From Central Station to central casting: 'It's time for the 'Fire Drill Show' in South Portland
SOUTH PORTLAND — When firefighter Jeff Rogers slid down the pole at Central Station Wednesday morning, he wasn't on his way to a fire.
Instead, the 42-year-old Scarborough resident was gearing up for the first day of shooting for an animated film that will be nationally distributed to fire departments and schools during National Fire Prevention Week, Oct. 3-9.
Fire Chief Kevin Guimond said having the department associated with fire safety education on a national level is a unique, exceptional honor.
"This opportunity won't come again in this area for a long time," Guimond said. "It speaks volumes about the professionals we have working here and regionally."
The short film is an undertaking of two South Portland-based film companies.
Sputnik Animation is a 10-year-old animation company whose work has appeared on Animal Planet as well as the History and Discovery channels, among others.
Sputnik President James LePlante said his company's proposal beat about 40 others to win the film contract from the National Fire Protection Association, which wants to raise awareness this year about the importance of smoke detectors.
LePlante said he believes his proposal stood out because he included a 30-second promotional video that featured a real firefighter – not to mention, two animated smoke detectors – rather a professional actors.
"When we piched this to the NFPA the idea was we'd have these little walking, talking smoke alarm characters," LePlante said. "They would be the sidekicks of the firefighter."
The feel of the promo, which opens with an outdoor shot of Central Station, is that of a reality show.
When a sack full of mail arrives, Rogers tells the animated smoke alarms to find him a good letter from the pile. They eventually pull one from a family of four living in a two-story house with one smoke alarm.
"We have a winner!" one smoke detector shouts.
"It's fire drill time!" Rogers replies, putting on his helmet.
The trio will ultimately go to the home and show the family how to properly install the appropriate number of detectors, LaPlante said.
Rogers' 14-year-old daughter Emily, a freshman at Scarborough High School, will appear in the film, playing the role of one of the children in the home.
Rogers said neither he nor his daughter have any experience acting. Although he was originally nervous about the project, he is now able to relax.
"We do every line about 20 times," Rogers said. "The one easy thing for me is I know the subject."
On Wednesday morning, camera crews from Nomad Pictures, a South Portland-based company shooting the non-animated portion of the film, spent more than an hour fine-tuning the lighting in the Central Station garage.
Nomad Film Director Bill Moulton and LaPlante walked Rogers through the 10- to 15-second scene, telling him where to walk, when to put on his helmet, how to turn around and deliver the lines.
Two water bottles placed on the floor showed Rogers where his animated sidekicks would be. After his make-up was applied – not without heckling from fellow firefighters – Rogers was instructed to open the door to the fire engine and tell his sidekicks, "Come on guys. It's time for the 'Fire Drill Show'."
After several takes, Rogers apparently wasn't giving his invisible friends enough time to climb aboard Engine 8 before closing the door.
"Make sure they're in," Moulton warned. "Let's try it again."
After several takes, some of which were interrupted by fire alarms, the filmmakers had what they needed and went on to shoot at a Pine Point home in Scarborough.
Although Rogers said he gets teased by his fellow firefighters (they call him "Hollywood") about his sudden stardom, which also includes a cover photo on the NFPA national catalog, he appears not only to be taking it in stride, but embracing his new role.
As Rachel Attwood Mistler, Nomad's production manager, was setting out three lawn chairs behind a row of lights and cameras, Rogers asked, "Do I get one with my name on it?"
Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or firstname.lastname@example.org