“To understand how this community communicates . . . was eye-opening, yet unusual,” said Rockville Centre resident Kenneth Frank, who co-produced a film in which all of the dialogue is American Sign Language. “The way people interact is not all the same.”
“Too Much Noise” is about a deaf couple who move to Manhattan to start fresh, but find themselves at odds in their new, noisy environment. The 14-minute movie, produced by In The Garage Productions, premieres next week at the Chain Film Festival in Manhattan.
“I’m a hearing person writing a deaf script,” writer and director Michael Flood said. For his first-ever script, Flood, an English teacher from Seaford, drew inspiration from a night out 20 years ago, when he saw a man and a woman signing to each other on the dance floor of a loud club.
“They were hitting it off,” Flood recalled. He wondered what it would be like “to be deaf and in love,” and then realized it is the same as for hearing people. So last year, he contacted Frank, an old friend and a fellow English teacher, about the project. Frank’s wife, Shawna Brandle, became a producer as well, and the three got down to business.
“I did my best to rain on their parade,” Brandle noted with a smirk, recalling that when she was presented with the idea, she explained how time-consuming and money-draining shooting a film like this could be. “I just wanted to make sure they knew what they were getting into,” Brandle said of the Rockville Centre couple’s second film.
During casting, a hearing actor with deaf parents suggested to Flood that he should cast deaf actors. So, they hired Nour Ellakis (who plays Janas) and Robert Parcells Jr. (Curtis), who are both deaf, and brought on interpreters.
“It was interesting,” Flood said about working in ASL. For example, he wanted a shot of only the characters’ hands signing — “like butterflies” — but they cut it because, “You need the whole body,” when it comes to ASL, “Or else it’s like broken English.”
On the set, communicating with the actors was like “playing a game of telephone,” according to Frank. He said that even on lunch breaks, the interpreters, who volunteered their time, were constantly working, putting down their slices of pizza to translate conversations.
Later on, editing was difficult as they inserted subtitles. “We wanted the experience of a deaf and hearing audience watching it to be as close as possible,” Flood noted. In one scene, a character is thinking too much and signs that they are “paranoid.” While Flood, Frank and Brandle thought that was offensive, they said, certified ASL interpreter Jennifer Ward-Schultz assured them, “That’s their expression.”
Although many of the outdoor scenes were shot in Manhattan and Queens, Hempstead Lake State Park stood in for Central Park in several shots. They also used an apartment at the Rockville Tudor, on Hempstead Avenue, for the bedroom of characters Curtis and Janas.
“There were a lot of baby steps involved . . . because of the language barriers and cultural aspects, but as a team, everybody really went above and beyond to make this work,” Ellakis said. Though born deaf, she understands English from teaching ASL, and noted that her experiences of being deaf were taken into account for the storyline.
“Me and Robert have a passion for the ASL and deaf community,” Ellakis added, explaining how difficult it is for deaf people to succeed in the movie industry. “It’s not that we can’t hear. It’s that we don’t.”
The film, she hopes, will help the deaf community by raising awareness of ASL. “It’s a real language, it is a real culture,” she said. “There are many skilled deaf people, and hopefully this will inspire them.”
“Too Much Noise” will premiere at 8 p.m. on Aug. 17 at Manhattan’s Chain Theatre, at 312 W. 36th St. Tickets are $10, and can be purchased at www.chaintheatre.org.