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William Fichtner on movie filmed in WNY: 'Best thing in my life I ever did'

William Fichtner is finally in a place where he can relax about this. At least it seems so.

The Hollywood actor, who grew up in Cheektowaga, has about a half hour here at Spot Coffee downtown, where he’s pouring two packets of raw sugar into his nonfat latte and reflecting on his movie, “Cold Brook.”

It’s finally done — and a few days from now, audiences can actually see it.

“Best thing in my life I ever did,” said Fichtner, who at 62, is one of the most recognizable character actors of his generation. “Cold Brook” isn’t just about his acting. He starred in the movie with his friend, Kim Coates, but Fichtner also wrote, produced and directed “Cold Brook,” which filmed two years ago in Western New York.

After shooting wrapped, Fichtner spent the next 12 months editing scenes, tinkering with sound, purchasing music and the myriad other expensive and intricate details that come with making a movie. Next came the film festival circuit: He brought the movie to four major festivals over the last year. It won awards at all four.

But for a bigger audience to actually see the movie, you need distribution with companies that can get it into theaters and available on demand. It took a while, but Fichtner landed those deals, too. On Friday, Nov. 8, “Cold Brook” will be released in theaters in 10 major markets and through video on demand.

Fichtner even got permission from his distribution company to independently release the film in his hometown, and so it will premiere Nov. 8 at the Aurora Theatre in East Aurora, which also happens to be one of the locations where “Cold Brook” was shot. Fichtner and Coates will be at the theater on the evening of Nov. 9 and 10 for a meet and greet. (Coates will be in town for the Nov. 8 premiere as well.)

William Fichtner and Kim Coates film scenes from "Cold Brook" in East Aurora in 2017. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

So with the hard work seemingly done, you might think Fichtner can relax and reflect. He can — but not for long. When asked how long he would be in Buffalo on this trip, he grinned. “About a half hour,” he said. After this quick coffee chat, Fichtner was off to SUNY College at Brockport, his alma mater, for a screening of “Cold Brook” that evening. After that, he was heading to SUNY Cortland near Syracuse, where the final few days of “Cold Brook” were filmed, for another screening. Then came a third showing of the film, this one at Farmingdale State College, where Fichtner earned his associate degree in 1976 before enrolling at Brockport.

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After Farmingdale, he was headed to the airport for a cross-country flight.

“I’ll get on a plane and I’ll drop right in my seat, wake up when we land in LA, and make my son’s football game,” said Fichtner, who has two sons, Sam, who is in his mid-20s, and Van, who is a high school senior. “I’ve got a plan.”

For an actor as busy as Fichtner, the rush may never be over. He is recognizable nowadays for his co-starring role on the CBS sitcom “Mom,” and for dozens of television shows and big movies, including “Independence Day: Resurgence,” “Armageddon,” “Black Hawk Down” and “Prison Break.”

“Cold Brook” isn’t at that level. It isn’t designed to be a blockbuster, nor is it intended to make Fichtner just a little more famous. The movie, which Fichtner wrote with his friend Cain DeVore, is made by friends, for friends and about friends.

It tells the story of a pair of college custodians who are also best friends, played by Fichtner and one of his real-life best friends, Coates. The pair make a discovery that positions them as small-town heroes, until a revealing twist throws their exalted status into question. 

Fichtner and Coates first met in 2001, when they worked together filming “Black Hawk Down” in Morocco. Coates shared that story with The Buffalo News in a recent telephone interview: When they met, he immediately recognized Fichtner as the actor who beat him for a role in the 1999 movie “Go.” When Coates saw Fichtner in that film, and then in the movie “Perfect Storm,” he became a fan.

“That guy can act,” Coates remembers thinking to himself. “That guy knows what he’s doing.”

When they met on the set of “Black Hawk Down,” Coates realized that this was the same guy.

“Where are you from?” Coates asked.

“Buffalo,” Fichtner answered.

Coates, who grew up in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, threw in a friendly hockey reference: “Go Sabres!”

The pair shook hands.

“That was it,” Coates said. “We’ve been best pals ever since that handshake.”

Not long after that, Fichtner decided to write a movie in which he and Coates could play the leads. He developed the idea for “Cold Brook” and approached another close friend, DeVore. Fichtner shared his idea with DeVore years ago, and the pair met regularly at Fichtner’s home to work on the script. The writing process took nearly a decade. In 2016 and 2017, Fichtner lined up investors and other producers to fund and work with him on the film, which he was determined to shoot in Western New York. (“Cold Brook” isn’t based in Buffalo, but the small-town feel of the movie fits well here.)

William Fichtner at Spot Coffee in downtown Buffalo. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

The shooting of the movie itself was an intense several weeks for Fichtner, who was balancing directing duties with acting and producing. By the time filming wrapped in late July 2017, he felt a sense of relieved accomplishment. He didn’t yet realize the work that was to come.

“I thought preproduction and shooting the film was climbing the mountain,” Fichtner said. “When you finish it, the next couple of mountains after that, they’re just as big.”

The postproduction and sales process threw Fichtner into the tiniest details of filmmaking, from working out deals for music rights to purchasing hard drives to store copies of the film. At every point, he aimed for perfection, even if the cost was high. 

One year after shooting wrapped, for example, the final edits on “Cold Brook” were finished. The budget money was spent, and the film was – in Hollywood parlance – locked.

In other words, finished.

“We locked the film off,” Fichtner said. “I’m excited. So what do I do? I watched it 32 days in a row.”

Fichtner sat in the office he keeps in his garage and watched it every night, usually with a glass of red wine and a notebook. He wrote 56 notes. “Little things,” he said. “The last scene I cut out, I was missing it.”

Fichtner wasn’t OK with letting those 56 notes go. He wanted to fix them — and he could, because it was his movie. But the cost would be high – many thousands of dollars – and “Cold Brook” is an indie film. There’s no big studio behind it. The money would need to come mostly from Fichtner, with the help of the producers closest to him.

Fichtner talked to his wife, Kymberly Kalil, who is an actress: “I looked at my wife – thank God, she’s an angel, and really understanding, and said, ‘Honey, I’ve got 56 notes, and we’ve got no budget left.' ”

“I know,” he said she told him. “I know. Go fix your movie.”

He did. “I had to reopen the film,” Fichtner said. “Not inexpensive to do. It’s not even like it was an option. I’d think about it forever. Now I watch the film and I don’t think about it at all.”

Sitting at Spot, sipping his latte, Fichtner reconsidered what he just said.

“There is one little moment,” he clarified. “Just one little tiny thing. But when that one got cleared up, I’d think of another one.”

Coates, who supported his friend in making that extra round of edits, said, “I know Fichtner. He’s not going to be happy with anything unless it’s 1,000%, all he had to give, with all of us backing him, whether it’s monetary changes or time changes to make that movie, to hand it over knowing that he left nothing behind. Bill can sleep really soundly every night knowing he left nothing behind.”

The people closest to Fichtner know he wants to do it again.

“We sat in a Buffalo bar one night the first week of production, and I said to Bill, ‘I think you just found your future,’ ” said DeVore, Fichtner’s co-writer. “His response was, ‘The rest of my life, Cainers.’ “We both knew that we were talking about him directing.”

Writing, too. Shortly after wrapping “Cold Brook,” he called a writer friend in Los Angeles and said, “I have an idea for a story.”

This story is slightly autobiographical. It involves something that happened 1967 on the lake in Angola. (Fichtner won’t elaborate on the storyline; he also kept the plot of “Cold Brook” quiet until it started showing at screenings.) Fichtner’s friend is nearly finished with the script, and they are revising it together.

“I think ‘Cold Brook’ is the beginning of the rest of what I do,” he said. “Just because you made one film, it’s not like you make one film and all of a sudden you’re on higher ground to make another one. Experience, yes. But you reclimb the mountain.

“It would be a tough journey all over again.”

Fichtner isn’t really looking to relax. He’d rather tell you a story.

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