Award Winning Delaware-made Film Makes its First State Debut

Sean Wagner plays Jeremy in a new film that was cast and shot in Delaware

It’s not every day Theatre N screens a film made in Delaware — from the actors to the locations to the director. On Thursday, August 9, you’ll get that chance — for free, thanks to The Diversity and Inclusion Committee of Connolly Gallagher LLP, a Delaware law firm — to be among the first to screen the award-winning The Reprogramming of Jeremy in its Delaware premiere.

Director Gail Wagner of Middletown (via Prices Corner) works as a paralegal at Connolly Gallagher in Wilmington by day; the rest of the time, she’s an actor and play director who has worked with many of the local theaters.

“I’ve always liked acting, but getting behind the camera is new for me,” she said. She gained experience by helping out her son, who has a degree in cinematography, on some of his projects.

The film was originally conceived as a play by Maine-based playwright Bobby Keniston. “After directing one of Bobby’s plays at the Delaware Theater Association‘s One-Act festival, he was kind enough to share an unpublished play with my cast and me,” Wagner said. “I was totally blown away by the emotions I felt reading the story and thought it would make a great movie. So I asked Bobby and he said no.”

Eventually, he would agree. “I asked off and on for about two years, and when I decided I would ask one last time, he relented and said yes. Bobby wrote the screenplay, adding two additional characters who were referenced in the play but not seen. These characters are also now part of the stage play.”

Although the film was made on a low budget, funding was necessary to get it off the ground. “My understanding and wonderful husband Tom and I funded the majority of the project with small donations from friends and our home improvement fund.”

Actors Sean Wagner (right), Gina Olkowski, Dave Hastings, and Director of Photography Charlie Bailey

The cast of Jeremy was courted even before Keniston said yes. “I didn’t hold auditions,” she said. ”I wanted actors I knew could perform the roles. For many, it was their first film role.”

As with any movie, there were bumps along the way. The actor Wagner originally wanted to play Jeremy aged out of the role. “So I cast my youngest son, Sean Wagner, in the role. It was a good fit because Sean has good instincts. Sean also knew most of the other actors with whom he shared scenes — Emily Cuifetelli, who plays the best female friend Abby, has known Sean from plays since they were 15. Matthew Furman, who plays the best male friend, Kenny. And Brandon Dawson, who plays the love interest Cody, were part of The Outsiders at Reedy Point Players with Sean, so they have acted together before. Gina Olkowski, the mother, has known Sean since he was very young.” Wagner’s older son, Jacob Hunter, was the editor and second camera on the film.

Another setback was more serious. “In the fall of 2017, just as we were going to set up for the ADR (Alternant Dialogue Replacement), Sean suffered a traumatic brain injury at work,” Wagner said. “He was out of work for almost three months and not able to wear headphones, memorize, look at an overhead monitor or speak in time with the scene — all important aspects of ADR. As soon as he was medically cleared, we recorded.”

Matt Furman in the role of Kenny, Jeremy’s best friend

All in all, The Reprogramming of Jeremy took about three years to complete, filming in local locations including the Delaware City Community Center, Delaware City Park, The Everett in Middletown, Cab Calloway School of The Arts and St. Stephen’s Church in Wilmington. “The film utilized talent from Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey including members of the LGBTQ community,” said Wagner.

The film’s story revolves around the title character, a closeted gay teen from a small town, who is suddenly outed, harshly bullied and sent by his father to a gay conversion camp.

The topic is timely — in Delaware, conversion therapy was only just officially outlawed on July 23, 2018; in the majority of the states, it’s still legal, including Keniston’s home state of Maine, where Jeremy had its world premiere at the Maine International Film Festival in July.

“The suicide rate among LGBT teens is high because of self-loathing and non-acceptance by family members,” said Wagner. “Conversion therapy can be detrimental; the story this film tells is about regret, forgiveness, love, and acceptance.”

Patrick Ruegsegger as Pastor Tom

Awards for The Reprogramming of Jeremy include Best Docu-drama (Oniros Film Awards –Italy), The Spotlight Award (Elevation Indie Film Awards – Ireland), Best LGBT Film (Calcutta International Film Festival).

Actors Sean Wagner, Emily Ciuffetelli, Matt Furman, and Gina Olkowski have also been recognized with Outstanding Achievement in Acting Awards at two festivals, and Director of Photography Charles Bailey has been award Best D.O.P. for June from Golden Film Awards. The poster, designed by Andy Kiess, won an award for best poster design.

The Theatre N event will start with a Happy Hour with cash bar from 7-7:30. The film, starting at 7:30, will be preceded by trailers of other Delaware independent films. After the film, there will be Q&A with cast and crew. Free tickets are limited to two per person.

For tickets, go to 3957.

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About the Contributor

Holly Quinn

Holly Quinn

A Wilmington native and AIHS grad, Holly Quinn has written theatre reviews for nearly 20 years.