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On the Road Theater company has some fun with filmmaking process

When Scott Behrend and Jon Elston tried to shoot a movie in Buffalo seven years ago, things didn't go exactly as planned.

Actually, things didn't go anywhere close to plan. Through a grueling one-month period of 14-hour days and precious little sleep, the process was one of the most difficult challenges either had ever undertaken. Conflicts between the two over a girl involved in the production added to the drama, and in the end, they fell out and decided to call it quits on their friendship.

But once the sting wore off, Elston and Behrend managed to put their creative rift behind them to create one of the more uplifting stories in Buffalo theater of late: the quick and glimmering ascent of the 5-year-old Road Less Traveled Productions. In the company's fifth production of a play by Elston and its first foray into comedy, "Buffalo Movie" tells the story of the duo's unsuccessful attempt at finally making the film that would capture the city of Buffalo at its finest.

It's an obsession with some of the people that Behrend and Elston know -- those who have struggled to make films in Buffalo, but never got very far. As might be expected, such attempts result more often in unintentional hilarity than wild success.

"I think Jon has captured a feeling for some of these guys who are these mavericks living in Buffalo who produce these unbelievably bad [films]," said director Behrend, "and they find a way to produce them."

Elston, whose previous work has been of a more serious tone, said that there are plenty of people out there who are trying to "elevate Buffalo to some stature and esteem" through film, and that this play is an attempt to lampoon their sometimes overblown attempts to do so.

Elston's first play, "Project," the first produced by Road Less Traveled, was also based on the 2000 film project, which resulted in the movie "Lemkin's Last $ale." He then worked on a series of dark dramas, including "Interrogation Room" and his latest, "The Peddler's Bones."

Drawing from his own experience and from media influences, Elston couldn't remove himself entirely from a desire to insert a "mystery element" and has incorporated a character he calls the Buffalo Sniper, who picks off various area figures he feels are limiting the growth and recognition of the city.

There's also a character based closely on an ex-Hollywood producer involved in Elston and Behrend's original project who, Elston said, "returns to Buffalo in a great state of disillusionment and drug-addled existence."

As Road Less Traveled's headquarters are in the Market Arcade Film & Arts Centre in Main Street's theater district, it seems appropriate that "Buffalo Movie" incorporates film footage, projected onto the theater's screen. When plays or rehearsals aren't going on, the company's unique venue reverts back to a movie theater.

"It's definitely shown Jon and I both, and for future writers, that we have the ability to do projection and incorporate more video into our plays because of the ability to have that screen back there," Behrend said. "I'd never read or heard of anybody else doing this sort of situation, and I think it is kind of new and unique to have that capability in our space like that."

For the play, Behrend and Elston shot six minutes of scenes from the fictional "Buffalo Movie," which characters in the play watch. It's a new and somewhat unprecedented integration of film into theater that synthesizes the pair's simultaneous interest in the two forms.

Will all this prompt the pair to get back into film?

"We know how to cut it now, we could get it down to an actual, bearable, less than two hours," Behrend said. "It would be so much easier to make a movie like that right now. You never know."

e-mail: cdabkowski@buffnews.com

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PREVIEW

WHAT: " Buffalo Movie"

WHEN: Opens at 8 tonight and runs through May 6

WHERE: Road Less Traveled Theater, Market Arcade Film & Arts Centre, 639 Main St.

TICKETS: $25, $20 for students and seniors; students free on Thursday with ID

INFO: 629-3069 or www.roadlesstraveledproductions.org

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