Filmmaker John Putch finds inspiration in local roots
John Putch's cinematic work is based in and perhaps even driven by his recollections of his hometown area, namely Franklin and Adams counties, as expressed in his trio of films that take place along U.S. Route 30.
Unless you have spent the past several years under a flat rock, you know those films are Route 30 (2007), Route 30, Too! (2012), and Route 30 Three! (2015), the latter premiering in Chambersburg on July 11.
Putch has produced four other films since 1985 and acted in nearly 70.
He was born in Chambersburg, the son of the late actress, Jean Stapleton, and the late producer/director, William Putch. His father ran The Totem Pole Playhouse, where John made his acting debut at the age of five.
Yet he does all his creative work in the Los Angeles area, a place he cordially dislikes.
"This is just where I work," he said. "People here are so self-absorbed, and I don't want to put those people in my little pretend world."
As for the story, Putch said "I have had these stories in my head all my life."
"I don't get creative ideas here in this place," he said from his home in California. "This is just another cluttered place."
Back in south-central Pennsylvania, he said, "great ideas and scenarios started coming into my head."
So, he made Route 30.
"I had stuff left over, so I made Route 30, Too!, and then Three!. Each is a regular stand-alone movie, but people who know all three will understand" where the threads are, "but each really stands alone."
For his films about his beloved homeland, he left most of Hollywood in Hollywood. The Route 30 films are local in every sense of the word. At the premiere of Three! on July 11 Putch plans to give hearty thanks to everybody who made it possible, which is pretty much everybody in the film, on-camera and off.
The list includes places and businesses, Norlo Park, Mister Ed's Elephant Museum, The Historic Round Barn, The National Apple Museum, Cumberland Valley Drive-In, Camp Penn in Waynesboro, Lincoln Lanes, Caledonia Golf Course, Remember When Flea Market, Rite Spot Motel and The Cottage Pub.
Cast members scheduled to appear at the premiere include: Totem Pole stalwarts Wil Love, Carl Schurr, Ed Gotwalt, Noah Applebaum, Chambersburg's own Molly Lahr, Ray Ficca and Lee Wilkof. Schurr and Ficca are also former directors of Totem Pole.
Totem Pole has provided production support for the films since the get-go. Between Totem Pole's use as a setting and providing stage veterans, it should probably be listed as one of the actors.
Part one was filmed in the theater and parts two and three have used some of the equipment and shot special effects sequences on the grounds.
Mister Ed's Elephant Museum has the honor of appearing in all three films. Its showman proprietor Ed Gotwalt has also had roles in the movies. Those who know him will not be surprised because Mr. Ed is almost always "on."
"I've had such a great time working with John as an actor," said Gotwalt. "I can't wait to play a different character than myself in his upcoming film."
Chambersburg's The Cottage Pub has appeared in the last two films, with some major sequences shot at the restaurant, owned by Tom Boock and Mary Caldwell.
Tonya Knouse-White of The Round Barn between Chambersburg and Gettysburg has seen her historic building's interior and exterior in the last two films as well.
The local star of part three is Guilford Township's Norlo Park; many scenes were filmed there and the township provided the farmhouse for use as a production office for Putch and his tiny crew.
Putch said the area of his birth is always with him, perhaps especially when he is back in L.A. working on scripts.
"I would say it's my happy place, where I come to get recharged," he said, again from his West Coast home. "I write them out here, after having gathered all these great ideas and locations from my head."
Wait ... did Mr. Ed say something about an upcoming film?
Yes, he did. Putch starts filming it in August.
No surprise, the story is one cooked up while his mind was steeping in the cultural stew in south-central Pennsylvania.
The new movie titled "The Father and the Bear," is a theater story and will be set mostly at the Totem Pole Playhouse. The film stars stage icons Love and David DeLuise, who last appeared in Route 30 as Original Bill. Love plays a retired actor who attempts one more performance even though he secretly suffers from dementia.
"Definitely a heavier subject," Putch said. "But the film will still have the heart and whimsy that has become a hallmark of my movies."
Other local favorites that have joined the cast are: Carl Schurr, Ed Gotwalt, Paris Peet, Catherine Blaine, Katrina Yaukey, Ray Ficca, Alicia Fusting, Dan Poole, Lee Merriman and Krista Bruno.
"There are still more stories out there," Putch said.
Correction: The fact box in this story previously had the wrong date for the movie showing. It has been corrected as July 11.