`There are no limitations': Cranston family finds unique rewards through `grassroots filmmaking'

The Cranston Herald ·

Todd Mulholland is in the business of financial advising by day, but he’s a movie-maker by night.

Together with his wife Holly, he runs Mulholland Financial LLC in Cranston. In their off hours, they write, direct, produce, and sometimes even star in independent movies. The parents of two sons, Thomas and Ethan, they have spent hours upon hours together, feeding their shared passion for creativity.

“Some people love sports. I make movies because that’s what I love,” Todd said. “I love the process.”

As the son of a photographer, Mulholland grew up watching his father run his business, The Camera Case, in Garden City where Talbots is currently located.

“He was a photographer, a teacher at Brown University, at AAA, and yet I can’t take a photo to save my life,” he said. “At the end of his career he started a new industry as a progress report photographer, making monthly progress reports for construction companies. He was responsible for reporting on the progress of some really big projects like The Big Dig, the destruction and construction of Boston Garden. He started to integrate video and time-lapse video into the process, and I was completely in love with that process. I was fascinated. That I got, and that I could do.”

Mulholland found a unique way to integrate his love for videography into his own life.

“I was part-owner of a bicycle business for 25 years, and every year I would run a bike ride up to New Hampshire,” he said. “I started to video the rides and then turn them into a 45-minute video of the trip. I’d have premieres of the videos at the house for the riders and it was a huge success.”

In 1999, Mulholland decided to add a twist to his yearly bike run video – a single cast member.

“I decided that I would add in one actor and not tell anyone,” he said. “I just folded him in with a little bit of a story and created a little bit of a mystery in with the ride, and it was a huge success among the group. They thought it was just the greatest thing.”

Mulholland was hooked.

“For the next movie, I had a cast, and my actor, Eric Gustavson, was now my co-producer and co-writer,” he said. “The movie was called ‘The Brotherhood of Evil’ and it was wrapped around the ride. The premise was that there was a European cyclist coming to the states to race and his family owned the largest privately-owned bank in the world. The Brotherhood of Evil wanted to assassinate him while he was there. The lead character was Devin Stone and we tried to cast him, and ultimately it ended up being me.”

The movie premiered, this time at Rhode Island College.

“We had just under 500 people at the premiere and it was a 45 minute short movie,” Mulholland said. “People just loved it. We had a surprise for the audience in this movie, too. Eric had done a bicycle ride with Phil Ligget in Europe years before, and Phil is one of the two major voices in bicycle commentary, along with Paul Sherwin. They still cover the Tour de France. They happened to be in Connecticut and did a cameo for our movie. The audience went nuts. Half of the audience was stunned silent in disbelief, and half went crazy. At that point, we were absolutely hooked.”

Although the thrill of the movie premiere is a big part of what the Mulhollands enjoy, it’s the entire process – the family time, the opportunity to connect and collaborate with local talent – that they love most. In fact, many times the Mulhollands are utilizing talent that has previously been untapped.

“My favorite part of all is that our filming is done with almost all first-time actors,” he said. “In our last movie, 24 out of 27 were first-timers. I love that we are giving someone a chance to act who has never acted before, and I want to be the one to give them that chance. These are not Academy Award-winning films but they are talked about a lot, and a lot of people want to be in them. We also have a lot of first-time camera, lighting, and sound crews. People are out there trying to build their crafts or start out in their craft and we are able to help them get started.”

Filming locally also gives the Mulhollands the opportunity to feature many local businesses in their movies.

“Rhode Island is a movie set. We have everything we need right here. There’s no reason to go anywhere else. We also have a lot of businesses who want to be a part of this too,” Mulholland said. “We had a $15 million corporate jet donated for use in a film, and it added a lot of legitimacy to the film. We filmed at Updikes Coffee Shop for one scene, and gave the owner a quick cameo in the movie, so she and her business were both featured.”

The Mulholland films are a collaboration, and he emphasizes the fact that there is no income from them.

“This is 100-percent non-profit. No one is paid and I finance them all. There is no financial gain for us at all. I do it because I love the actors and because I love the process of writing and making the films. I’m fascinated by it all. Astounded.”

Mulholland has seen a change in what it costs to create a movie as time has gone on, and it’s been beneficial to their process.

“The cost of movie-making has thankfully gone down significantly since we started,” he said. “All our movies were made with one camera so we had to use the one camera to film every single different angle, and do a different take every time. Computers and cameras have advanced now and cost much less, so we can make a really good movie for next to no money.”

The Mulhollands’ next movie was “Reciprocity,” and the two cite it as being their most successful to date.

“It premiered at the Park Theatre and the person we worked with when reserving the theater for the event said that most independent film premieres needed space for 200-300 guests,” Mulholland said. “We had a little over 900 at our premiere and the theater seats just over 1,000. It was pretty close to full. They later told us that no one with an independent film had ever come close to filling the theater.”

From start to finish, the movie making takes years to complete.

“I spend about two years writing the script, and then we cast the movie, do a read-through,” he said. “And then we have to film. Every pair of shoes, or glasses, every camera, every light, every location, every action, it all takes millions of moves to get that right. It takes millions of moves to get to premiere night.”

Those millions of moves are a family affair, and it’s the family bonding time over the years that has been the biggest payoff for Holly and Todd.

“Our two sons have been a huge part of this with us from the start. They have spent hours and hours taking part in the filming, eating pizza at 2 in the morning as we try to get a scene right, and they love every minute of it,” he said. “We love that we have this with them, that they’ll always have these memories. They’ll have the movie posters to look back on and we have been able to give them that. Some people attend baseball games together with their kids. We make movies with ours. There aren’t many kids who can go back and say, ‘We did this.’ For the last film, our oldest was 16 and our youngest was 11. Our oldest spent his date nights with his girlfriend on the set. He helped with the sound crew, she ran the digital recorder. Our youngest was in charge of the clapperboard. They were with us for every shoot.”

As the Mulhollands prepare for their next movie, a suspense thriller, they are excited about some of the new aspects of this film.

“We are working with Mark Moretti from Cranston,” Mulholland said. “I have known him for 45 years and he has agreed to do the original soundtrack to this movie. It’s the first movie we’re making where we aren’t using royalty-free music previously written, where we had to write the scene to fit the song. He is wrapping the songs around the edited scenes.”

The Mulhollands are also excited to be working again with many other Cranston residents, including videographer Sean Hennessey and actors Mark Carter and Lenny Cuoco Sr., who was a first-time actor in “Reciprocity.”

“Mark is a truly gifted actor. I’ve known him since we were four or five years old and he does four to five productions a year locally, but he said last time, ‘Whatever your next movie is, I’m in.’ And Lenny, he hands-down stole the film last time around,” Mulholland said. “He was everyone’s favorite actor in the last movie. I’ve never met anyone more cut out for acting than Lenny. He’s a former police officer, he owns a gun shop and he looks like he just fell off the set of ‘The Sopranos.’ The day after the premiere of the last movie, I said to him, ‘I am making my next movie for you.’ He absolutely has a natural gift.”

Although Mulholland is not formally trained and has no schooling in filmmaking, he has managed to teach himself every aspect of the craft.

“I am what I call a YouTube director,” he said. “If I don’t know how to do it, I look it up on YouTube. I didn’t know how to write a script, what the format should look like, but I looked it up, I figured it out.”

Mulholland spent the better part of the past two years preparing his latest movie script, and as they get ready to cast and film, Holly said the time spent away from their day jobs has provided a lot of unplanned family time and an escape from the stresses of everyday life.

“So many people live to work,” she said. “We see that day in and day out with our business. We have really tried to stress what’s important to our kids. We work to live, and that’s it. We try to teach them not to ever be afraid to do anything, that it’s okay to take chances.”

TM Productions is the name the Mulhollands gave their movie production company 20 years ago, and it’s still going strong and continuing to evolve.

“Having this production company has been like a father watching his child grow. We watch first-time people do things they never thought they’d do, things they were previously terrified to do. We hope that more and more people will reach out to us, to want to work with us. We want to give the first-timers their start, to give them their first shot, add to their reel, to their resume,” Mulholland said. “The people we work with do it for the sheer love of the craft, for the excitement at the movie’s premiere, for the DVD at the end of the night, for the bragging rights, and we want to continue to share that with more and more talented people. This is grassroots filmmaking. There are no limitations.”

When Mulholland sits and reflects, he remembers his dad and The Camera Case.

“My dad died at 63,” he said. “He had lots of unfinished business, and a lot of his siblings died at a similar age. I think to myself that if that is my lot in life, this is what I wanted to do. This is what I wanted to give to my kids, to my wife. This is the greatest thing I have ever done.”