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Movie making is alive and well in Sullivan County

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I received an email a few weeks ago from filmmaker Emrhys Cooper (“Trophy Boy”), informing me that he was working on another movie and planned to be shooting much of it in Sullivan County. “We’re back in the county shooting a film titled ‘The Shuroo Process,’” he wrote, “and would love to have you visit us on set.”

“Sounds great!” I wrote back, asking for some details, including a brief description of the plot. He sent me an outline which included this info: “Parker Schafer, a seasoned journalist, lives a life that is out of control. Driven by success, social status and being the life of the party, she is thrown off the rails when a drug-fueled rant and subsequent indecent exposure at an awards ceremony gets her fired, destroying her once-glamorous professional and personal life. Suddenly untethered, Parker attempts to dig herself out by diving into a popular self-help program led by the wildly charismatic Guru Shuroo. The program culminates in a transformational weekend retreat where Parker uncovers a damaging story that has the power to put her back on top.”

Intrigued, I made plans to interview writer/director Cooper, and cinematographer/producer Benjamin Murray. “We were here in the Catskills screening ‘Trophy Boy’ last year,” Murray reminded me, “and we kind of got stranded for a few days without cell service, and we remembered that Emrhys had an idea about a retreat in the Catskills that had taken seed as a storyline a few years ago.”

Director Emrhys Cooper, and leading lady Cornelia Guest, take a break from filming “The Shuroo Process” while on location in Sullivan County.| TRR photo by Jonathan Fox

“I have a very good friend who has property here in the county, just outside of Callicoon,” Cooper added. “And I’ve visited four or five times. I got this idea of writing a film about a self-development program where eight participants come out to this retreat in the Catskills led by a charlatan guru and things go horribly wrong. It’s kind of a dark comedy,” he laughed. “It takes place mostly in the Catskills, and is loosely based on real events.”

This is British actor/director Cooper’s first feature film, which he’s co-written with Donal Brophy. “Yes, it’s a lot of work,” he said, “and yes, I’m in it too,” he added. “But I believe strongly in the story and that a lot of people fall victim to these guru-types these days, especially because of social media, the internet and some nefarious individuals manipulating the media, so… the timing for this story seemed perfect.”

“We did a ton of scouting for locations,” cinematographer Murray chimed in. “We kind of loved this idea of being in the mountains and having a secluded area that these characters are escaping to from the city. Since the idea for this script was actually born here in the Catskills, we pushed to find great locations to film the story here, which also provided an opportunity to get the community involved as well, which was important to us.”

When asked to elaborate, Murray had this to say: “There are local people on our crew who have played major parts in helping us get this done. We’re spending the majority of our money here in Sullivan County as well. If we’re going to plant our footprint somewhere, then we think the money should go to the people here. If we’re going to be in the way,” he added, “then we might as well be contributing. When we were stuck up here last year, we took it as a sign that Sullivan County and being in the Catskills was a part of the magic.”

“Our crane operator lives 20 minutes away,” Murray pointed out. “And star Cornelia Guest lives near Hudson and has a farm up there, so she’s almost local,” he chuckled.

“Less than a year ago we were inspired by the beauty of Sullivan County and the Catskills…. and here we are, shooting a feature film."

TRR photo by Jonathan Fox

“We’ve already shot scenes at the train station in Callicoon, Sam’s Point and in White Sulphur Springs” Emrhys pointed out. “It’s really a beautiful part of the world. I like to think of the film as a visual love letter to the Catskills, because I truly believe that this is one of the most magical parts of the world. Even though things go terribly wrong in the story,” he further explained, “we wanted to showcase the drab dull parts of the lead actress’ life in the New York City (juxtaposed by) the incredible beauty in the Catskills. I love it here.”

As far as the cast is concerned, executive producer Zacchary Quinto of “Star Trek,” producers Glen Trotiner and Donal Brophy, along with Cooper and Murray, have attracted some A-List names, including Brad Dourif from “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “The Lord of the Rings,” Cornelia Guest from “Twin Peaks” and Fiona Dourif from “True Blood” to name but a few. “I feel really blessed,” director Cooper said. “To be able to get this caliber of actors for my cast has been really incredible, and they have brought my script to life in a way that is better than I could ever have anticipated.

“In addition to the dozen or so actors, we have more than 40 people on our crew,” he continued. “We have amazing costume, production and lighting design. Every department has worked so hard to bring this story to life—and they are all very talented. We also worked closely with the state and were able to take advantage of the wonderful Upstate New York tax incentives created for filmmakers. It’s difficult to make money in the independent film world,” Cooper admitted. “And there are a lot of reasons to make films here. I think people enjoy seeing beautiful things, and I believe that nature has a very calming effect,” the filmmaker continued. “I love coming here, just to get away from it all. Ben loves shooting up here. We’ve had a fantastic experience in the county, and, of course,” Cooper said in conclusion, as Murray nodded enthusiastically, “we’d love to have a special screening up here when the film is released in 2020.”

For more information and a complete cast list, go to www.theshurooprocess.com.

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