Think back to when the world was put on hold in the spring of 2020. Maybe visions of rising sourdough or scenes from “Tiger King” race through your head. Lockdown was about staying safe and staying sane, and pandemic projects were all we had.
A family on Cape Cod wasted no time figuring out what they were going to do during that time. Paul and Jade Schuyler of Harwich are both filmmakers and actors, and their sons, Quinn and Shaw, then 16 and 15, are no strangers to a script, either. The family decided to do what they know: make a movie.
“Either I could sit around and be depressed, or we could film a feature,” Paul Schuyler said, thinking back to the early days of the pandemic. “We had everything we needed, equipment-wise, and all of us are actors, so we thought, why not?”
Paul put his head down writing the script for about 10 days, he said, and eventually came up with “Red River Road,” a psychological thriller about a family isolating in their Cape Cod home against a different sort of virus — one that spreads through the Internet and robs people of their ability to perceive reality.
“It’s a bit of a rabbit hole that keeps twisting and turning,” Paul said of the plot. The film, which has shown at several festivals and screened at the Chatham Orpheum theater earlier this year, has won multiple awards, including a Spirit of Independent Filmmaking award at the Stony Brook Film Festival in New York, and best feature at the Portland Horror Film Festival.
Shooting took about 14 days, said Paul and Jade, and included plenty of on-the-fly innovations. Since each member of the family has a role in the film, “everyone had to operate the camera at least once,” Paul said.
“There were two scenes where all four of us were in the shot, which involved pulling a rope attached to a camera off-frame while we were acting,” Paul recalled. “We joke that we have the shortest end-credit crawl of all time.”
Paul, who also composed music for the film, studied film at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. He and Jade met in 2002 at an acting class at the Beverly Hills Playhouse in Los Angeles. Paul has made a number of independent feature films over the years, and Jade has appeared in several onscreen and stage productions. The couple decided to move to the Cape, where Jade is originally from, in 2005 after their sons were born.
“You can make a film anywhere now,” Paul said. “You don’t have to be in LA, or New York, or Boston, even, to be honest.”
They found a home in Harwich, taking a brief break from filmmaking and acting to open the Box Office Cafe, a combination pizza shop and movie rental store in Chatham that Paul and Jade, who married in 2008, ran for 10 years. They sold it in 2015 when they were ready to get back into film. The Schuylers also own Chatham Pottery.
Right before “Red River Road,” Paul and Jade were working on the film adaptation of the theater production “Tuna Goddess,” a play Jade had written and starred in at the Cape Rep Theatre. When COVID-19 indefinitely postponed that project, “Red River Road” became the family’s focus.
“We were all on board,” Jade said, adding that they kept their teenage boys’ commitment to a minimum “to not tax their interest.” Both Quinn and Shaw are experienced actors, too, having appeared in many theater productions as well as some films, Jade said. Quinn is now a freshman at Montserrat College of Art in Beverly.
Between pre-production, filming, and post-production, the Schuylers were fully immersed in “Red River Road” for about a year and a half.
“We joked around that we missed all the TV shows, the house projects, and downtime,” Paul said. He and Jade reflected on the film’s three-week run at the Orpheum, where Paul said he overheard one of the best compliments he could have received.
“Someone walking out of the theater said, ‘There’s no way they made that by themselves,’” Paul said.
Paul and Jade are now in the final steps of securing a contract with distributor Indican Pictures, he said, and they’re aiming for a summer release on streaming platforms. The film will get another run at the Chatham Orpheum during the week of July 4, and the Cape Cinema in Brewster and the Cotuit Center for the Arts are also planning summer screenings.
Paul and Jade are thankful for the distraction they gave themselves through “Red River Road.”
“It was a tough, challenging time for everyone, but this film feels like a time capsule for my family,” Jade said. “It’s incredible to have this to look back on.”