Director Seth Henrikson and writer Dan Meyer transformed an introspective remark by actor Michael Shannon into a holiday film that began streaming December 15 on Netflix.
Pottersville is the story of a mild-mannered storekeeper named Maynard who gets mistaken for Sasquatch while drunkenly raging through the streets of a quaint but struggling New England mill town.
When word of his intoxicated ramble grows into a nationwide Big Foot media sensation, Maynard keeps the ruse alive for the good and the profit of the community.
“The film itself has a very heartwarming and kind of magical vibe to it,” says Henrikson. “In the original treatment I put together, the two things I referenced were Frank Capra and Norman Rockwell.”
Henrikson, cofounder of Chicago production company Odd Machine, grew up in British Columbia, where the special two-night “Sasquatch” episode of The Six Million Dollar Man was considered a “big media event.”
“The minute I read the script for Pottersville,” he adds. “I remembered being seven years old.”
Soundcake composer Brando Triantafillou scored the film with an ear for the story.
“The instruments that correlate to the themes are, like, clarinet, bassoon, and flute,” he says. “There are some rhythm section elements that I’ve added as well, percussion and quirky sounds like bongos, shakers, triangle bells.”
Besides extending the monster mix-up into a plot that would do Three’s Company proud, Pottersville showcases some of Hollywood’s most recognizable actors playing roles that veer wildly from the stuff that made them famous.
Ron Hellboy Perlman is a goofball sheriff. Christina Hendricks — Esquire magaizine’s “sexiest woman in the world” for 2010 — speaks her early lines while wearing a furry rabbit costume.
Michael Shannon — known for a signature intensity that steals scenes in everything from 8 Mile and Revolutionary Road to Iceman and Elivs & Nixon — plays the likable and somewhat hapless storekeeper, Maynard.
“He’s kind of like the pillar of the community,” explains Henrikson, whose professional relationship with Shannon began when the actor starred as the Zamboni driver in Zamboni Man, a short that Henrikson wrote, directed, and filmed in Chicago.
“We did that in 2003,” he recalls. “And then Mike said, ‘you really need to meet my friend Dan, who’s a screenwriter.’”
Shannon’s friend turned out to be Dan Meyer, an actor, writer, and producer from Michigan City, Indiana. Shannon and Meyer met during an audition in Chicago, when Meyer was a sixteen-year-old kid looking to get into the business.
“He got cast in the lead and I got cast in a smaller part,” Meyer says. “We’ve been great friends ever since.”
During a random stroll through New York City a few years ago, Shannon opened up to Meyer about his future.
“Out of the blue … he said, ‘you know, I really love my career and I’m so thankful, but I always get cast as the bad guy,’” Meyer explains.
Adding that, “nobody in Hollywood thinks I’m funny,” Shannon made a mid-life prediction.
“Someday, somebody else is going to come along and get those roles,” he said. “And I’ll just go back and do theater.”
But he also had a bit of a revelation: “He said, ‘I could be the good guy,’” recalls Meyer. “I could be the guy who saves the day, the guy who gets the girl. I could be the hero in a movie.”
Meyer — who describes Shannon as “one of the funniest people I’ve ever met” — soon began on the script for Pottersville.
He knew what the title would be from the beginning. “‘Pottersville’ just popped into my head and that was it,” he says. “That’s the name of the town, that’s the name of the movie.”
He also felt fine with the connection to the town in It’s A Wonderful Life.
“Pottersville does have sort of a big, kind of, rallying around the central character,” he explains. “And Mike is very generous with his time and helping out friends, so there’s a little bit of a parallel there between his real life and the fictionalized version in the film.”
Henrikson and Meyer scouted several locations, including a few in Illinois, before ultimately settling on Hamilton, New York.
Home of Colgate University, Hamilton not only made a perfect setting, it was also relatively vacant over the holiday season while they were shooting.
“In the center of town was this quaint inn that had a restaurant attached with a big fireplace,” Henrikson says. “We took over that town and they totally embraced it.”
Perhaps most importantly, Hamilton also offered tax incentives that attracted Wing & A Prayer Pictures, the production company that made Pottersville.
Wing & Prayer was launched three years ago by Ron Perlman, who liked the script so much that he offered to play the role of the town sheriff.
“Ron came to us and said, ‘I think this could be really special,” Henrikson recalls. “And I thought, if he plays this as kind of this Barney Fife dopey guy, it could be kind of funny.”
Perlman also boosted the director’s confidence on the first day of shooting his first feature.
“We were in hair and makeup, and he was like, ‘Seth, get over here, let’s go over this’” says Henrikson. “By the end of the day, he was like, ‘this guy’s the real deal … I’ve never been directed like that.'”
“The whole time I wondered, ‘Is this just a seasoned actor trying to make me feel more comfortable?’ Either way, he did.”
Directed by — Seth Henrikson
Written by — Daniel Meyer
Robert Benjamin — co-producer
Josh Crook — producer
Jonathan Gray — producer
Tiffany Hallgren — associate producer
Patricia Hearst — executive producer
Scott Floyd Lochmus — producer
Daniel Meyer — executive producer
Brian Papworth — line producer
Steven Paul — co-executive producer
Ron Perlman — producer
Jason Price — co-executive producer
Christian Chadd Taylor — executive producer
Byron Wetzel — executive producer
Music by Brando Triantafillou
Cinematography by Damian Horan
Film Editing by
Production Design by Jimena Azula
Art Direction by Michael Aitken
Set Decoration by Alanna Wray McDonald
Costume Design by Jessica Zavala