Is Hollywood ready for Boxborough?
By Chrissie Long, Staff Writer, The Beacon
Thursday, September 14, 2006

      Todd Davis has brought Hollywood to Boxborough.
      Staging a $44,000-film at his home on Hill Road, Davis used award-winning actors and film editors to assist with the production.
     The 15-minute film, "In The Tradition of My Family," will screen at the Third Annual Boston Film Night on Sunday, Sept. 17.
          A coming of age story, the film is based on a fictional family tradition in which a father shoots a son on his 13th birthday to make him a "new man."
     "The film is really extraordinary," said Charles Merzbacher, chairman of the Department of Film and Television at Boston University and close advisor to Davis. "It has a very rich parable. By that, I mean it is a simple story that can be read in many different ways. Although the narrative is clear, it hints at all types of mysterious meanings."
     Merzbacher has viewed thousands of student films in his tenure at BU and this is the first - to his knowledge - that was accepted into the New York Film Festival.
     "This is in no way a cookie cutter film," he said.
     Davis, a Boxborough resident of 17 years, completed a Master of Fine Arts degree in film production from Boston University in the fall. Determined to become a film director, he decided to come out big with his first film.
     "I didn't have time at my age to make a bad film," he said. At 44, he spent the majority of his career as an engineer and manager. His company, Digital, was bought out in 1998 by Compaq. A few years later, he lost his job. "After six months of looking for a new job, I realized I didn't want any of the jobs that I was applying to."
     It was at that point, he decided to go back to school. Enrolling in a program at Boston University, he began taking classes with people half his age.
     "A lot of people my age think I am brave," he said. "But what I am doing now is so much more interesting than engineering. Although they are both collaborative efforts, film production is more creative and stimulating for the skills I have."
     For the film, Davis transformed his home into a movie set. He hired local actors and actresses from a casting agency in Boston. He also used the talent of award-winning cinematographer Austin de Besche and Emmy-award winning film editor Michael Berenbaum, who worked on "Desperate Housewives."
     After six days of intense filming in June 2005, Davis compiled the shots into a short film that he completed in early March. Since then, he has been on tour for the film in addition to teaching a graduate level class at Boston University.
     Davis based the film on a short story written by his brother-in-law, Phil LaMarche, who is in the process of publishing his first novel. Davis admits the story is a little dark, but it was perfect for his first film.
     "It is a twisted story, not based on reality," Davis said. "[Phil said he] took the first line and ran with it."
     Through this film, Davis is hoping to catch the eye of producers. Instead of shelling out his own money for films, he wants to get paid for his new passion.
     "Todd has great potential in film directing," said Merzbacher. "He is really open to listening to people. Because he has experience in another career, he is very good at taking criticism. He doesn't take every suggestion, but he doesn't block out criticism altogether."
     Davis' film will be shown at three nearby locations in the upcoming months. For more information on screenings, visit his Web site

Shooting for recognition: Boxborough director takes aim at an unusual family tradition
By Bob Tremblay Metro West Daily News
Friday, September 15, 2006

     Most family traditions are joyful, benign affairs. Christmas dinner at the grandparents' house. Summertime clambakes by the shore.
     The tradition honored in the film "In The Tradition of My Family" is a little different. Here, the father shoots the son on the child's 13th birthday to make the son "a new man." The more dangerous the wound the higher the honor for the son.
     Unfortunately, at least in this context, the boy receives only a gunshot to his foot. The boy feels shame, especially when he compares his wound to the scar of his grandfather, who was shot in the cheek. Resentful, the son grows up wanting a better scar than the one his father gave him. Not exactly a Hallmark card moment.
     "It's very strange," concedes Todd Davis, the Boxborough resident who wrote and directed the 15-minute short as his graduate thesis for the film school at Boston University, "but I made a real effort to try to make these people look like they could live next door to you. They just do this one really weird thing."
     Case in point, after the shooting, family arrive at the boy's house to give him presents. The party just happens to include a show-and-tell of scars.
     "Since I've made the film, I've heard a lot of stories about tribes in Africa who send their sons out to fight a lion," says Davis. "If they don't get some horrible wound in the fight, they're not really revered by the tribe."
     The movie, which has won several awards and been accepted at 27 film festivals, screens Sunday at the third annual Boston Film Night at The Regent Theatre, 7 Medford St., Arlington. The event is a forum for Boston area independent filmmakers and actors presented by Imagine magazine and Midnight Chimes Productions.
     "In The Tradition of My Family" is based on a short story by Davis' brother-in-law, Phil LaMarche. For his thesis, Davis had his own script but it wasn't getting a lot of good feedback. Davis then got together two years ago with LaMarche at Christmas -- a family tradition, oh, the irony.
     "His story had been accepted by a literary journal, "Ninth Letter" says Davis. "They didn't like the ending, so he was polishing it up. I asked him if I could read it. He agreed and I really liked it. I thought it was a really cool story. I asked him if I could film it and he agreed.
     "I was originally drawn to the fact that somebody else thought it was good. He's got an amazing way with language that I tried to capture in voice-over. I liked the language so much, and there are so many reveals. They keep you off guard, and I liked that part of it."
     Davis made a few changes in his adaptation. For example, the grandfather is only mentioned in the story. In the film, he becomes a character. "As soon as I read 'shot through both cheeks,' I thought, 'I got to see that,'" recalls Davis.
     The film was shot entirely in Boxborough during a six-day span in June 2005 on a shoestring budget of $44,000. To keep costs down, the film was shot at Davis' home in Boxborough.
     "The script called for a house and a shed and I have a house and a shed," reasons the filmmaker. His wife Patty, an attorney, served as executive producer. In addition to being the film's legal adviser, she was its jack of all trades, filling in if a member of the technical staff was absent.
     "In The Tradition of My Family" was shot by cinematographer Austin de Besche, who served as the cinematographer on " Return of the Secaucus Seven" and "Lianna," both directed by John Sayles and edited by Emmy Award-winning film editor Michael Berenbaum ("Desperate Housewives"). The role of the boy was played by Paul Kmiec of Waltham.
     The short has already been named best student film at the Rhode Island International and Plymouth Independent film festivals; received the audience award as best short at the DC Independent Film Festival; and was selected best narrative short at the Philadelphia Film Festival. In addition to being honored by the Redstone West Showcase and Longbaugh Film Festival, it was accepted at the prestigious New York Film Festival, where it will be shown next month.
     Davis also earned an "A" for his film at BU, from where he graduated with a master of fine arts degree in January. He began teaching a graduate-level digital editing course there Monday.
     It's an impressive showing for someone embarking on a second career at the age of 44. Before deciding to become a filmmaker, the Philadelphia native worked in the high-tech field at Digital Equipment Corp. and Avaya Inc. as a computer engineer. He had majored in electrical engineering at the University of Pennsylvania and received his master's degree in computer engineering from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
     After being laid off, Davis says he spent "about six months looking for jobs I started to realize I didn't really want, sending out résumés and hoping I didn't get called back. That was sort of a clue that maybe engineering was not what I wanted to do anymore."
     A meeting with Berenbaum, who was a high school friend, proved fateful. Berenbaum was editing the TV show "Ed" at the time in New York, and Davis visited him and did some cutting on his own. "I came back from that trip and said my to wife, 'Wife, what do you think about me going to film school?' Once she got over the initial shock, she thought that might not be a bad idea for me," says Davis.
     "It was something new, not engineering. I've always been a big film buff, although I didn't realize I'd ever have a career in it."
     Initially, Davis wanted to be an editor. "It felt a lot like what I used to do in system testing," he says. "You take this thing that was basically done and make it work so that people will buy it. There's so much in editing where there's problem-solving. You have coverage issues, story issues. It's a series of information reveals that create a story. It's really creative and technical. It appealed to what I wanted to do and what I was good at. Editing is all computer-based and I have good technical skills."
     But while at BU, Davis caught the directing bug. "Directing is so invigorating," he says. "You are in charge of the set. You are making practically all the decisions on the fly, as quick as you can, trying to be smart about what you can do with the amount of time you have. You get to work with the actors and figure out clever ways to get them to do what you need them to do.
     "On the set, the actual film production, unless you're the director, is kind of boring. It's a lot of standing around and waiting, but if you're the director, it flies by, and that really appealed to me."
     While at BU, Davis made seven shorts. He also received a merit scholarship and was a teaching assistant for four semesters of the course, "Directing the Theatrical and Television Film." He was named runnerup for The Most Promising New England Filmmaker award at the 2006 Boston Underground Film Festival.
     Davis continues to show his film on the festival circuit in the hopes of being recognized and awarded the opportunity to make a feature-length film.
     "It's a calling card," he says. "The more eyeballs you get on it the better chance you have of people thinking you can direct a feature film."
     He has a script, but he prefers to keep the subject matter secret.
     Davis has also founded his own production company, orLater Productions. Dedicated to innovative filmmaking, it has produced many short narrative and documentary films. "The name is based on how old I am," says Davis. "Sooner or later I was going to find something I wanted to do. It turned out to be 'or later.'"

Slice of Life
with Todd Davis
by Joe Burns, Cape Code Life magazine, July 2007

Todd Davis won the 2006 award for Best Student Film at the Plymouth Independent Film Festival (PIFF), for his short film, In The Tradition of My Family. Davis's film career began at age 39, and today, thanks to his success at PIFF and other festivals, his work is firmly on course. Davis spoke with Cape Code Life by phone from his home in Boxboro.

Cape Code Life: You gave up another career to take up filmmaking, correct?
Davis: 'Give up' -- that's an interesting choice of words. I was caught up in the high-tech industry downturn in 2002. I spent six months looking for another engineering/management job and realized after a while that even though I was sending out these résumés, that I was hoping that I didn't get called. I have a really close friend from high school who's a film editor. I went down and watched him work. I tried to edit one of the scenes that he showed me, and I came back and talked to my wife about going to film school. She thought it was a great idea.

CCL: Give us an overview of In The Tradition of My Family.
Davis: It's about a family tradition where, when the sons turn 13, the fathers give them a gunshot wound as a rite of passage. The more dramatic the scar, the more you're honored. The conflict here is we come upon a father who really isn't buying into this tradition, but he still goes through with it. He gives his son a gunshot wound, but he gives a very superficial wound and the son is very disappointed.

CCL:: The film is based on a short story. How did you come upon the story?
Davis: The story was written by my brother-in-law, Phil LaMarche (also the author of American Youth, published by Random House). He had submitted this short story to literary journals and the story was accepted for publication. It's a problem for filmmakers sometimes, where you read a story that you like and then can't get the rights. I was lucky that I was related to the author.

CCL: You won the PIFF award for Best Student Film. What did that mean to you in terms of getting your work recognized?
Davis: To win an award is really icing on the cake. It helps with your credibility, too. I think most short filmmakers would eventually like to do features. Features require money, and to get money you have to have some sort of track record. So if you've been accepted to a lot of festivals and if you've won some awards, you've maybe floated a little higher to the top of the credibility barrel.