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Take Five: Filmmaker Andrew Silver, director of "Radio Cape Cod"

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 9, 2009 - KETC (Channel 9) is broadcasting a very special Valentine at 8 p.m., Sat., Feb. 14. An award-winning independent film, "Radio  Cape Cod" is a triple love story set on the beaches of Cape Cod, Mass. With gorgeous scenery and beautiful people, it's as relaxing and refreshing as a day on the beach -- and uplifting to boot.

The story is set among a team of oceanographers, notably Sunday (O.T. Fagbenle), who is visiting Woods Hole from MIT (Massachusetts Institute for Technology) for a few days, and his friend, who is going to be married on Saturday. The five-day action opens on a summer Monday with a lively exchange, which includes banter about the upcoming wedding.

Little does Sunday know that he is about to fall in love himself. Sunday is called to do a radio interview about their marine biology work at a local NPR station. In a delightful "love at first sight" film scene, he and older woman Jill (Tamzin Outhwaite) gaze into each other's eyes as they discuss their common passion for our planet and sparks fly!

The third pair are teenagers falling in love for the first time, Jill's daughter, Anna (Tamzin Merchant), and a young man named Virgil, who is played by the director's son, the 17-year-old Julian Silver. The three romances play a sweet and meaningful counterpoint on love: the two about-to-be-marrieds, the two falling into some version of mature love and the two teenagers, who philosophize more about love than the others combined.

The multi-talented director/producer, Andrew Silver, of Boston got the initial idea for the film from the book "Black Apollo of Science" by Kenneth Manning, a professor of history of science at MIT. Silver wrote the screenplay with later help from Marta Rainer.

Among the film's many charms is its music. Rather than a single score tied to each frame, there are multiple compositions by musicians from all over the world who happened to be at Boston-area music schools. Everything from samba to harp music manages to work together unobtrusively -- as Silver said, "very soulful."

Another is the film's being shot only in natural light. The sun-washed beauty of the scenes, inside and out, is breath-taking. As Silver said, "It's a kind of 'love the planet' rather than fear what will become of it."

For preview glimpses, consult www.radiocapecod.com and www.asilverproduction.com. Here follow excerpts from a conversation with Andrew Silver:

How did you find the actors?

Silver: I found the first, O.T. Fagbenle (Sunday), in London. I was working with a casting person there, and we must have seen at least 60 actors. I was looking for a kind of poet-scientist. After I found him, probably a year and a half before we started filming, we sent letters of commitment back and forth -- kind of like a marriage. Then we found Tamzin Merchant (Anna), who had been in "Pride and Prejudice," and then Tamzin Outhwaite (Jill). The three main actors are all from England, even though Sunday is played with an American accent. I wanted to have these English accents. It's so Cape Cod, so New England, so PBS, NPR and BBC. It seemed appropriate. Then Alice (lead scientist) teaches at MIT, where I teach. Then there is my son, who was great fun to work with. And the rest are locals, some from MIT and Wellesley.

What about the cinematographer?

Silver: That was difficult because I wanted to work in natural light. I finally found Michael Spindler through a friend in Zurich. I talked with him on the phone and he said he was working on a film for Swiss television on cranberries in Massachusetts. "I think the universe has just spoken," I thought. We found the form really fit the content. In most films of couples, you have one shot and then another shot. In "Radio Cape Cod," it's mostly two shots where you see both faces at once. It helps with the intimacy, the theme of connection -- connection to the planet and connection in love and friendship. It starts with the very first scene.

You do other things besides making films?

Silver: Yes, lots of things. I just finished teaching a January course at MIT, a leadership course for sophomore engineers in partnership with the Sloan School of Management. It's about presentations, giving and taking criticism and what I call "mental diversity." I also do some consulting and some real estate development. Producing and directing require leadership -- to get everybody on board, staying on the same page, yet having diversity within this unity. (Silver has an undergraduate and master's degrees in oceanography and earth science from MIT, a doctorate in business administration from Harvard.)

What is your advice to other people out there who want to make independent films?

Silver: You have to have a wife who works. Also, you have to be in a position to focus on the process and the people rather than the money. You have to be in a position so that, if you lose the money, it's not a catastrophe. You have to be young or old. It doesn't work in the middle when you're raising children. You have more freedom when you're old. When you're 60 and you've never made a movie before, then it's time. After all, digital production is inexpensive. Distribution can be inexpensive, but you can never afford to pay for marketing. The media need to be behind you.

How do you see the future of independent film?

Silver: We're going to be more democratic with broader bandwidth. Cell phones will become more ubiquitous and better, and people will be watching movies on them. On a cell phone you can have a worldwide market. I think we'll be able to charge very tiny amounts. People will say, "I can risk 20 cents."

Films don't have to be 90 minutes long and cost a fortune. Some intermediary the equivalent of iTunes would be a third step -- small payments and a bigger reach. Some phone company will have an indexing system that's free. The phone companies are used to charging small amounts and people are used to paying small amounts -- some mixed system. Once people get used to it they'll say, "This is terrific!" That's what I think will happen in the next two or three years. 

Susan Waugh is a local freelance writer who has long reviewed films.