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a little movie about a small boy, a large bird and a dark secret

by Elaine Weeks, photos Darren Kwokringneck-kids&pheasants2.jpg

They say that you've got to be a little crazy to work with animals and children. Windsor born filmmaker Matt Gallagher may not be daft but while shooting his latest movie Ringneck, comprising a cast of birds and kids in Windsor's Little Italy, things did get a little crazy for him.

Gallagher, based in Toronto, recruited a posse of local talent and volunteers to create his short film adapted from a story by Michael Allcock about an Italian family and their unusual neighbours who keep a ringneck pheasant as a pet.

Gallagher borrowed a pheasant from Jack Miner's in Kingsville to portray the pet but before they could begin shooting this past June, the bird flew the coop. Unable to locate the bird, the Windsor Police were called in and they issued an "All Points Bulletin" to be on the lookout for one pheasant on the lam. The bird was eventually located two alleys away, and Allcock, who had read that pheasants flew straight up, was able to nab him with a net.

In all, four pheasants were recruited for the movie: besides the escapee, a stand-in adult pheasant, a young pheasant for earlier scenes and even a dead one formerly of Pelee Island which was kept frozen until ready for his scene. Without giving away too much of the plot, circumstances surrounding the death of the pheasant and the death of its owner cause 12 year-old Mario to harbor a dark secret for 30 years.

Finding the boys to play Mario and his friend Sam was the greatest challenge for casting director Marshall Falcin who used local media for recruiting much of the film's talent.

Just when it seemed that Falcin was never going to find the right boys, Tyler DiLallo's mom Debbie heard about the call on the radio. She told her sister in-law Lilly Magri, they brought their sons in for a tryout and despite having no previous acting experience, the pair got the roles. In spite of some late hours shooting and missing the last week of school at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in LaSalle, Anthony and Tyler had a ball doing the film. The hard part for Tyler was "some of the swearing - and having to see the old lady take her clothes off."

Gallagher, who shot Cass last year, an award winning documentary about one of the toughest neighbourhoods in Detroit if not the U.S., produced Ringneck with most of his own money and the help of a lot of volunteers after funding fell through. Together with director of photography Mark Cabiddu of Toronto whom Gallagher met while studying communications at the University of Windsor, and his cast and crew of about 40 people, Gallagher shot the movie in 6 days, mostly inside two small neighbouring houses on Marentette Avenue.

Photographer Darren Kwok and I arrived on the set during the last day of shooting. We shoehorned ourselves, along with five other people, a large camera, lights, a boom, a dolly, etc., into a miniscule room to watch Mario and Benny Santoro, who plays Mario's failed lounge singer father Giovanni, do a scene in an even tinier bathroom.

Fortunately, it wasn't an overly hot day.ringneck_bath-sceneshot.jpg

Santoro - also without prior acting experience but admitting to being the class clown in the 70's at Brennan High - was supposedly guiding his "son" in the finer points of shaving but in reality, sharing his take on life. Magri cracks up on cue at the lyrics of Santoro's improvised absurd song and it's a wrap after just one take.

We are very impressed. These are some extremely professional amateurs.

Prior to shooting his film, Gallagher spent days driving up and down area streets trying to locate two adjacent houses that would be suitable for his intentions. When he discovered the right location, the neighbours didn't seem to mind the temporary invasion of their quiet street and were in fact, quite helpful. "We were having trouble finding the right era of clothes and ended up canvassing neighbours to see if they had any clothes from the 50s or 60s," recalls Gallagher, "No problem! they told us and they produced some old clothes for us that they had held on to, just in case." 

Gallagher is grateful for all the help from volunteers and CBC Windsor. Following two to three months of editing, Ringneck will be ready for its Windsor premiere at the Capitol Theatre this fall.

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