A horror movie in Syracuse was forced to suspend production halfway through filming because of several issues, including an actor’s injury and crew members walking off set over a pay dispute.
“The Hermit,” starring former “The Incredible Hulk” actor and champion bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno, began shooting in mid-August on a farm in South Onondaga. Ferrigno plays a murderous, cannibalistic pig farmer who cooks people and makes them into jerky.
Excitement was high initially. Ferrigno was named an honorary Syracuse police officer while in town and it was his first major role since getting life-changing cochlear implants last year. Local crew members were also looking forward to the project, the latest in a filmmaking boom that’s seen more than 30 movies shot in Central New York over the past five years.
“Everyone was just excited about doing a horror movie in Syracuse,” key grip Mac Cushing told syracuse.com | The Post-Standard.
But most of the crew hadn’t been paid after the first week of production, Cushing said. Halfway through the second week, a producer told him paychecks would be issued biweekly even though crew members expected to be paid weekly. When they threatened a walkout, producers promised to make it right by the following Monday or Tuesday, Cushing said.
Producer Gerry Pass blamed the threat on “rumors from union reps” about proof of deposit; “The Hermit” is a non-union film, he said.
On Tuesday, Aug. 30, the crew still hadn’t been paid, according to Cushing, so they walked off the set. Filming stopped. Ferrigno and others went home.
Pass, line producer Kenneth Greenblat, and the Syracuse Film Office confirmed that production was shut down after the crew went on strike.
Pass told syracuse.com | The Post-Standard that “almost everyone involved was paid” through the first two weeks and some have been paid through three weeks. Money troubles began when an investor who promised $200,000 only provided a tenth of that — $20,000 — and the crew was informed during the third week, according to Pass.
Pass said he put in $150,000 from his own pocket, but couldn’t do more to prevent what he called a “mutiny.”
Cushing said he’s owed about $4,000 between his personal labor and rentals from his company, Salt City Grip. He estimated tens of thousands of dollars were still owed to the 60-person crew, including reimbursement for set construction costs.
“We feel kind of helpless because we feel like there’s no legal recourse,” Cushing said. “It’d be more expensive to sue them than for the amount of money we’d get back … It’s an awful situation because if any of us did this type of production, we’d be arrested.”
Cushing, whose credits include the Jackie Robinson biopic “42″ and more than a dozen other films shot in Nashville and New York City, said he moved back to his hometown in Syracuse in 2020 and wanted to get involved with films locally. He started his own film grip company to provide camera support equipment and operate dollies, tripods and similar devices, as well as be a rental house for lighting equipment.
“We’re aware of the situation and trying to keep lines of communication open with everyone involved,” said Eric Vinal, vice president of film, TV and entertainment for Visit Syracuse.
Everyone agreed that seeing a production shut down over money issues was rare in the film industry.
Vinal said it was the first time it’s ever happened in his eight years with the Syracuse Film Office. Cushing said he only heard of it happening once in Nashville during his nearly 20-year career his. Pass said he never had issues with his other films his, which include an executive producer credit on“Mandrome,” shot in Syracuse this past winter with Jesse Eisenberg and Adrien Brody.
Four people who were involved with the “Manodrome” production told syracuse.com there were delays in payments that led to the crew unionizing. Production was briefly paused for negotiations, two sources said, and everyone was eventually paid within two months of the film’s completion.
Pass told syracuse.com he heard about concerns over a budget threshold with “Manodrome,” but said he was not involved with financing that project.
Cushing and Kyle Stack, a gaffer who worked on lighting and providing electrical power for “The Hermit,” said producers tried to blame others for the non-payments.
“They claimed it was a payment processing issue,” Stack told syracuse.com.
Pass called “The Hermit” crew “rough” and “whiny,” while also expressing frustrations about non-financial delays. Heavy rain affected shooting at times, Cushing said, while Pass revealed that two people involved with the film needed medical treatment.
Lead actress Malina Weissman, best known for playing Violet Baudelaire in “A Series of Unfortunate Events” and a young Kara Zor-El on “Supergirl,” got super glue in her eye, according to Pass. A microscopic knife was needed and she lost her eyelashes, Pass said; she wasn’t able to film scenes for five days due to the injury.
David Wolfgang, the director of photography, also had to go to the hospital to have a gallbladder removed, Pass said.
Pass and Greenblat said new funding is being raised with plans to come back to Syracuse to finish “The Hermit” in the fourth quarter of 2022. One issue is continuity: If the leaves change or winter weather comes, it could drastically affect filming and editing .
Cushing praised Vinal for working as a mediator between the two sides, but wasn’t sure if he’d be involved with the rest of the production.
Stack, who said he’s worked on about 20 movies including American High’s “Plan B” and “The Binge 2: It’s a Wonderful Binge,” suggested he won’t work with Pass again.
Vinal said he hopes to find the best solution for everyone. He also expressed support for the film crew.
“They are the lifeblood of what we do,” Vinal told syracuse.com. “We have their back.”
A release date for “The Hermit,” directed by Italian filmmaker Salvatore Sclafani, has not been announced.