HANOVER -- Rooting through stinky trash barrels in my underwear with fake filth crusting on my face, I couldn't help wonder whether Robert De Niro started this way.
But, who cares? All that mattered was that I was acting, doing something I've enjoyed for a long time. I was portraying an elderly man with dementia in a low-budget independent drama called "Sundown," shot mostly in Hanover.
Places south of Boston have been hotspots for film locations big and small, the former including "Shutter Island" (Dedham), "Stronger" (Weymouth), "Joy" (Canton), and the "Ghostbusters" remake (Norwood, Weymouth, and Easton).
Small would be films like "Sundown," created by writer/filmmaker/musician and Hanover native Brendan Boogie, 40, who wrote and directed it, having raised more than $16,000 via Kickstarter -- the way most indie projects are financed.
"Sundown" is a story about a family dealing with the ravages and uncertainty of dementia, and Boogie knows it well. His father died last October with the disease. We used the modest Hanover home where Boogie grew up to film much of the movie. His mother, Bonnie, still lives there -- and often cooked for the cast and crew.
"No one except my mother was likely to put up with our film crew invading her home," Boogie said, laughing. "She had to put up with me because it's her fault I was born."
I played Sol, the father with dementia, with Zele Avradopolous of Hingham playing my wife. I would joke that if I forgot my lines it's because my character has dementia. That kind of dark humor permeates the film itself, guided by Boogie's experiential hand.
He said shooting in his childhood home "was sort of surreal. We had Sol sleeping in my dad's bed and using his cane. The goal was to create something authentic, and being in that lived-in space certainly helped that."
Though the film doesn't strictly mirror Boogie's father's life, it does reflect dementia's impact on caregivers. We shot one powerful scene in which my character screams at his daughter, Traci, played by Caitlin Graham of Somerville. I later found Bonnie crying -- told me that scene actually did happen. I hugged her, feeling bad yet at the same time uncomfortably proud we'd gotten it right.
A day on any movie set involves waiting. You show up early and plop into a makeup chair, ours lorded over by Krystle Feher, a makeup artist who splits time between coasts. My character needed to look old and pale, and Feher was up to the task, brushing my usual tan into a more sickly pallor. In one scene, after my character tried to hurt himself, she crafted a genuine-looking neck scar around my throat.
I've acted in many plays, which tell linear stories. With movies, it's scattershot, often filming late scenes early in the process and vice versa. The actor's challenge is being wherever you need to be in the story on any given day. Our group seemed to have pulled it off seamlessly, including doing emotional scenes in the Hanover kitchen over and over until it was just as Boogie wanted it.
On set, actors are called the "talent," which if you're not careful can go to your head. But every person, cast and crew, is talent, each with unique skills brought to the collaborative effort. That included Sally Northrop, our producer, mother hen, and master organizer who would drive down from Portland, Maine, with her teenage son and production assistant, Ben, often staying over at her sister's house in Scituate.
There was some ad libbing, too, Boogie allowing us to deviate from the script to find our character's voice. I had the most fun doing that with Grayson Powell, a Screen Actors Guild actor out of New York and Boston, who played my son. The loving dynamic our characters shared mirrors the real chop-busting way my actual son and I have.
(Keep an eye on Powell, the lone full-time professional actor on our set: He plays Sam Malone in the new "Cheers Live on Stage" play based on the old TV show, which will tour nationally after debuting at Boston's Shubert Theater Sept. 9-18.)
The last two days of filming were done at Mount Pleasant Home in Jamaica Plain, a nursing home, where residents occasionally wandered into the shoot. That didn't faze Boogie. "It's OK," he reassured them. "We're in your house, and we appreciate you letting us be here."
Then it was over.
Boogie tearfully thanked everyone and spoke of how much the project meant to him and how he'd get the movie into various film festivals.
For most of us, it was back to our "real" lives as writers, counselors, students, administrators -- each with an eye to future projects shot in our own backyards that hopefully will go as smoothly as this one did.
And we got paid, an amount that would be coffee money to those in De Niro's realm.
But that's not why we gathered during the steamy dog days of summer in Hanover to make a movie. If we were in it for the money, we wouldn't be in it at all.
Paul E. Kandarian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.