Cast and crew from the feature film ‘The Skulleton’ were filming scenes at the West Hartford Police Department on Sunday.
By Ronni Newton
There was a tense scene unfolding in a small office in the corner of the the West Hartford Police Department on Sunday, as a woman raised her voice to a detective about the way he was following up on an investigation.
She stormed out of the office in anger, as a chorus of voices yelled, “Cut!”
West Hartford has served as the set for a variety of films in the past few years, and the town’s latest brush with Hollywood involves a thriller/horror feature being produced by a Hall High School graduate.
Rob Simmons, who graduated from Hall in 1998 and currently lives in Long Island, said this is the first movie he’s filmed in his hometown, but Connecticut has become increasingly attractive to the industry. “We pay attention to the different state tax incentives,” he said, and he and. his partners agreed that West Hartford was a good fit for “The Skulleton.”
Instead of being called West Hartford in the film, the town has been renamed “Deep Ridge Falls,” and although Simmons said the original setting was intended to be Long Island, there’s no mention of the state it’s actually located in.
In addition to filming at the police station, Simmons and some crew members were in West Hartford earlier this fall, on Halloween, shooting some B-roll of trick-or-treaters. On Monday they were filming at the West Hartford Health & Rehabilitation Center on Loomis Drive, and there’s also a scene planned at a Mountain Road residence on Tuesday. They will finish up with scenes in West Hartford in February or March, depending on whether or not there is snow on the ground.
Simmons is co-founder and owner of JARS Productions, which is producing “The Skulleton,” and the film’s director, Ante Novakovic, is his producing partner. James and Anthony Gaudioso, aka “The Twins,” are the writers and also act in the film, and Laura Barbato is executive producer.
Shawnee Smith, a veteran actress known for her leading role as Amanda Young in the Saw franchise, plays the character of Moira Cole in “The Skulleton.” Simmons did not want to reveal too much of the plot, but said in the scene they were filming Sunday, Smith’s character was following up on an investigation being performed by Detective Cyphers, played by Tyrese Gibson, whose acting career has included the role of Roman Pearce in the “The Fast and Furious” movie franchise and roles in the “Transformers” franchise and the recent superhero movie “Moribus.”
Other members of “The Skulleton” cast include Taryn Manning, Bruce Durn, Drew Moerlein, Kresh Novakovic, and Damian Maffei.
The plot summary, according to IMDb, is “Moira Cole attempts to move on with her shattered life after the brutal murder of her friends and family at the hands of her deranged and obsessed cousin, Lee Morris. Living a quiet suburban life with her deeply affected two adult sons, Moira Cole is constantly reminded of her past, which is strewn across the screen every October, having been optioned into an incredibly popular horror franchise.”
Simmons said “The Skulleton” should be ready for release in theaters in time for the 2023 Halloween season. He did not rule out the possibility of a premiere at the Cinepolis in West Hartford.
Thriller/horror is just one of the genres in which Simmons has worked. A member of the Producers Guild of America, American Film Institute, and Film at Lincoln Center, he has credits for more than 80 films. Some of the best known include “Last Call” starring Jeremy Piven, Tayrn Manning, Bruce Dern, Jack McGee, and Jamie Kennedy; “Human Capital” starting Liev Schreiber and Marissa Tomei; “Ten Thousand Saints” starring Ethan Hawke; “Wild Oats” starring Shirley MacLaine, Jessica Lange, and Demi Moore; “Monstrous” starring Christina Ricci; as well as his recently completed film “Hellfire” starring Harvey Keitel, Dolph Lungdren, and Stephen Lang.
“All my family is still here,” Simmons said of West Hartford. “I’m the only one who left.”
Although he doesn’t live far away in Long Island, Simmons has been following his dreams and entrepreneurial spirit since he was 19. He started off studying graphic design in college, he said, and after the first summer ended up getting a job as a recruiter for nurses. It turned out he was very skilled at it, and after being recruited himself he ended up moving to New York, running a travel nurse division for another company. In 2005 launched his own medical staffing firm, which grew to be one of the largest privately-held medical staffing companies in the country. He also co-founded the CRISPR based gene editing biotech company, Excision BioTherapeutics.
Despite those successes, “I always had the interest in film,” Simmons said. “Anyone who knew me knew I wanted to make a film.”
In 2010 a recruiter who had worked for him reached out to see if he would be interested in investing in a film, and that led to the opportunity to network with script writers and producers.
In addition to JARS Productions, Simmons also owns a restaurant on Long Island, and a recreational cannabis business, but said film-making is what he loves doing the most.
“This is my passion,” he said, and he eventually wants to direct as well.
Over the past 18 months West Hartford has served as the scene for several movies including “Call Jane,” which was filmed in the spring of 2021 and opened in theaters this October. The Christmas movie “The Ghost of Christmas Always” premiered on the Hallmark Channel last month.
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