On the second last night of filming Cold Brook in Western New York, local acting hero, William “Bill” Fichtner, walks into the Moose Lodge on Main Street in East Aurora, watches the finishing touches made to the buffet line for dinner, and smiles.
He then walks over and gives a bear hug to his close friend, Lou Billittier, who owns iconic Chef’s Restaurant on Seneca St. in Buffalo with his sister, Mary Beth. Fichtner then finds Lou’s niece and Mary Beth’s daughter, Jade DiSciullo and gives her a big hug and says, with complete sincerity, “Thank You.”
“What Lou and Chef’s is doing here is unprecedented,” Fichtner says as the cast and crew of 75 begins to walk through the line for dinner on Day 15 of 16 in WNY.
“These breakfast and dinner meals every day are uncommon on the set of a major, big dollar film and they certainly are unheard of for an independent film with such a small budget like ours,” Fichtner adds. “This is the work of a true friend and every one of us appreciates it so very much.”
Next to his answer, “We are making a great film” when asked over the past month how the filming is proceeding, “Thank You” are two words Fichtner uses without equivocation to everyone connected with the first film this veteran Hollywood actor has directed, co-written and co-stars in.
When he arrives on location for the start of a 12-hour day of filming, Fichtner says hello by name and thank you to every member of the cast and crew. When local actors or extras are involved in scenes that day, he makes sure to meet them, say hello, thank them and adds, “We are making a great film.”
A proud graduate of Maryvale High School, who grew up in Cheektowaga, Fichtner has siblings and many friends living here. He has never forgotten his WNY roots despite living in Hollywood with his wife, Kim and two sons. Kim, an actress, is here with her husband and has a part in the film.
Fichtner worked closely with Buffalo Niagara Film Commissioner Tim Clark and New York State Senator Pat Gallivan to convince the state legislature and Governor Andrew M. Cuomo to pass a tax credit law to entice film companies to do more business in the state. When he was talking with the state officials a few years back, Fichtner told them he has co-written a screen play with the talented writer/actor/director Cain DeVore of Hollywood, who is also Executive Producer of Cold Brook and who has been here since filming began.
Cold Brook is an inspiring story about two best friends, played by Fichtner and his close friend in acting, Kim Coates. While most of the film was shot at locations in and around Buffalo, Cold Brook is actually the name of the street that leads to a beautiful brook and cabin in Central New York, near SUNY at Cortland, sites of the final four days of filming, which ends today.
Fichtner’s reputation helped attract a strong cast. Along with his co-star, Coates, others in the film are Harold Perrineau, Robin Weigert, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Johnny Strong, Erich Anderson and Pat Asanti. Many local actors have also been utilized.
What is unique about Fichtner’s role in this film project is that he is wearing all four hats of film making: He is a partner with Producer Sara Shaak, who is from Alberta, on this film and Shayne Putzlocher, also from Alberta, is the producer on the set. Fichtner co-wrote Cold Brook and meets regularly with DeVore to tweak the script throughout filming. This is also his directing debut, which means he is reviewing every scene that is being filmed by Director of Photography Edd Lukas and his team. They do not wrap a scene until Fichtner knows they have the shot he wants.
Lastly, and probably most important, he is the lead actor. When they yell “Action” on the set his attention now goes to what got him here—being a great actor.
Fichtner began his illustrious acting career in 1987 as Josh Snyder in As The World Turns daytime television series. Since then, he has appeared in a number of notable films and television series, including Sheriff Tom Underlay in the cult favorite television series, Invasion; Alexander Mahone in Prison Break and numerous film roles in Quiz Show, Armageddon, The Perfect Storm and Black Hawk Down, to name just a few.
Next week he returns to Hollywood for the start of filming the fifth season of the CBS sitcom, Mom, which begins November 2. He plays Adam Janikowski, Bonnie Plunkett’s (Allison Janney) new love interest.
A huge Bills, Sabres and Bisons fan, Fichtner hosted members of the cast and crew to two Bison games while he was in town this month. He has narrated ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary, Four Falls of Buffalo, about the Bills’ four straight Super Bowl appearances. He returns here often and when he does he always stops at Chef’s for a meal with his friend, Lou Billittier and Mother’s Restaurant to sit at the bar and talk with another pal, owner Mark Supples.
Several years ago Fichtner and Clark were in Chef’s having lunch with Billittier when Fichtner began discussing the screen play he co-wrote and wants to direct and co-star here in Buffalo. When Billittier asked when he planned to begin filming, Fichtner answered, “When we secure the funding.”
“I told him I did not have that kind of cash to invest in a movie but when they come to town to begin the film, I would handle the catering,” the extremely generous Billittier recalls while seated in the East Aurora Moose Lodge. “We do hundreds of catering jobs a year at Chef’s but they are all drop offs. I never realized what goes into the daily catering of a full length motion picture with a crew and cast of 75 people each day.”
Earlier this year, Billittier was surprised by a visit from Fichtner and Coates, who sat down for lunch and announced, “We are ready to shoot that film here. Are you in?”
“Without knowing anything about catering a movie I said I was in so we shook hands and had lunch,” the restauranteur explains. Billittier then went to the internet to research on site catering for movies. He knew he had the equipment and the vehicles to move them and he knew he had friends he could call to assist so it would not be a huge burden on his staff at Chef’s but he never realized the work it required everyday.
“It was an outstanding experience but it was extremely hard work because of the sites we were in throughout the filming,” he says, recalling the nights they filmed in the History Museum and had to be extremely quiet as they created a dining area in the auditorium. They had to use their cell phone lights because it had to be dark while they filmed in the adjacent room.
Or when they were called to assist Oliver’s for catering at Kleinhans Music Hall and had to set up a dining area in the church across the street. “That was the first time I used an altar in a church to serve food,” he says with a laugh.
They also had to invest in tents for the spring gardens in East Aurora where they set up buffet tables in the woods or when they had to set up a tent in the parking lot at Canisius College and deal with heavy winds.
Billittier assigned Jade, his 17-years young niece, as Project Supervisor and called on pals, Mike Muscarella and retired police officers, Digger Kennedy and Eddie Fall to assist at each site. J.J. Grime, his Executive Chef at Chef’s was key as he created the amazing dishes for breakfast and then for the lunch/dinner call six hours later.
“I did it for Bill,” says Billittier, who has been around professional athletes and movie and television stars since he was a kid when his father, Lou, Sr. owned the restaurant. The nearly 200 photos of celebrities holding a jar of his sauce is testimony to that.
“Bill Fichtner is the consummate professional. He says hello to everyone and what amazes me is that he remembers everyone’s name, shakes their hands and says thank you everyday they are out here. He is a solid guy.”
Jade, entering her senior year Nardin Academy, says the experience of catering the cast and crew of Cold Brook was “an experience within a job.”
“I was able to not only interact with people whom I would have never had the opportunity to meet outside the “Base Camp” of the cast and crew, but I also was able to learn more about the behind the scenes of making a movie,” she explains while overseeing the buffet during dinner. “I used to watch movies and never think about what went on behind the scenes, the late dinners for filming that lasted until the wee hours of the morning, to serving breakfast when most of us would be eating lunch so they had time to recover from the late night of filming before the next day of 12 hour filming began.”
Jade said some days were tougher than others because of the different locations it faced on every set.
“Whatever we faced, my Uncle Lou would always say to our team, ‘We are up for the challenge.’ No matter the time of day or night and no matter the challenge, it was all a part of the experience. This, for sure, did not feel like a job,” she adds.
Billittier worked with the film team to create the daily menu, which included tofu and eggs, turkey sausage, oatmeal and grits as some of the breakfast items along with roasted chicken, bruschetta with shrimp, beef on weck, seared tuna, scrod and oh yeah, pasta with Chef’s tomato sauce for lunch/dinner.
There was also Weber’s Mustard on the condiment table for every meal.
“Bill loves Weber’s mustard so we had to have it,” Billittier says with a laugh. “In fact, each winter, I have to send him cases of Chef’s Sauce and Weber’s Mustard for him to send as holiday gifts from his hometown.”
Putzlocher, who owns a production company in Alberta, was amazed at the variety of items on the buffet each day, saying, “For a guy who does not have a history of catering film crews and cast, Lou and Chef’s did an exceptional job everyday.”
DeVore, who co-wrote the film and is a veteran of many movie sets, puts it best when he says, “Lou reeks family; he is family and now he feeds us like his family. He is absolutely amazing.”
Now it’s off to Hollywood for Fichtner and team to edit what he believes will be “a great film made in Buffalo, New York.”