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Four New or Upcoming Films With Capital Region Connections

From a blockbuster starring Will Ferrell as a talking dog to a documentary about America’s most famous traitor, these films are making a splash on the big screen. 

Actor Peter O'Meara plays the role of Benedict Arnold in a new documentary by three Capital Region filmmakers.

Benedict Arnold: Hero Betrayed

Directed by Chris Stearns

Written by Tom Mercer and Anthony Vertucci

Release Date: November 2, 2021

Benedict Arnold: Hero Betrayed is a must-see visual tour de force that breathes new life into the story of one of American history’s most controversial figures. After decades of tireless research and years of logistical planning and filming, the efforts of Capital Regionites Chris Stearns, Tom Mercer and Anthony Vertucci, as well as executive producer and chief historian James Kirby Martin, have resulted in a timeless tribute to Benedict Arnold’s enduring historical legacy. Featuring live re-enactments at historical sites in the Saratoga region, commentary from renowned historians, and impeccable cinematography, the film is truly epic in scale. It is narrated by Martin Sheen and stars Band of Brothers actor Peter O’Meara as Benedict Arnold himself.

Writer and producer Tom Mercer first became interested in Arnold’s story as a child growing up in Saratoga. “When I saw the Boot Monument that was supposed to be a tribute to Benedict Arnold at Saratoga National Historical Park,” he says, “it deeply intrigued me.” After Mercer learned more about American history during his college years, he realized that many historians saw Arnold from a different perspective than he did. “It became a mission of mine to improve Benedict Arnold’s reputation,” says Mercer. “I believe this film presents a more accurate and unbiased reflection of his life and historical contributions.”

From the very beginning, the Saratoga community stepped up to help make the documentary happen. “From the Adirondack Trust Company supporting us early on,” says director Chris Stearns, a Niskayuna native, “to the State Troopers flying us over the Saratoga Battlefield in a helicopter, the film was truly a community effort.” Saratoga’s Universal Preservation Hall hosted the premiere of the feature film with two special screenings in November 2021. The movie is now available to stream on Prime Video, iTunes, Vudu, Roku and Vimeo.

“Here in Saratoga, our regional history is somewhat downplayed because it’s so intertwined with Benedict Arnold,” Mercer says. “By bringing his story forward, it helps restore our region’s rightful place in history. It also reframes the narrative of what the Saratoga region contributed to the founding of the nation.”

Saratoga-born director Josh Greenbaum is working on an R-rated, talking-dog film starring actors Jamie Foxx, Will Forte and Will Ferrell.

Strays

Directed by Josh Greenbaum

Release Date: 2023

With a star-studded cast that includes celebrated Hollywood icons such as Will Ferrell, Jamie Foxx and Will Forte, Strays is shaping up to be a humorous and moving addition to director Josh Greenbaum’s cinematic résumé. Born and raised in Saratoga, Greenbaum fondly recalls attending concerts at SPAC with his father in his younger years. “He took me to see Eric Clapton for my first live concert,” says Greenbaum. “It was a really fun experience.” Greenbaum’s father also introduced him to classic films such as Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Breaking Away, which directly influenced his creative trajectory. 

After graduating from Cornell University, Greenbaum eventually landed in Los Angeles, where he began a fruitful career in the film industry. Over the next 15 years, Greenbaum went on to work as a writer, editor, producer and director for multiple high-profile network television shows and films, such as the Hulu documentary series Behind the Mask and Fox’s New Girl, eventually directing 2021’s well-received feature comedy Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar. Greenbaum’s newest creative undertaking, Strays, chronicles the story of a stray dog who teams up with several other dogs to exact revenge upon his former owner. By making use of novel live filming techniques, Greenbaum and his production team were able to bring the story to life in evocative and fascinating ways. “When I first read the script, I was incredibly excited,” Greenbaum says. “The film is an R-rated, talking dog movie, but it’s not animated—we used real dogs. Strays is a comedy, but I think audiences will be surprised about how emotionally honest it is. The film has a lot of heart, and it was incredible to watch the trainers work with the dogs on the film set.” Strays is expected to be released in 2023.

As Greenbaum moves forward with his career in the film industry, he remains grateful for the life lessons that he learned during his childhood in Saratoga. “My mother was an English professor at Skidmore College, and she helped me to grow as a writer. Growing up in Saratoga, I was also able to develop a real sense of community and group effort throughout the course of my youth. I was captain of the soccer and lacrosse teams at Saratoga Springs High School during my senior year, which helped me to improve the communication and teamwork skills that I use in all of my creative collaborations today.”

Saratogian Spencer Sherry with the cursed toy monkey from his upcoming Stephen King film adaptation.

The Monkey

Written and Directed by Spencer Sherry

Release Date: TBA

The tale of how Spencer Sherry’s upcoming feature film came into being has more exciting twists and turns than some bestselling horror novels. Born just north of Oneonta, Sherry moved to the Saratoga area in 2017 after working in the film industry as a production assistant in New York City. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, Sherry channeled his artistic passion into writing an adapted screenplay for his favorite Stephen King short story, “The Monkey.” Sherry originally intended to submit the screenplay for The Monkey to King’s “Dollar Baby” program, through which the acclaimed author grants independent and student filmmakers the license to adapt his stories for $1, with the understanding that they cannot commercially profit off them. Unfortunately, Sherry encountered a disappointing roadblock when he realized that “The Monkey” was not
on the list of short stories that were originally approved for the program.

After shelving the story for a full year due to frustration and disillusionment, Sherry decided to take a bold risk. He reached out to King’s agent in 2021 to ask if King would consider extending the Dollar Baby program’s selection of stories to include “The Monkey.” Surprisingly, he got the response he was praying for: yes. After receiving approval from the agent, Sherry joined forces with Capital Region–based filmmaker Joe Gietl.The pair are currently in the process of scouting locations for the project, and plan to begin shooting the film in May. They are also actively fundraising and looking for producers with whom to collaborate.

As a die-hard fan of King’s books, Sherry has refocused the scope and storyline of “The Monkey,” creating a project that draws heavily on the original story and its plot elements. “The story is a great example of everything that I love about storytelling,” says Sherry. “The cymbal-clapping monkey brings death in the film, but the fear of it comes from our wrestling with inevitability in our everyday lives.” Sherry adds that he is incredibly excited to work with professionals in the Saratoga and Capital Region on this project. “It’s important to me to make this film in Upstate New York because the people who make films up here possess a real love and drive for filmmaking,” he says. “The projects I’ve seen come out of this area are incredibly personal and sincere, and I admire everyone I’ve met in the local film industry.”

Saratoga native Angela Sheil’s short film was shot in Sedgwick, ME, in September 2021. (Kiki Vassilakis)

The DoubleWalker

Written, produced  and Directed by Angela Sheil

Release Date: May 2022

Saratoga-born filmmaker Angela Sheil’s debut short film, The DoubleWalker, is a visually-arresting psychological thriller that serves as a profound testament to the power of artistic vulnerability. The film tells the story of a grief-stricken young woman named Grace, who returns to her childhood home only to discover that she may have inherited a sinister family curse. 

Sheil found the inspiration for the film during a stressful semester at Academy of Art University in San Francisco. “One evening, I dreamt of a world in which everyone had a clone,” she says. “Each clone was hunting for their ‘original’ and intending to kill them and take their place. I woke up sweating, grabbed a pen and scrap paper off my nightstand, and the dream exploded onto the back of a utility bill. I knew instantly that the dream was a ‘death-of-self’ message. I needed to shed the person I was and start taking care of the woman I wanted to become. Part of that transformation involved manifesting that message onto film.”

Just two days after the dream, Sheil completed the first draft of the script. In the years that followed, she continued to refine the script, and returned to the Capital Region from the west coast. After arriving in Troy in 2016, Sheil connected with the Collar City–based film production company Chromoscope Pictures. She has since collaborated with them on a number of music videos, for which she has served as an actor, producer, gaffer and director. During COVID-19, Sheil emptied out her savings to bring the script of The DoubleWalker to life, assembling a talented cast and crew from New York City, Los Angeles, Portland, ME, and the Capital Region. The DoubleWalker was shot in September 2021 in Sedgwick, ME, on protected land surrounding the only warm-water cove on the state’s coast. 

After filming for The DoubleWalker was complete, Sheil started a fundraising campaign to ensure that all financial requirements for post-production were met. As the filmmaker looks forward to premiering The DoubleWalker in May, she’s excited to share her creative vision with the world. “The further I go down my path as a filmmaker, the more I realize what’s most important to me is vulnerability,” she says. “Transforming the joy and pain of what it is to be human and what it means to be vulnerable—that’s the kind of filmmaking I am interested in.”

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