When I heard that location scouts have been casing Shelter Island as a possible filming venue, I figured casting professionals were not far behind. So I went straight to the pharmacy lunch counter, because everyone knows that’s where you go to be discovered.
I took a stool and asked grillmaster Bennett Karnis to fill me in. He makes great hash browns, and he also happens to be a movie buff. It was lunchtime, so Bennett was too busy to give me a comprehensive overview, but he confirmed that a couple of TV series and one movie have filmed here. If the makers of the HBO series “The Undoing” decide to film on Shelter Island, they will join a line of edgy dramas filmed here over the years.
If they need extras, the lunch counter at the pharmacy is a good place to start. On a recent Thursday at 12:30 p.m., the first wave of photogenic stool-sitters had just cleared out and the second round (all fabulous) were tucking into lunch when counter talk turned to the possibility of Shelter Island as the backdrop for another major motion picture.
Dave Klenawicus said he remembered being cast as an extra in “An Invasion of Privacy,” the 1983 movie starring Valerie Harper and Jeff Daniels. The film used Shelter Island as the backdrop for a story about a book illustrator who moves to a small island town, is attacked by a local handyman, and then rejected by angry local people when she presses charges. Dave was a little vague about the plot of the movie, but he did say that the job paid $50, and even in 1983 it was probably not enough money for the amount of waiting around he did.
“It was kind of fun, and I would have done it for nothing,” he said.
If the Town Board seems to be seriously considering allowing the filming of a movie on Shelter Island that involves attempted murder, car chases and a helicopter, why not? It certainly wouldn’t be the first time we’ve put up with these disruptions in the interest of entertainment — our own as well as others.
As a carpenter took a stool at the far end of the lunch counter, he heard the reminiscing about Valerie Harper and volunteered that he had served as an extra in the romantic thriller “Masquerade,” a 1988 feature-length film starring Rob Lowe and Meg Tilly, with scenes filmed here. He said that his duties consisted mainly of hanging around the ferry for hours. That movie, which involved a murder plot, also featured an exploding boat.
Ironically, one movie that was not filmed on or near Shelter Island is “Shelter Island,” the 2003 feature-length film about a wealthy New Yorker who retreats to her island estate to recover from an attack, only to be trapped there by a storm, threatened by a disturbingly weird local man and then by a local law enforcement officer. The movie managed to annoy Islanders without having to pay anyone for the privilege.
In fact, the Island has been a backdrop for exploding vehicles and car chases ever since “The Dain Curse,” a six-hour television mini-series starring James Coburn that was filmed here in October 1977. Longtime Island resident Bob Markell was the executive producer of the film, and told me in a 2017 interview that “The Dain Curse” was the first major film made on Shelter Island.
Local people took an interest in the plot of the movie, which involved a curse that brought untimely death to its victims. The New York Times reported that the book by Dashiell Hammett, upon which the movie was based, was sold out at the pharmacy, at the Greenport bookstore, and every bookstore east of Riverhead.
More than 100 local people were hired as extras and Williette Piccozzi rented out her basement for set construction. Louis (The Clip) Cicero gave crew cuts to 60 long-haired Island extras so they would appear authentically groomed — short with sideburns — a do that became known as “The Dain Cut.”
Leonard Bliss was town supervisor at the time and had a bit part as a newspaper reporter. He told The New York Times that the film production company spent close to $1 million on the Island.
So far, HBO has dangled a $15,000 fee and a bump in hotel and restaurant traffic before the town to allow the filming of “The Undoing” during three mid-week nights in late May, with explosions and a hovering helicopter.
It doesn’t seem like much cash, but if they promise Nicole Kidman’s character won’t retreat to a mansion on Shelter Island, to be terrorized during a storm, by a local madman — maybe we can break out of being typecast and show off our range, hoping for better parts in the future.