by Nathan Lerner
— Part two
Ed. Note: Mt. Airy moviemaker Alison Bagnall’s film, “Funny Bunny,” will be screened Sunday Nov. 1, 1 p.m., at the Prince Theater, 1412 Chestnut St., as part of the 24th annual Philadelphia Film Festival.
Initially, after moving from New York to Philly 10 years ago, moviemaker Alison Bagnall and her family lived in Frankford due to its proximity to Frankford Friends School, where her daughters matriculated. She explained, “When they started attending Germantown Friends School, we moved to Mt. Airy to be closer and also to have neighbors who wouldn’t rob us when we went out of town at Christmas.”
Bagnall candidly acknowledged, “If I’m honest, what I secretly enjoy about Mt. Airy is feeling like sort of the poor white family on the block. I loved that my neighborhood had a number of African American families who had fancier houses than ours, nicer cars. In this country, that is a very refreshing situation to be in.”
She did express disappointment about one aspect of living in Mt. Airy, “I wish people walked more in Mt. Airy. Most people are in their cars. That’s one thing that caught me by surprise in Philadelphia, how it is such a driving town, other than Center City, of course. It almost reminds me of living in Los Angeles.”
The budget for “Funny Bunny” was a mere $60,000, which Bagnall raised courtesy of a Kickstarter campaign. She contended, “It was the only way we could raise funds to make this film. To get more money, I would have had to cast better known actors, which would have sent the budget higher, which would have required me to water down the story.
“I know this because I went down that path of a higher budget and movie stars and then abandoned it because, once more money got involved, I lost creative control.”
According to Bagnall, “The biggest challenge was making a film that was any good. That’s always the biggest challenge. The other challenge was that I lost heart for a while. I thought I had blown the movie, because I didn’t know how to edit the unconventionally shot footage. Then, my lead actor, Kentucker Audley, who is a director in his own right, edited the film, and it all came together.
“Another big challenge was taking care of the cast and crew properly without much money. I didn’t want people to be sick or stressed out or underfed. As the director, you are responsible for your cast and crew’s well-being. I was afraid to literally not have enough food for everyone! Luckily, our ‘movie mom,’ Laura Fox, who rented us her entire house in Germantown for the cast and crew to live in, enlisted her close friends to donate meals on many nights when we didn’t have our caterer. This was an incredible help.”
Shooting locations included what used to be a farmhouse in East Mt. Airy, which is now the home of the Polychron-McCoubrey family, and also a former home of Michael and Nancy Verruto in Chestnut Hill. Bagnall observed, “Everyone who has seen the film who is from Philadelphia has recognized it as Philly. However, people who watch it and are not from Philly think that I shot it out in the countryside.
“I can sincerely say that we could not have made this film without the enormous help of a whole community of families sprinkled throughout Mt. Airy, Chestnut Hill and Germantown.”
Asked whom her current film would appeal to the most, Bagnall replied, “’Funny Bunny’ is a film for the very innocent at heart. It’s an earnest, sweet film but also funny and then quite wrenching and poignant.” She continued, “It’s a movie for people who are less interested in plot and more interested in character. It’s for moviegoers who like being psychological detectives.
“I’ve walked in on screenings of it at the climactic moment when the whole audience seemed to be frozen, and I thought the projector had broken. In fact, they were caught up in the performance of the lead actress (Joslyn Jensen), whose climactic scene is quite wrenching.
“I am thrilled by how well the performances came out. I also love the cinematography. It was gratifying to watch how the cast and crew jelled and became a little family … No one is getting paid enough to not be having fun. Fun is underrated. So is joy.”