here to film after moving to Los Angeles — until he happened to be in San Francisco shooting a scene for his most recent installment of the Sharknado franchise, “Sharknado: The 4th Awakens.”

“So I said, ‘Let’s drive through Antioch on the way out,’” recalled Ferrante, and he said they ended up setting up a camera outside the El Campanil Theater. The local landmark made it into the final cut, serving as the Kansas City backdrop for the car in the movie to drive by.

Being in Antioch that day reminded Ferrante the town had a cool look — one that would be expensive to find on the streets of LA. So, when the producers from the production company he works for, The Asylum, asked him where he wanted to film his current project he suggested his hometown.

The night before filming at LMC, Ferrante and first assistant director Buzz Hughes drove to the school at about 2 in the morning to check out the campus because he hadn’t been here in awhile — he was surprised by all of the changes.

But, as Ferrante dug past the newly polished outside edges of the campus, he eventually found the large grey structure of the College Complex that represented the LMC he remembered.

“And it was very weird [being here], because we were always here at night. We knew the hallways,” said Ferrante of his days putting out the LMC newspaper late at night after classes ended.

Ferrante also was able to film at his former high school, which was made possible by another former LMC and Antioch High alum, Trine Gallegos. Although Gallegos was older than Ferrante and never actually attended school with him, she got to know him at the former Antioch Ledger newspaper when she was a features writer and he was a high school kid who had come in wanting to do movie reviews.

They kept in touch over the years, so when Ferrante was getting ready to start this project in July he called Gallegos to talk about the location possibilities in the area, the majority of which he shot in downtown Antioch at places like the marina and near the river.

“We also talked about Antioch High,” said Gallegos, who is currently the outreach coordinator there, making it relatively easy to get permission to film on campus.

Watching Ferrante film was more exciting than she thought it would be and she even got a cameo that she hopes makes it into the final cut.

“It’s been lovely to see him gain some great success. ‘Sharknado’ really put him on the map, and has given him more opportunities,” said Gallegos. “He’s worked hard since he was in high school, so to see that dedication pay off makes me happy.”

Not only has filming in this area been like coming home for Ferrante but he also said it provided a way for him to pay back the place he grew up — from shooting in local businesses to using local catering companies for the food on set and casting local talent.

“I didn’t have much interaction with Anthony himself,” said LMC drama student and movie extra Junie Durling, but she said being able to observe what goes on behind the scenes of an industry she is interested in working in one day was a cool learning experience.

On his lunch break, Ferrante also gave some other LMC drama students the surprise of a lifetime by dropping in on their class at the request of Spence, who wanted to visit her former mentor he said.

“Jaws dropped, everybody pulled out their phone and started recording,” said LMC Drama Department Chair Nick Garcia, adding that sort of thing never happens because people of his celebrity don’t just drop in.

But the students were not the only ones who were starstruck.

“Insane. Great. The best day of my career,” described Garcia of the director making an unexpected and relevant visit. “We just covered pre-production and the process of what the director does, and then I turned around and he walked in.”

The experience of talking to the students and answering their questions made Ferrante nostalgic.

“I took my first film class at LMC and that class was in the same room — though the room had changed considerably,” remembered Ferrante. “Sort of a full circle moment. Very, very cool.”