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Local movie makers produce short film in 21 days

By Kristen Gaydos (Staff Writer)
Published: September 1, 2011Facebook Twitter 

James Merolla stars in “Mile West of Main Street,” a short film produced locally by Noonan Film Group.

It’s hard to ignore a man covered in fake blood.

That’s one lesson that local filmmakers James Merolla, Ron Williams and actor Rob Habbad took away from the set of their newest project, “Mile West of Main Street.” The short film will debut at the Philadelphia Film and Animation Festival held Sept. 29 to Oct. 2.

In “Mile West of Main Street,” two outlaws are on the run when their car breaks down – in the aftermath, one undergoes an existential crisis. The film stars Merolla, Habbad and Seth Pesta. Shooting took place in Harding and at the Casino Motel off state Route 115 in Bear Creek Township. It’s the Noonan Film Group’s first entry in the Project Twenty1 filmmaking competition.

The low-key shoot on the side of the road in Harding baffled passersby, Williams and Merolla said. One woman stopped to check on the group after catching a glimpse of Pesta covered in fake blood. Another man was in disbelief after asking what they were doing near the seemingly-broken down car.

“We said, ‘We’re shooting a movie.’ He said, ‘Really?'” Merolla said.

The Project Twenty1 contest gives aspiring filmmakers 21 days to create a film less that ten minutes long. In that span, the filmmakers must write the script and film and edit the movie down to less than 10 minutes long. Each entry much include a theme element – this year’s required a crash of some kind.

“We were able to get away with the crash being the hood (of a car) slamming,” Merolla said.

Merolla and Williams form the nucleus of Noonan Film Group, based in Wilkes-Barre. They’ve been shooting shorts and web series for about three years, jumping headfirst into the process.

“Ron and I have always been writers, and we always liked films, so the natural thing to do was write and film movies,” Merolla said. “We didn’t even know how to work a camera.”

They faced quite the learning curve as they found their ambitions were greater than their early capabilities. Intricate, wide-sweeping plots looked great on paper, but weren’t feasible without a large financial backing and huge cast, the duo said.

“We don’t even have that many Facebook friends between us,” Williams said.

Since they began, Merolla said they’ve learned to focus on elements like strong characterization and visual storytelling, rather than pinning an entire project on a well-developed plot.

A 10-minute short still takes plenty of work. The filmmakers condensed about nine hours of footage for “Mile West of Main Street.”

Another hurdle the filmmakers face is finding people willing to get up at 4 a.m. for shoots. Merolla and Williams both lauded Pesta, who tackled those early hours and donned a shirt covered in fake blood, despite the tinge it left on his skin.

“The kid’s probably still pink,” Williams said.

This isn’t the first time the guys at Noonan raced the clock to finish a project. They worked under a 24-hour deadline to complete the short “Low Sodium” for the 2010 Philadelphia Film Race.

The film group won “Best Make-Up” for the story of a man who gets revenge on his vampire friend, who he suspects of cheating with his girlfriend. Local special effects artist Sean Carey did the visual effects for the film.

Other previous projects include the “Killed for Comedy” mockumentary web-series following Habbad on “his quest for comedic greatness.” The series – which includes Habbad luring a female lead actor by pretending to sell a friend’s car for $100 on – is viewable on Vimeo.

Despite mishaps along the way, Merolla and Williams are satisfied with how much they’ve learned on the fly. They’re pretty happy with their low-key enterprise (though finding someone to help with sound might be nice).

“We’ve come a long way. We’re pretty happy where we’re at now,” Merolla said.

For more, visit or follow @noonanfilmgroup on Twitter., 570-821-2118

About Project Twenty1

The 21-day filmmaking competition gives teams of filmmakers and animators from around the world the opportunity to make films and animations up to 10 minutes long in 21 days. Films completed within the deadline are guaranteed a world premiere screening at Project Twenty1 2011 Philadelphia Film & Animation Festival from Sept. 29 to Oct. 2. They are eligible for awards in a dozen categories, including Best Acting, Best Directing, Best Writing, Best Use of Element, Best Effects, and Best Film.

Top films receive a commercial release on DVD, listing on the Internet Movie Database (, and submission to Project Twenty1’s festival partners.

For more, visit

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