By Gia Pilgrim, Staff Writer
Hollywood Screenwriter and Mt. Blue graduate, Desi Van Til, spoke at the University of Maine at Farmington (UMF) as part of the Visiting Writers Series and shared her experiences with students about the writing and planning process of her independent movie “Tumbledown” a romantic comedy, which is based on her own personal experiences in Farmington, ME.
Van Til grew up in the neighboring town of Vienna, graduating from Mt. Blue in 1995. She has fond memories of working at Devaney, Doak and Garrett in her youth and included the storefront in her film. After high school she went on to complete her undergraduate degree at Princeton, post-graduate in Paris, and proceeded to work in Los Angeles, reading through thousands of screenplays. She was an Associate Producer for Hollywood productions “13 Going on 30” and “Drillbit Taylor.”
“I was feeling nostalgic. I was missing Farmington; I was missing Maine,” said Van Til. “There are so many great voices in this town and I wanted to celebrate that.” It has taken Van Til 10 years of hard work to make her movie happen. It started with moving back to Maine with her husband and “co-conspirator,” Director, Sean Mewshaw. She needed all the funds she could get to keep the project going. “I sold my stupid car, and moved to Maine. I wanted to bring the circus to Farmington,” said Van Til.
A few roadblocks hindered Van Til’s original plan to film in her hometown of Farmington. An article from the LA Times quoted, “’It was just too expensive,’ she said, because Maine’s film tax incentive couldn’t offset their roughly $4-million budget much. Shooting in California was too far away from Maine and couldn’t provide a New England feel.”
She worked with Attorney General, Janet Mills, to propose a bill to enable her to film in Western Maine, however the bill was rejected twice. Instead, “Tumbledown” was filmed in areas of New Hampshire near Concord and Groton, and also in Massachusetts. It is now in it’s final stages in Vancouver.
Van Til wouldn’t be shut out of filming Maine completely, “There are a few shots on top of Bald Mountain, near the Weld Country Store, and one or two shots of Farmington,” she said.
The plot of the movie involves a young widow who falls in love with a New York writer who comes to her hometown in rural Maine to investigate the death of her husband, a folk singer. The story is one very dear to Van Til’s heart, and has many autobiographical references. Jason Sudekis from “Saturday Night Live” and Rebecca Hall from “Iron Man 3” star in the film, and the co-stars include Olivia Munn, Joe Manganiello, and Dianna Agron.
At UMF, Van Til spoke about her experience with the screenplay as a writer: “There’s a difference between a story that will sell, and a story the writer wants to tell,” said Van Til. She gives a lot of credit to the people in Farmington who inspired her to write from a place of authenticity.
Creative writing and english major, Jenna Silliboy, attended the event for her senior seminar class. She has seriously considered writing screenplays after college. “I am very excited for the film to come out,” said Silliboy. “This being my last year I have become more and more inspired to write about my experiences here.”
Professor Jeffrey Thompson was also in attendance and thought Van Til was very charming. “She talked seriously about the writing process. I thought it was very honest and engaging,” he said. He added that he doesn’t generally watch romantic comedies, but is excited for the film to come out.
“Tumbledown” is near completion, and when it’s finished Van Til and Mewshaw will be entering the movie into film festivals such as the Sundance Film Festival and are hoping someone will pick up the rights to distribute it as early as next year. Van Til considers the film, “a love letter to her home state of Maine,” said Van Til. “I hope the people in Farmington and Maine aptly think it reflects this area and the people in it.”