LIGHTNING BUGS IN A JAR is the story of the fractured relationship between a mother, Farrah, and her 22 year-old—but far-from-‘adult’—son, Max. Both harbor serious issues that date back fifteen years—wounds that refuse to heal because neither will fully face the painful truth of a tragedy that tore their family apart. As mother and son begrudgingly co-exist under the same roof for the first time in years in order to pack and sell the house in which Max was raised, it is Max’s steadfast boyfriend, Ben, through whose eyes we observe this caustic dynamic.
Wrought with dysfunction, the mother-son relationship runs hot-to-cold without warning, and it unexpectedly falls upon Ben to become the glue that binds Max and Farrah, as well as act as a detective of sorts: confronted with the discovery of what hurts the pair most, Ben must work quickly in order to give them a chance at ‘family hood’ again.
By turns wickedly funny and deeply moving, LIGHTNING BUGS… is a portrait of humanity at its most delicate, love at its most uncompromising, and life in all its raw, surprising beauty…
IT STARTED AT VASSAR COLLEGE (2001-05)…
The creative team of Sara Wolkowitz, Sophia Betz and Ian Simpson met at Vassar College (Class of 2005). Vassar’s filmmaking program being simultaneously intimate and expansive, they were able to forge their own paths as Film Majors and become good friends under that academic umbrella.
Each feels strongly that the singular tie that binds them as filmmakers today was the presence of Professor Ken Robinson, who taught them the principles of filmmaking.
SEVERAL YEARS LATER…
After having spent several years on the West Coast, Ian wrote a short script in May 2011 that he envisioned making with Sara and Sophia. Ian would co-direct the piece alongside Sara, with Sophia set to edit. All three planned to produce the film together.
While the makings of LIGHTNING BUGS IN A JAR had solid footing, Ian was, then, located in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Sara and Sophia lived in Brooklyn, New York. All agreed that this was a project they wished to undertake…in the future, perhaps when they lived in the same area of the country.
THEN, IN DECEMBER 2013…
Having just moved to Brooklyn, Ian discovered a post-grad Fellowship through Vassar’s channels that seemed to be a way to get LIGHTNING BUGS… off-the-ground:
The CATWALK Residency (linked)
“Both Catwalk and Catslair are invitation-only artist residency programs initially established in 2004 by James and Purcell Palmer at the Palmer’s residence known as Catwalk in Catskill, New York. The mission of the CATWALK Institute is to establish Catwalk as a special retreat for art making, collaborative projects and scholarly discourse in a visually stimulating part of the country that has historically provided and continues to provide significant inspiration to artists, cultural historians, writers and scholars.”
LIGHTNING BUGS IN A JAR was accepted as a Catslair (group) project for September 2014.
Upon receiving this news, Sara, Sophia and Ian went into Producer-Mode in order to secure avenues of funding for what had become a greater undertaking than they had originally anticipated.
Casting – May
Further exploring their Vassar roots, the team decided that they would first look at talent from their alma mater. After Sophia contacted the Drama Department about the film, Professor Gabrielle Cody provided a list of particularly strong actors to approach. Co-directors Ian and Sara drove up to Poughkeepsie and held a casting-call.
Impressed with each actor that auditioned, Ian and Sara felt that they had found their “Max” and “Ben” in Devin McDuffee (’14) and Ethan Slater (’14), respectively.
Scouting – August
Pre-production continued through the Summer, during which Sara, Sophia and Ian did everything from refine their budget to create a distinct color palette for each scene in the film.
In August, the team ventured up to Catskill for a day to scout the location itself. Each were spellbound by how well the script “fit” the property on which they would be in-residence for three weeks. They were charmed by Purcell Palmer and the Catwalk staff and realized that this was not simply an avenue to tell their story—this was truly the greatest space and context in which it could ever exist.
Pieces ‘Falling into Place’
Back in Brooklyn, the Production further came together as crewmembers were hired, many from the Catskill area itself. (Key to facilitating this process was Lisa Thomas of Thin Edge Films, who was set to Production Manage the project and would later become an Associate Producer as well.) Complementary to Lisa’s presence in Catskill was Aaron Milan Wertheimer coming aboard as 1st AD in New York City.
After years of successful work together, Sara brought on Director of Photography Timur Civan, while Ian followed a tip from a film school friend to find Production Designer/Art Director Ráchel Lowery—both New York City-based.
Casting – Part II
As Sophia, Sara and Ian continued to consult with Lisa (and Timur) about the hiring of crewmembers, one crucial element remained outstanding: the role of “Farrah” hadn’t been cast. Ian and Sara had been deliberate about holding-out for the ideal actress to fit the role, which paid-off: just weeks before shooting began, they realized that there was no one better to take-on the challenging, flawed character than veteran stage, television and film actress Betsy Aidem, who bravely joined the production after just a series of telephone calls with the co-directors.
THE SHOOT (SEPTEMBER 23 – 28, 2014)
LIGHTNING BUGS IN A JAR ultimately came together because of the passion and talent from all involved and an infectious creative spirit that spread among everyone. (The Catwalk Residency played an enormous part in fostering this communal creativity.)
Those involved in the Production included:
Ian Simpson & Sara Wolkowitz – co-directors / producers
Sophia Betz – producer
Hilary Simpson – co-producer
Thin Edge Films – associate producer
Ellen Novack – associate producer
Betsy Aidem – Farrah
Devin McDuffee – Max
Ethan Slater – Ben
Darrell James – baker
DIRECTOR of PHOTOGRAPHY
FIRST ASSISSTANT DIRECTOR
Aaron Milan Wertheimer
FIRST ASSISTANT CAMERA
HAIR & MAKE-UP
Leslie Ann Robinson
ART PRODUCTION ASSISTANT
KEY PRODUCTION ASSISTANT
Those involved in Post-Production included:
DIGITAL INTERMEDIATE PRODUCER
Empire Visual Effects
AUDIO POST FACILITY
OPENING TITLE ANIMATION
Photo by Ráchel Lowery
Coloring & Effects by Elizabeth Leitzell
Poster Design by Max Wolkowitz
Original Artwork by Maxwell Leclerc
Art Direction by Max Wolkowitz
Poster Design by Max Wolkowitz
Please visit our Contact page for ways in which to get in touch with our team.