Rockville native and filmmaker R. Stephen Suettinger recently wrapped shooting on his first feature-length film, “A Year and Change.” The backdrop for Suettinger’s feature debut, co-produced by Suettinger’s Pebble Hill Films and Emily Ting’s Unbound Feet Productions, is his home state, including several locations in Montgomery County.
“I tailored the script a little bit to places I knew and loved,” Suettinger said. “And that I thought were cinematically dynamic and places that I kind of grew up with.”
Some of those places include the White Oak duckpin bowling alley in Silver Spring — a location Suettinger said he chose because “duckpins are a Maryland thing” — and the Olney community pool and baseball fields off of Georgia Avenue.
Suettinger directs the film and co-wrote the script with Jim Beggarly. Though the 18-day shoot got underway right after Thanksgiving, “A Year and Change” has been in the works for nearly eight years.
“I’ve had the project now for seven and a half years,” Suettinger said. “It’s always been on my mind … [but] it wasn’t ready to be shot … I thought the dialogue was really good and I fell in love with these characters but it wasn’t ready for me yet.”
Considered an indie drama, “A Year and Change” is the story of Owen (Bryan Greenberg, “How to Make it in America,” “One Tree Hill”), who decides it’s time to make major changes in his life after falling off a roof at a New Year’s Eve party. Over the course of the next year, he stops drinking, reunites with old friends, re-enters the life of his young son and falls in love with a bank teller named Vera (Claire van der Boom).
“It wasn’t until my mom passed away in June 2011 that I realized what the script was about for me,” Suettinger said. “Basically [it’s] about surrounding yourself with family and replacing family members that you’ve lost … You know how they say when you lose a parent you take one step into the grave with them? I was lucky to be able to have some amazing family and friends around me to help me make sure that didn’t happen when my mom died. And Owen, I realized, did not have those people … I think the movie, after that, really became about him being able to surround himself with family.”
Ting came aboard the project in 2013. Originally from upstate New York, she is a graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and now lives in Los Angeles. She had previously produced another one of Beggarly’s movies and recently worked with Greenberg on her latest release, “The Kitchen,” also starring “Orange is the New Black’s” Laura Prepon.
“I really wanted to work with Bryan again because I knew he was such a joy to work with on my last film,” Ting said. “I was really excited to see what he could do with this character.”
A newcomer to the Maryland film scene, Ting said she was impressed with what the area has to offer.
“I felt very welcome as a film production [crew] which you don’t feel out in L.A.,” she said. “With all of the locations out in L.A., the first thing they want to ask is how much? Here, we go in and people are welcoming us with open arms and shutting down their businesses for us and letting us take over for 12 to 18 hours without any complaints.”
But unlike other locations, Ting added that Maryland has the unique balance of hospitality and professionalism, due in part to hosting some major television shows such as HBO’s “Veep” and Netflix’s “House of Cards.”
“As opposed to some place like Minnesota or Kansas, you have the friendly community but you also have the crew available,” Ting said. That’s the biggest difference … You kind of have the benefit of both; small town hospitality but also with a first-rate film crew.”
Suettinger said the same level of professionalism is true of the area’s actors.
“There’s a burgeoning film industry here,” Suettinger said. “One that we wanted to take advantage of … With Discovery and TLC … there are a lot of actors. A lot of quality actors.”
“A Year and Change” casting directors put out a notice for five of the films minor roles and received 1,200 audition tapes.
For the leading roles, Greenberg and von der Boom are joined by T.R. Knight (“Grey’s Anatomy”), Jamie Chung (“Once Upon a Time”) and Jamie Hector (“The Wire”). A 2015 release date for the film is expected.
Ting said she feels she’s found a “new film family” in Maryland and hopes to return in the future. And Suettinger, who lived in L.A. for 10 years, said he has no intention of leaving.
“I plan to make movies here for a long time,” he said. “So hopefully that will happen.”