About this project
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Times change. A once simple and sparse seaside town has become crowded and opulent. A family and its finances have fragmented and its two brothers and two sisters, their children and their extended family witness the disappearance of a century of family memories when they sell their parents’ magically beautiful 200 year old summer home in Cape Cod––the Starboard Light. Can they and how will they hold on to everything that this house has offered to the family?
Whether it’s a small cabin deep in the woods, a year-round family home that’s been handed down generation after generation or a summer cottage, there is a Starboard Light in many of our lives that we’ve struggled to keep or had to painfully let go. Vicariously through this American family, Starboard Light helps us immortalize the generations of memories and values baked into these shared family homes so that we may pass them on to our own children and grandchildren.
STARBOARD LIGHT asks... does a family make a house or does a house make a family?
STARBOARD LIGHT is a redfitz feature documentary that resonates with those of us who either have or at one point had experience with a multi-generational family home and had to give it up. But even more that that, it's a film ultimately about the most universal of all human constructs: families and the places they call home. Forgiving the pun, it’s a story that truly hits home.
Stories allow us to share and understand experiences which in turn enable us to overlook the differences between us and instead see commonalities. Stories allow us to understand one another and the world around us. redfitz is a visual storytelling production company led by me (Nick Fitzhugh) that strives to find powerful and transformative true to life stories and and leverage some of the best creative talent to share them in ways that bring them to life for anyone courageous enough for the experience. Human stories for a small world.STARBOARD LIGHT is my first feature. I'm very happy and proud to say that my last project which was also my first film, SOCCER CITY, was picked up by the National Geographic Channel and ESPN Classic (here's a little excerpt)...
STARBOARD LIGHT has already attracted attention from PBS, HBO Documentary, the Environmental Film Festival at The National Geographic Society and from the programmers at Sundance. National Geographic was also a sponsor of a multimedia preview fundraiser for the film in November 2010, the same time a story about the film and me ran on the front page of The Cape Cod Times. Advisers on the film currently include: Toby Shimin (editor of Oscar-nominated BUCK), Sam Weisman (longtime Hollywood producer/director of such films as SUMMER CATCH), Mark Finkelpearl (producer of AMERICAN CHOPPER and DC CUPCAKES), Kristen Nutile (editor of the award-winning UNFINISHED SPACES and recipient of the Albert Maysles Award for Excellence in Documentary Filmmaking), Joe Lindquist (editor BOMBAY BEACH, the Tribeca Film Festival Best Documentary), Allison Argo (Emmy award-winning documentary filmmaker based in Cape Cod) and my hyper-talented crew of redfitz Creatives.
STARBOARD LIGHT was shot on location in Chatham, MA (Cape Cod) and in New Hampshire, Vermont, and the District of Columbia.
The plan is for STARBOARD LIGHT to be both an 75+minute feature documentary for theatrical and VOD distribution and a 60-minute featurette for broadcast television distribution.
Present day footage has been captured exclusively on digital video using the Canon 7D in order to keep production costs to a minimum while achieving stunning visuals that accurately capture the subtle hues and soft beauty of Cape Cod and the people who’ve called it home. 16mm home video footage shot by the first Fitzhughs to own the Starboard Light between 1930-1950 that I had digitally scanned will accent the present day footage along with select archive audio and video recordings discovered in unlikely places throughout the extended family. The production assets are further augmented by a vast collection of both professional and amateur photography, hundreds of handwritten letters (some of which will be used for voice over), journal entries made over two decades by guests at the house, and historical records all covering the past century.
The soundtrack will feature original music composed by Garett Brennan, whose music is “not too old-timey Americana” but “mellow and homey with a touch of rowdy hell.” Producer Cookie Marenco (Blue Coast Records, Windham Hill Records) describes him as “Woody Guthrie meets Tom Waits,” an apt comparison informed by Brennan’s penchant for crafting original poetic songs that sound like they've been around since dust, yet are instantly familiar and of this time.
I've filmed interviews with the members of the my family, our neighbors, and those in the town whose situations parallel ours. Over two subsequent summers, I captured life at and around the house including the quintessential experiences so many of us associate both with growing up and getting old at a house on the water. I will weave all of these stories, these people, and these sources of content spanning a century in the life of one American family together into a film that celebrates family above all things and shines light on the most essential elements in making and maintaining strong family.
What has come to be known as the Starboard Light was built in Chatham, Massachusetts in 1860. In those years, the concept of a summer home was almost unheard of and there was certainly no outside interest in Cape Cod. In fact, by 1860 The Cape’s population had begun to decline. A map of Cape Cod actually indicates individual dwellings by name! But thanks to train and then car travel, it quickly became possible to trade the swelter of cities in summer before air conditioning for a refreshing sea breeze, making second homes by the sea an attractive option.
Cape Cod was a rough, undeveloped, simple and beautiful peninsula. Within a day’s travel of both Boston and New York by train, it became an attractive destination for those who wanted to escape city life and live simply in and around the beach and the sea. And Cape Cod farmers and sea captains were delighted to sell those Bostonians and New Yorkers what they considered to be worthless coastland for $30 an acre. The Forbes family literally bought the entire Naushon Island. Secretary of State Richard Olney bought a place in Falmouth. And in 1890, ex-President Grover Cleveland settled in Wings Neck and others began to follow.
In 1925, William W. Fitzhugh bought what came to be known as the Starboard Light. It was built initially in 1860 along with two others on Stage Harbor by one of the founding fathers of Chatham for his three sons. Even by 1925 it was one of just three houses in eyesight.
Today there are fifteen houses and about fifty boats in view which parallels the sevenfold population increase on Cape Cod over the past hundred years. Tourists cram the towns, the beaches and the roads. Most newcomers love and embrace the old Cape Cod culture yet the many old Cape families, both blue collar and white, who established that culture, can’t afford to stay. They also can’t bear to leave. That old Cape Cod culture was about simplicity, modesty and stoicism. But with the natural fragmentation of familial wealth and the growing value of waterfront property, these families are increasingly forced to sell their multi-generational homes. New families with new money erect new homes whose size and cost emphasize a new value for luxury and excess that never before existed in Cape Cod.
And yet in the summer of 2010, the Starboard Light still stood as one of the few remaining icons of the previous century and its values and was still owned by the Fitzhugh family. When compared to the newer, larger homes that increasingly surrounded it, the Starboard Light seemed unchanged. The evidence of age was everywhere and enchanted family and guests alike. Moss-covered sea gray shingles. Impractically small beds full of bumpy springs. A permanent odor of moth balls. Yellowed and peeling wallpaper. Warped floors speckled by hand with paint. Shelves full of dusty hardcover books. Walls lined with family photographs that look as though they belong in an American History book. A wooden wheelchair. A porcelain wash basin. A workshop crammed with tools for a hundred years of projects. And small, storm-battered windows looking out over the harbor.
SOME OF THE TEAM
Yup. That's me in the Starboard Light front yard!
After growing up in Montpelier, VT and spending a year abroad before college working and studying in France and Italy, I began my career at Brown University ('02) by starting Glimpse, a nonprofit multimedia platform for young people living and studying abroad to share stories about personal cultural experiences abroad. Seven years later the company was acquired by National Geographic where I continued to run it as a new division of National Geographic for three years. In 2010, I started redfitz (redfitz.com) and turned my full-time attention to directing, producing and shooting primarily documentary films. My first, SOCCER CITY, was acquired by the National Geographic Channel International, ESPN Classic, and SnagFilms. In summers, I also spend some time leading photo and film expeditions abroad for National Geographic Student Expeditions.
My slightly younger but very precocious sister, Eliza, taking charge at the helm of The Dragon Lady!
Eliza was born and raised in the grand metropolis of Montpelier, Vermont (yup, you're right, that is the only state capitol without a McDonalds), and is just a tad obsessed with the Green Mountain State. She was able to free herself from that obsession long enough to venture out west for a four-year stint at Colorado College, where she instead obsessed over slides in dark rooms (otherwise known as Art History). She then moved even further west to San Francisco, where she went corporate and took a job as a marketing manager for Flack & Kurtz. Those very same corporate gods convinced her of her interest in design, and convinced her to pursue a MFA in graphic design at the Rhode Island School of Design (aka RISD). The three grad school years were definitely the most intense, grueling and rewarding experience of her life. Eliza currently lives in Brooklyn, NY and works at C&G Partners in Manhattan. She spends her days dreaming up fresh, interactive, meaningful ways to display graphic design in a 3-dimensional space (aka exhibit design). Oh, and she loves it!
The soundtrack will feature original music composed by Portland, Oregon-based musician Garett Brennan. Whose sound has been described as "A hymn to, and a cry for, the American West" by Mink River author, Brian Doyle. Portland's weekly rag (the Willamette Week) has said, "If you can't afford your own mountain cabin, this music will take you right there." And producer Cookie Marenco (Blue Coast Records, Windham Hill Records) describes it as “Woody Guthrie meets Tom Waits,” an apt comparison informed by Brennan’s penchant for crafting original poetic songs that sound like they've been around since dust, yet are instantly familiar and of this time.
HOW WILL THE MONEY BE USED?
Great question. While in some ways films have become cheaper to make, they are unfortunately still very expensive endeavors. Like most filmmakers and documentarians in particular, I've developed a stealthy knack for avoiding costs which is why I've been able to accomplish so much for so little so far. But then there's post-production...
As frugal as I'll continue being, post-production is unavoidably expensive. I'll need to hire and pay a great editor, a composer, a musician, a sound editor, and a colorist. I'll need to pay to license archive footage (usually at least $1,000/minute). We have to insure the film before it can be distributed. We'll need to pay often hefty fees to submit the film to festivals. Lawyers need to be paid to review distribution agreements. Our designer needs to be paid to handle the website, the DVD and promotional materials. Then we need to make the DVDs and Blu-rays that we'll be giving you as a reward for your support and that we'll be selling to others. And the list goes on and on...
Filmmaking is expensive. And it's not easy. No two ways about it. But the result is about as rewarding as it gets for everyone involved and if we do our job as I know we will, the story will make a difference for many, many families.
"I particularly love the marriage proposal story, and the juxtaposition of the old home movies with the new footage. And I like the way you've framed the central issue--whether the family makes the house or the house makes the family."
– George Howe Colt, author of "The Big House"
"Evocative and beautiful."
"Starboard Light gave me a frog in my throat. I love your question, does a house make a family or does a family make a house? Your family is likeable, the values are good, the generations get to be together. I know it well, and the issues that come up are deep and difficult as one generation dies and others take it over."
– Anne Milliken, a fan
"100% of Nick's work is emotional which is always the hardest thing to achieve." – Steve Burns, SVP of Content, National Geographic Channel
Like the film on Facebook for exclusive updates and of course we'll be keeping you posted on goings-on right here on Kickstarter too! Definitely take a peek at the Official STARBOARD LIGHT Website too!
A poem by Nick's great-grandfather written in 1926 (a framed version calligraphed by Nick's aunt, Portia Fitzhugh, is yours with the POETRY PACK).
We have a little cottage,
It is called the "Starboard Light."
It rests upon a seashore,
Where the sun is warm and bright.
The rooms are filled with funny things,
That have to do with ships:
A lantern -- an old anchor--
A chart of Pollack Rips.
A stalwart bell of shiny brass,
That sailed the wide seas thru,
And rang a chime in many ports,
Unknown to me and you.
A sturdy box of weathered pine
Stands just inside the door.
It holds our rubbers now that once
Held Spanish Moriodores.
And often in the evening
By our fire, side by side,
We leave this world of smoke and steam,
And sail the ocean wide;
To countries strange beyond the sea
Where curious things are found,
And hear the tales of ancient men,
Whose eyes look out beyond.
The old queer secrets of the sea
That you could never know
Unless you dropped an anchor
In the port of long ago.
We have a little cottage
It is called the "Starboard Light."
It rests upon a seashore
Where the sun is warm and bright.
And when the world is full of noise,
And heart and mind need rest,
Of all the places that I know
It is the very best.
STARBOARD LIGHT TRAILER
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