Making ‘strides’ in filmmaking: South Deefield resident debuts female sports-led drama

  • Movie poster for “STRIDER.”  Photo courtesy of Mark Lewis

  • Yelena Friedman co-stars in “STRIDER” directed, written and produced by South Deerfield resident Mark Lewis. Photo courtesy of Mark Lewis

  • A training scene from “STRIDER.”  Photo courtesy of Mark Lewis

  • Maggie Alexander co-stars in “STRIDER.”  Photo courtesy of Mark Lewis

Staff Writer
Published: 12/8/2020 12:53:17 PM

Mark Lewis is passionate about making his own independent films, so much so that when he’s not working behind the camera or writing a script, he works local area factory jobs to save up the funds in order to see his ideas on screen.

That’s exactly how the South Deerfield resident funded his latest work, “STRIDER,” a coming-of-age female-led sports drama that was shot in the fall of 2019 in the back roads of Greenfield, Conway, Erving and New Salem.

“I was looking to make my own mark and show what I can achieve with a smaller budget,” says Lewis, 51, who has worked jobs at Yankee Candle and Deerfield Plastics in the past. “Hopefully, I can get someone to give me more money for a bigger budget one. I get a film made and then I have to go back to the day job to save up some more money to make the next one.”

Lewis is the director, screenwriter and producer of “STRIDER.” With a cast of seven actors (mostly from New York City and Boston) and a four-person crew, filming took place across 12 days in September of 2019. The 85-minute film recently streamed online as part of the digital 2020 International St. Louis Film Festival that ended last month.

“Normally, they’d have the festival in St. Louis and I’d fly out there and it’d be a great time mingling with other filmmakers and producers and such,” Lewis says. “With COVID, they can’t do that so they’ve gone all virtual. The plus side of that is that basically anybody in the country can see it for the price of a streaming ticket. That’s a big positive that equals out some of the negatives.”

The film stars Yelena Friedman as Jody Sue Brightwell, a lonely teenage girl who finds a mentor in a disgraced track coach named Hannah Dalton (played by actress Maggie Alexander). During the course of the movie, Dalton and Brightwell spend a summer training for The Pinnacle Games, the biggest track and field competition on the East Coast.

“The film covers the saga of their events over the summer and the obstacles that they encounter,” Lewis said. “Sometimes you get ideas that are fully formed and other times you get one half of a good idea and half of another. This was basically a way of taking a teenager script that I had and combining it with a sports script that I had. Somehow they managed to successfully mesh together.”

Ahead of filming, Lewis spent three to four months planning for the shoot, whether that was location scouting or figuring out which location fit each scene best. About 90 percent of the film was shot outdoors and includes aerial drone shots.

“It’s about coming up with a single best plan that you can while keeping it open enough to improvise in case things go wrong with weather and such,” he explained. “For example, the first day of the shoot, we did some shooting at the Quabbin Reservoir. I had to move some scenes around because we were shooting on a Monday and rain was coming on a Tuesday. I had to shift around some scenes that I was planning on doing the next day at the Quabbin Reservoir. It’s having a solid plan, but being open to the mercy of nature.”

Lewis has been interested in cinema since he was a kid making movies in the woods with friends. In the late 1990s, he moved from Western Massachusetts to Los Angeles, where he spent several years pursuing a career in filmmaking. He then decided to move back to the Pioneer Valley to make self-produced films with his production company, Deerfield 75 Productions.

“STRIDER” is a far departure from Lewis’ last film, an erotic drama titled “Enthusiastic Sinners,” which was also shot in the Pioneer Valley in 2016. He said as a director and writer, he’s drawn to experimenting with new genres for each film. He’s planning an action movie for his next film project with a slightly bigger budget.

“It’s done for a creative challenge, to not repeat myself and to push things a little further in terms of storyline and seeing if I could handle a bigger production as well,” he added. “The previous film was just myself, a cameraman and two actors.”

For more information about “STRIDER” or to watch the film, visit cinemastlouis.org/sliff/strider.




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