July 17, 2017, 8:00pm- It’s nearly the twilight hour in East Aurora, N.Y., a small Norman Rockwell-esqe town seated 20 miles south of Buffalo. Neighboring houses in this quaint part of town are being used as the homes of the two main characters in the upcoming film Cold Brook. Writer, director and star William Fichtner is working with Director of Photography Edd Lukas to take advantage of the “magic hour” lighting.
Fichtner, who is known as one of Hollywood’s most recognizable character actors, with notable roles in films like Armageddon, Go and Black Hawk Down, as well as television series such as Grace Under Fire, Prison Break and Mom, has returned home to Western New York to make his directorial debut. The film focuses on Ted (Fichtner) and George (Kim Coates), best friends who work as maintenance workers at a local college who thwart what they believe to be a museum robbery. The duo gains notoriety for their actions, but also inadvertently begin an adventure with historical significance.
The concept for the film started with Fichtner’s desire to work with real-life best friend, Coates. “I wanted to tell a story for Kim and I do, and I knew that I wanted something about friendship, says Fichtner. But what would that be? I wanted an event to happen to these two guys that only happens to them, and out of that, they would be challenged to find their best selves. That was kind of the theme from the beginning.”
Fichtner and Coates became friends while co-starring in the 2001 Ridley Scott war film, Black Hawk Down, where the two hit it off immediately. They would both go on to appear in the film Pearl Harbor and the television series Prison Break, but they were looking for something more personal to work on together, though that did not come to fruition for a while. “This has been a passion project of his and mine and Cain’s for the last nine or ten years, says Coates. “And as you probably know, these little independent films take a while to come into fruition. It takes a while to raise the money and get people to back you. It’s not a Marvel movie, you know? It’s not a big action movie. It’s just a beautiful story about friendship.”
And what is it like to be directed by his best friend? “It’s just awful,” he jokes. “He’s always making sure he’s more pretty than me. He is always making sure that his hair is just perfect. It’s really hard to work with Fichtner, but we’ve done it so many times now that we’re kind of like the same person. We really finish each other’s sentences. It is seamless working with him. He came so prepared.”
Over the course of a few years, Fichtner and co-writer Cain DeVore began to develop the script. “We kind of worked backward,” says Fichtner. “We started with where they worked. OK, there’s an exhibit there. What kind of exhibit? And we had some thoughts of ‘Well, what if there’s somebody mysterious in town?’, and then we had to think, ‘How do we put them there, and what is he doing there? Do they join him? Do they leave with him?’ We just kept honing it down”
“Three weeks before we started shooting the film, I was back in my hotel room and I sat down and read the whole script very slowly, just taking my time, page by page, word by word,” Fichtner continues. “It took me like eight hours. And I realized even at the last minute, after ten years, that there were still some things in the rhythm that didn’t quite fit. So, when Cain got here, as soon as he got off the plane, we worked on those things for another week, right up until the moment we were going to shoot it to make sure that the story had rhythm and made sense. I knew where we wanted to end up. And we just kept trying to find that. Eventually, I felt once we’re on the right road, we just kept going.”
Writing, producing, directing and starring in a feature film has not been an easy process for Fichtner, but he has no regrets. “There are a lot of challenges, but they’re all welcome, he says. “I wanted to have much creative input as I could in this, so a lot of it has fallen on my shoulders. There’s not an option to say, “I gotta take a break. I need somebody else to finish this.”
The last exterior shot of the day has been set up, and Fichtner is temporarily hanging up his director hat and getting back into his acting shoes to get in front of the camera. Coates proudly watches his friend work with the crew to prepare the shot before they start rolling. “I’m really happy and grateful for this opportunity,” says Coates. “This is his rookie film. He’s never directed before, and I am just so happy to be in his first one. It’s not going to be his last.”