First-time filmmakers invest in a dream

At $378 each, a dozen back `Blackout'

Lounging on a bench atop a Beacon Street roof deck, Teresa Devli leans her head back as graffiti artist Carlos Diaz slathers her upper body with silver paint to match the two tiny squares of duct tape placed strategically on the woman's chest.

A few feet away, writer David Cameron is smiling and shaking his head, almost in awe as the scene he helped pen unfolds around him. "This is insane!" he laughs above the thunder of drums as a tutu-clad woman draped in boas slithers by onto the makeshift dance floor.

What else did Cameron and his local filmmaker cohorts expect when they planned an end-of-the-world bash as part of their black comedy terrorist flick?

For starters, they couldn't have expected the body painters to be an hour late. Nor could they have anticipated that a pesky building superintendent would have them racing the clock to wrap production before the police arrived.

And no way did they imagine that irony would smack them in the face not once, not twice, but three times as power failures dampened the debauchery on the set of "Blackout."

But the poise under pressure exhibited by this group of first-time filmmakers belies what their angst-ridden company name would have you believe. Incepted eight months ago through an online community, Flipping Tables Films is the epitome of a struggling artist's collaborative hell-bent on success.

Toiling away at their day jobs as advertising executives, Starbucks employees and summer camp instructors, the company's dozen members dug deep in their pockets to fork over $378 each for the production of "Blackout," a feature film that chronicles the quirky catharses of its three main characters during one day when Boston is on high terror alert.

A timid suburban mother treks into uncharted city territory to rescue her son, a prude turns nymphomaniac, and an attention-seeking performance artist posing as a terrorist attempts to crash an apocalyptic party only to be laughed off by its revelers.

In the true spirit of a collaborative, many of the group's members wear multiple hats and shuffle between roles as writers, directors and even food runners to bring their vision to life. Vanessa Vartabedian, one of the film's directors, says the company has relied on the kindnesses of strangers in snagging shooting locations at gas stations, cafes, apartments, and even in people's cars.

On a recent unseasonably cool August evening, it is producer Matt Balough's roof that Flipping Tables Films has taken over, rigging it with cameras, lighting equipment, and about 40 scantily-clad actors painted in tribal graffiti impressive enough to grace the most trafficked bridges in Boston.

In the director's chair for "Thugs," the last of the film's three vignettes, is Flipping Tables Film founder Jennifer Redfearn. Donning a straw cowboy hat and a red tank top, she is hard to miss at the center of her three main actors, all draped in terrorist black and sporting stockings on their heads.

Left with only 15 minutes to shoot and wrap the party scene after finally restoring power on the "Blackout" set, Redfearn appears a bit more frazzled than she had earlier, nervously reassuring herself, "I'm OK. I'm all right."

Then, from her perch on the deck's railing, she shouts for the scene to be cut and confidently issues a statement uttered by Hollywood heavyweights every day.

"Everyone, that was fantastic," Redfearn yells. "We're going to do that again."

Now in post production, "Blackout" should be put to bed by the end of the year, "if the gods smile upon us," Cameron jokes. More likely, the film will be finished by early 2004 and ready to shop around to film festivals.

"Our goal is to send this out to as many festivals as we can," says Cameron. "If there's anything local, anything regional, we will definitely go for that, because the movie takes place in Boston.

Boston may get its chance at witnessing a "Blackout" after all.

© Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company