Tennyson Bardwell could have staged his next motion picture on a distant soundstage, but instead he decided to bring his close-to-home thriller film to his own home.
The director will be filming his third film, “Bully Pulpit,” in Ballston Spa. Bardwell’s previous films are “Dorian Blues” (shot in Delmar and Colonie) and “The Skeptic” (shot in Saratoga).
“Ballston Spa is absolutely perfect for this movie … it all can be done here, with one scene exception to be done at Quintessence Diner,” he said. “There’s a flavor here. It looks seasoned and you feel kind of its timelessness,” said Bardwell.
“Bully Pulpit” is the story of a secret group of bullies in a small town high school. The group taunts another student to the point of suicide, which in turn launches “a mysterious and deadly retaliation against the group.” A murder spree places the town’s female chief of police and her daughter (a member of the group, unbeknownst to her mother) at the center of the story.
“There seems to be a serial killer against these bullies, so she’s racing against the clock to not have her own daughter become one of the victims,” said Bardwell. The film’s tagline is “There’s zero tolerance for bullying at Mill Central, you bully….you die.”
The genre of the film falls between drama and horror and its target audience is young teenagers. Bardwell said it will toe the line between a PG-13 and R rating.
“It has the genre elements of a horror film. There’s kills, there’s murders and intrigue and there’s a ‘who knows who’s doing it’ kind of thing and it’s very tense and atmospheric… It’s also a mother-daughter story,” he said.
Along with the film’s producer Mary-Beth Taylor, Bardwell did extensive research on bullying, consulting with area police agencies, psychologists, school principals and guidance counselors as well as Saratoga County District Attorney James Murphy. They also talked with bullies and victims of bullying.
Bardwell said the process of writing the film, which took about a year, was emotional and more “visceral” than he anticipated. He was the victim of an intense bullying incident at Christian Brother’s Academy in which he had a rifle pointed at him.
“You realize just how creepy some people were – and can be,” he said.
“I have been bullied in my life, witnessed the brutal bullying of others, and have since those days wished to make a film about this awful human trait, and the damage it creates like ripples in a pond, moving outward over time. I’ve watched grown men and women well up with tears of anger as they described bully incidents they endured decades before,” he wrote in his director’s statement for the film.
Bardwell said that the issue of bullying is quite different now than his days at the academy, and that it has since gone to a different level.
“In some ways it’s better because they’re watching it more, it’s more out there in the media but the kids I think have gone up in level with cruelty with cyberbullying and all that. … You used to go home and have that respite from three o’clock until the next morning. Now they get emails and texts … there’s a relentlessness to it,” he said.
A kickstarter campaign for “Bully Pulpit” is close to raising the$1 million needed to make the film. Once financing is secure, filming will begin about a month later and entail a five-week shoot, with filming occurring six days per week.
“It’s a very unpredictable process,” said Bardwell of the film’s finances, and as such exactly when filming will start is still being figured out. “It’s built as a story that can be filmed anytime (of year).”
“We’re going to be very much involved with letting people come to the set,” said Taylor.
While Bardwell isn’t naming names as to who will be acting in the film he did say he’d be able to get actors he wants. As far as when the film will hit theaters, that depends on what distributors pick up the film following showings at venues such as the Sundance Film Festival.
To see a trailer for “Bully Pulpit” visit tennysonbardwell.com.