Christmas is up again in East Aurora. Snowy sidewalks. Twinkling lights in Main Street windows. Wreaths with big red bows hanging from streetlights.
The Mr. Vidler statue on the roof of Vidler’s 5 & 10 has glistening garlands and a Santa hat. And the Aurora Theatre has Christmas titles on its marquee.
It’s not because Dec. 25th is near. It’s all for a movie.
As a film crew readies to start shooting “Small Town Prince” on Monday, the scene is set.
Director Fred Ray, who arrived from Los Angeles about a week ago, picked East Aurora for its old-fashioned, snowbound charm.
In his movie, the holiday is a frame for the story about a European prince who falls in love in the village as he flees an arranged marriage at home.
As the deadline approaches for the prince’s Christmas wedding, he meets a waitress at a diner and finds true love.
“It’s a sweet little story. It’s not really about Christmas,” Ray said. “The Christmas aspect is really a ticking clock.”
Already he and his 35-person film crew have caused a local flurry of star-struck activity.
The chef at the Roycroft Inn, which is catering the daily meals, jokingly offered to add more cookies if he could have a speaking part. The daughter of the owner of the Aurora Theatre made her mother promise to send a phone text as soon as she knew the name of the actor playing the prince: British actor Kirk Barker of the TV series “Girl’s Guide to Depravity.”
“They’re probably going to think we’re all nuts,” laughed Lynn Kinsellla, who owns the theater and also manages publicity for the Roycroft.
The movie crew will work from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday until March 8 or 9. Updates are posted on the Greater East Aurora Chamber of Commerce’s Facebook page. Some days they will film off Main Street and at other locations like the Riley Street Station restaurant in an old train station, the Old Orchard Inn and Arcade’s steam engine train depot.
“I found I could have everything I wanted from 20 minutes in the heart of East Aurora,” Ray said. “There’s actually more stuff here than we could actually film.”
He settled on East Aurora in part because his son worked on the 2013 TV horror movie “Battledogs” – about a werewolf virus unleashed – and had a good experience when that movie was made in Buffalo.
While Ray couldn’t reveal his movie’s budget, he did say it is big enough to cover travel expenses of his cast, many of whom have starred in TV series and movies.
Barker was expected to fly in from London on Friday. Others joining him include his love interest Viva Bianca, who starred in the 2013 TV series “Spartacus.” Her movie boyfriend will be played by Aaron O’Connell of the cable drama “The Haves and Have Nots.” The prince’s accomplice, Mark Lindsay Chapman, played Chief Officer Wilde in “Titanic.”
While Ray is planning to release “Small Town Prince” in time for it to be shown in theaters next Christmas, his independently funded movies often target television and DVD audiences.
His career, as chronicled on his Wikipedia page, includes an eclectic and prolific list of productions. There are some racy titles along with “Super Shark,” a sci-fi adventure.
Ray described his work as a mix of thrillers and “women’s” movies that appear on the Lifetime channel, like the 2013 “House of Secrets” about a divorcée whose home keeps getting burglarized.
His filmography also has a Christmas streak: From “A Christmas Wedding Date” to “All I Want for Christmas” and “Christmas in Palm Springs.”
Ray’s 2013 “Holiday Road Trip,” starred George Hamilton and Shelley Long as feuding pet shop employees who take a Christmas-season road trip with a dog.
For those who see “Small Town Prince” cameras rolling on Main Street, Ray has one request:
Be nonchalant. Keep walking.
“All we ever ask people to do is not stop … right in the middle of the shot,” he said. His crew will return the favor by being discreet.
“We try to stay out of everybody’s way,” he said. “We try to work quietly. Leave a small carbon footprint.”
As Ray’s East Aurora film production start date drew closer during the week, he used the time to dine at as many different local eateries as he could.
“There’s just so many things we’ve never seen on a menu before,” Ray said.
At the Roycroft, he was impressed by pumpkin seed-crusted scallops. At the Black Sheep in Buffalo, he couldn’t resist pork liver paté deviled egg. “I just had to have it,” he said. “It was out there.”
He liked his first sample of beef on weck so much he ordered it twice. Next: “We’re determined to have a fish fry.”
“We’re trying to hit every restaurant,” Ray said. “We just want to kind of keep going down the line until we hit them all.”