Locally produced suspense drama short film ‘Mercy’ hoping to be a big picture as filming takes place in Worcester
For what will be a short film, “Mercy” is looming large as a Worcester produced indie with some big hopes attached.
Although filming is expected to continue through September, an indoor shoot on July 24 on a specially constructed set at 344 Franklin St. was viewed by participants as a big success and has optimism about the project soaring.
“Saturday was a good feeling for all of us knowing it worked well. It just seemed like we really killed it Saturday. It was awesome,” said Dan Rosario, the film’s story creator, director and cinematographer.
“I was blown away by the footage we got,” said producer Ed Gutierrez.
The suspense drama being shot in Worcester is a collaboration project involving Central Mass Studios in association with Fat Foot Films & 256 Films.
According to the film’s official synopsis, “Mercedes Hollingsworth, a demure young woman navigating the repetitive grind of her mundane life, suddenly finds her daily routine interrupted by a mysterious stranger lurking behind every dark corner.”
“Mercy” features Worcester native Samantha Rose Valletta as Mercedes (aka Mercy) and actors Derek Mikula and Paul E. Kandarian also have leading roles.
Without giving too much more away, “Mercy is facing a not very good situation where someone is following her,” Rosario said. “It does involve crime. It’s pretty intense.”
Rosario, of 256 Films, knows something about crime as he is also a detective with the Worcester Police Department in addition to running his own film production company.
For “Mercy” he’s putting his accumulated filmmaking and story-telling skills on the line.
“This is the culmination of years of study and practice that we’re taking to a much larger stage,” he said.
Rosario is aiming for the short film to be a trailer that will attract interest in the film industry for “Mercy” becoming either a television/streaming series or a full-length motion picture movie.
“My goal is to get a series. If everything worked out, it would be one of the majors,” he said of platforms such as Netflix or HBO
Rosario got in touch with Gutierrez of Fat Films in Worcester after watching a short comedy Fat Foot had put out in the pandemic titled “There’s a Ghost in the Bathroom.”
“I’ve seen some of their work. I reached out to Ed (Gutierrez) and asked if he’d be interested in working on a production together,” Rosario said.
Rosario needed no introduction for Gutierrez.
“I’m a big watcher of indie films. I like to watch the credits at the end,” Gutierrez said. He had seen Rosario’s name listed as director, cinematographer, editor and more for several local film projects.
“Fat Foot films has always been a fan (of Rosario), and when we we got the phone call, it was awesome and we jumped all over it,” Gutierrez said.
“When we met, the chemistry was immediate. He had this detailed idea for ‘Mercy.’ We started putting everything on paper, getting ideas, looking for locations,” Gutierrez said.
Fat Foot Films has made movies such as its 2019 short horror-drama “Stray,” which was picked up for distribution by Reveel Movies.
For “Mercy,” Gutierrez is producer as well as wearing several other hats, including being in charge of casting and set construction.
Meanwhile, “Central Mass Studios had a large part in making this come to life. They found a location and props,” Gutierrez said.
The indoor centerpiece set at 344 Franklin St. (which was once home to the Factory of Terror haunted house) is Mercy’s studio apartment.
“For us it was the next level. We literally built a studio apartment. It was as real as real can be,” Gutierrez said.
Tropical Storm Elsa, however, was also interested in moving in. After a night of heavy rain, Gutierrez showed up at 344 Franklin St., and “when I came around the corner the set was literally floating on water,” he said.
Rosario led the cleanup. Five days later there was more torrential rain and the set “completely flooded again,” Gutierrez said.
“Magically, somehow we pulled it off last Saturday. It was a long 16-hour day, but it was the most magical day of my life. It made it all worth it,” Gutierrez said.
Rosario wasn’t going to be distracted.
“We’ve spent six weeks building our set and perfecting it for when we start shooting. I’m very meticulous in my planning, but I was able to pull off what I wanted,” Rosario said.
Exterior shots will be at some of the city of Worcester’s icons, Rosario said. “We are being unapologetically Worcester.”
There will certainly be no apologies if “Mercy” reaches a world-wide audience.
Rosario said he has an industry contact who has “produced 50 or more major motion pictures. He’s very interested in the pilot.”
The intent is to have “Mercy” at no longer than 15 minutes. There are elements within the storyline that can be expanded into a series or feature-length film, Rosario said.
However, “If my picture is not received as I hope it will, it will be (released as) a short film,” he said.
Gutierrez and Fat Films are sharing the dream. “We do too, man. We are on that train for sure. We think we have something special,” Gutierrez said.
It’s hard to give specific numbers for the film’s budget because “as filmmakers in Worcester, we’ve a developed a lot of great relationships. We pulled those resources,” Gutierrez said. But the collaboration is going all out for “Mercy,” with the set alone at 344 Franklin St. costing thousands of dollars.
Rosario said, “We’re shooting through September, then we’ll go to edit. Hopefully before the end of the year we’ll have something completed and ready to go out.”
For Valletta, “Mercy” is also a project close to home. Valletta grew up in Sutton and now lives in the North End of Boston where she is a filmmaker, actor, choreographer and involved with several creative projects.
“‘Mercy’ is drastically raising the bar for indie filmmakers in MA,” Valletta said in an email. “When our tax incentive program was first established years ago, productions were almost entirely curated in larger markets; sets, actors and crew were all flown in from out of state, but in recent years the industry has started to see the production value and work ethic brought on by local filmmakers, now making MA a top market.
“In this digital age, it’s no longer necessary to uproot all your belongings and leave behind the comfort of home for chance and promise. Our job is to tell authentic stories, about complicated, messy, arresting people; MA provides you with the full range of eclectic communities and atmosphere that leave behind any trace of the superficial.”
Meanwhile, “To have the opportunity to play Mercy is thrilling and refreshing. My first pass at the script and I was abruptly hooked,” Valletta said.
“Mercy” is “a gripping, and enthralling fantasy, something I hope an audience will love, as much as I’ve loved creating her.”
Gutierrez said that at auditions for “Mercy” he was taking extensive notes. He said that when Valletta auditioned, he wrote just one word: “‘Brilliant.”
“She’s fantastic. She’s pretty awesome. She really understands the character. We’re happy to have her. Lucky to have her, actually,” said Rosario.
Valletta was there July 24.
“She was spectacular Saturday,” Rosario said.
Rosario is in his 33rd year with the Worcester Police Department and plans to retire shortly to concentrate on his second career in film, he said.
“I’ve managed to combine them both. I’ve been doing it for quite a while,” he said.
“Early with the Worcester Police Department I worked with youth, anti-drug, anti-violence messages.” For the police department’s community services division he made an award-winning video “Too Smart for the Streets” (1993), and later a video, “Live in Peace,” (1995) for the state Executive Office of Public Safety.
For 256 Films he’s done, music videos and corporate projects.
“Now that I’m looking to transition I’m taking on the narrative film more often,” Rosario said.
Working as a detective can give him some unique insight in crafting a suspense drama narrative.
“All the major crimes in the city come through the detective bureau,” he said. “These cases have had an influence on the way I approach story-telling.”
Rosario said “Mercy” is his first film “where there is an avenue for it to go to a different level, motion picture or series. Either one would be an incredible thing for all the people involved to have accomplished.”
On a related note
Private Eyes Films will present “The Lost Year,” a series of shorts made during the pandemic by Worcester filmmaker and actor Kris Salvi from 1 to 5 p.m. Aug. 7 at the Elm Draught House Cinema, 35 Elm St., Millbury.
The shorts include “Eight Minutes,” “10:59 PM,” “Runaway Night,” “New Years,” and more. There will also be appearances by special guests and a chance to mingle with the cast and crew. Tickets are $10 online or at the door. For a ticket link, visit eventbrite.com.