By George T. Marshall, RIIFF Executive
(February 2005) Funny
how time has a way of simply creeping up on you then
quickly disappearing. I know last fall I was determined
to accomplish a number of things that I had not had
time to do in the summer. Then it seemed like the months
sped by and my list had not decreased. September became
October. October turned into November. December rushed
in like a speeding train and was just as quickly gone.
The list lingered and remained barely dented.
When discussing New Year’s resolutions over the
holidays with my good friend, Larry Andrade, it hit
me that this past year many of the things I had hoped
to accomplish were like resolutions: easy to make, but
not always things that were achieved. Larry told me
outright that resolutions are merely psychic band-aids
that are never meant to be achieved. Larry is of course
by nature a realist; where I tend to be an idealist.
His contention is that setting a goal is the better
option as it is usually achieved. Resolutions are just
so much hot air. After letting that sink in, I realized
that he was dead-on. He had me.
I think many of us are the same way. We want to accomplish
something and then life gets in the way and deflects
our attention. Forward movement requires forward thinking,
a lot of discipline and a great deal of discipline.
One of the people I’ve come to know and respect
has been able to do just that: set goals and stay with
them to completion. A member of SAG, AFTRA, AEA, he’s
a writer and talented individual who has been able to
make a living at his craft, here in the wilds of Providence.
His name: Duncan Putney.
I caught up with Duncan on a cold and blustery January
day and threw out my twenty questions and the kitchen
sink. Duncan, as usual, was gracious and filled with
a creative energy I rarely see in others; particularly
during this time of year when a flight to Aruba seems
an ideal tonic for shoveling snow. He is always creating
links between an idea and reality; seeking ways to bring
about a result. Duncan seems to have a philosophy where
goals are not obstacles; but problems to be solved,
settled and built upon.
GTM: So Duncan, Tell our readers a bit about
yourself and how you got into your career?
DUNCAN PUTNEY: I grew up in Lynnfield,
MA and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Business
Administration (BBA) in accounting from the University
of Massachusetts at Amherst, but I spent most of my
time in the theatre department. My high school guidance
counselors talked me out of pursuing degrees in history,
theatre, and creative writing because they weren’t
practical and there was no future in them. I started
pursuing a professional acting career after graduation;
university taught me that I did not want to be an accountant.
I worked as a temp, studied acting, did improvisational
theatre, and did lots of extra and stand-in work to
start with. I got my SAG card from doing a principal
part in a national Coors beer commercial.
GTM: Really? So, tell us about SAG and its role
for artists in the region.
DUNCAN PUTNEY: The Screen Actors Guild is not
like other unions, in that it does not help individual
members get jobs, it does protect you once you have
gotten that acting job on your own. However, the New
England Branch of SAG has been actively pursuing efforts
to bring more potential acting jobs into New England
by supporting initiatives that both educate the Hollywood
decision makers about the availability of quality talent
in New England and supporting efforts that assist legislative
measures to make filming in the region more attractive.
SAG has recently been working with film festivals to
promote the availability of experienced union talent
for smaller independent films that often offer actors
some meaty parts to play. I was fortunate enough to
be on the New England SAG board for six years and to
serve at the local vice president; I can’t begin
to tell you how hard the local staff and officers work
for the members.
GTM: How did you land in Providence?
DUNCAN PUTNEY: I came down to Providence in
1997 to help out Bob Zolli and Susan Arundale start
a non profit professional musical theatre company called
“A to Z Theatrical Productions.” We produced
a lot of great critically acclaimed shows with featuring
Broadway and national tour stars with local professional
talent. I talked my friend, Anne Mulhall of LDI Casting
(LDICasting.net), into letting me create the History
Casting division. History Casting finds historic reenactor
extras and historic consultants for film and television
Credits include the films “By the Sea,”
“The Patriot,” & “Mystic River”
as well as The History Channel, PBS, Country Music Television,
and others. History was always a hobby of mine and now
it keeps me working in another area of the film and
GTM: But why Providence as a base? …considering
you have work that takes you to so many places.
DUNCAN PUTNEY: I was able to afford to buy
a great home in the Federal Hill section of Providence.
I can walk to all of “Downcity,” as well
as the train station to travel up to Boston or down
to New York for auditions and work. I get a lot of writing
done while sitting with my coffee at Tazza Café
on Westminster Street. I was able to simplify my life
with no mortgage, giving me more time to act, write
screenplays, do historical consulting and write magazine
articles on history and filmmaking. Providence has even
inspired one of my screenplays about a young man from
a traditional Italian family who would rather grow dreadlocks
and be a guitar playing Rastafarian than study music
GTM: Hmmm… that’s one I haven’t seen
yet. What do you see as the strengths of this region
in terms of filmmaking?
DUNCAN PUTNEY: New England has a wealth of
varied locations from country to city, from oceans to
mountains, and from colonial to modern. We have a lot
of talented professional actors, writers, directors,
crew and support people that call New England home,
so we have the tools to support film production. We
also have many industry decision makers that came from
here, that went to school here, or that have homes here,
so we have to get them to want to “bring it home.”
When they have a chance to put their two cents in at
a pre-production meeting they can sing the praises of
GTM: What advice would you offer those charged
with bringing film into this region? Can things be done
better and more efficiently? What so you see as weaknesses?
DUNCAN PUTNEY: I advise them to reach out to
those decision makers in Hollywood that are alumni of
New England and those that still reside here.
Educate them and get them to want to “bring it
home.” With the declining value of the dollar,
shooting outside of the United States is not so attractive,
so if we can work on other legislative efforts like
tax incentives, we will only look better to Hollywood.
We really need some sound stages large enough to build
interior and cover sets. I have always thought that
a permanent back lot New York City street set for filming
fires, explosions and the like would be a great asset.
It could also do double duty as a training area for
homeland security and emergency preparedness drills.
GTM: As a screenwriter, what projects are you
currently developing. Tell us some of your success stories
and what drives you with this craft, plus how you got
DUNCAN PUTNEY: I am currently developing several
projects including “THE YEAR OF BAREHANDED BASEBALL”
a documentary script with Tim Norton about the 1884
World Series, “SPIRITS OF ‘76” a feature
length family ghost story, “SHOOTOUT” a
modern day western and “A BIRD ON ICE” a
modern day/WWII historical thriller. I am also working
with Dean Huh of Performance Partners Organization creating,
developing and pitching several original television
projects. I have had some good feedback when pitching
some of my other scripts and I’m hopeful that
one will hit soon. My screenplay “TOAST,”
won at the Woods Hole Film Festival short script competition,
and was a selected script for Bravo TV’s Situation
Comedy competition. My period dark comedy “THE
RESURRECTIONSIST” is under consideration at several
production houses. I plan on heading out to Pitch Fest
in Los Angeles with all of my scripts and treatments
again this spring. Recently I am most proud of a legislative
idea that I had called the Military Family Relief Fund
bill that is being introduced by Representative Jeffrey
Perry of Sandwich, MA. I had the idea in 2002 when my
brother, Air Force Major Douglas Putney, was deployed
in Afghanistan. The bill creates a fund to assist the
families of deployed National Guard and Reserve members
and it places a donation box at the end of the Massachusetts
state income tax return. I am also working with friends
in about fifteen other states to do the same.
GTM: Tell us about some of the experiences you
have had while working as an actor or writing; what
have you learned?
DUNCAN PUTNEY: There is no glamour for the
majority of people in this business. It is long hours
and hard work, but if it is the only thing you want
to do then it is the most rewarding thing you can do.
In Clint Eastwood’s “Mystic River”
I was cast in a scene opposite Tim Robbins. We both
froze outside in the cold and snow all night just to
get a few seconds of film, but I had a great time working
with great people. As a writer I’ve learned to
accept the criticism that I can use and forget about
the criticism that I can’t. I love it when I get
a rejection from someone who actually read my script
and has something constructive to say instead of a generic
dismissal from someone who never bothered to read it.
GTM: If you could only do one thing within the
realm of your work, what would that be?
DUNCAN PUTNEY: I’d have to say that my
dream job would be screenwriting and collaborating on
projects with those people that have created all those
films that I have enjoyed watching. I have more stories
than I have time or resources to pursue as a writer,
so given the chance I’d have no problem coming
up with ideas.
GTM: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
DUNCAN PUTNEY: Please see previous
question. Realistically I see myself pursuing what I
have been pursuing all along, but with more people writing
me checks. I’d also like to have seen several
of my screenplays produced by both major studios and
independent filmmakers. I have a sort of writing A.D.D.,
I tend to work on many scripts at the same time so I’d
like to have all of my current fifty projects that range
from concepts to treatments and partial scripts finished
and be working on fifty more.
GTM: What advice would you share with someone
just entering your field?
DUNCAN PUTNEY: You will spend more
time trying to get work than you will ever spend doing
the work. Business is the bigger part of show business.
You have to market yourself, improve your skills, and
network. Start your own marketing support group with
other actors to share leads, watch out for scams, study
your craft, network, be financially responsible, and
don’t listen to listen to nay-sayers. I am working
in all of the fields that I love and that my high school
guidance councilors told me I’d never make a living
GTM: What do you think have been your greatest
DUNCAN PUTNEY: I think just being able
to make a living in this industry when so many actors
and writers have to have that second job outside of
the business. I created all of my second jobs to be
in the business, so doing a job in one area often leads
to getting work in another area. Getting a film like
“Mystic River,” a television commercial,
producing a critically acclaimed stage show, getting
an award or selling your writing feels great but when
you think about it, it is just the frosting on the cake
that is working with talented, fun, creative people
in a great industry.
GTM: Any additional comments you’d like
DUNCAN PUTNEY: Yes, support your local
film festival for very selfish reasons. As a volunteer
at the Rhode Island International Film Festival (RIIFF)
I did more networking with producers, writers, actors
and directors without even trying than at many other
events I’ve been to.
And a Footnote:
In doing some research on Duncan, I ran across an article
that appeared in the Boston Globe in October 2003 by
Carol Beggy & Mark Shanahan. It turns out that Duncan
was hit by a random "projectile" on his right
arm while in front of his house in Providence. That
would be his writing arm. While the police say the incident
is under investigation, Putney said he believes he was
shot and that whatever hit him is still lodged under
his armpit. According to the Globe, Eerie coincidence
No. 1: In the movie "Mystic River," Putney
plays a character who stumbles across the character
played by Tim Robbins doing something unusual and is
beaten up. Eerie coincidence No. 2: Putney's twin brother,
Air Force Major Douglas Putney, had just returned from
several months in Iraq, and although he saw combat and
was honored for his service, we're told, he returned
without a scratch.
About the Author:
George T. Marshall is the Producing Director of the
Rhode Island-based Flickers Arts Collaborative, the
creators of the annual Rhode Island International Film
Festival for which he also serves as Executive Director.
He teaches film and communications at Rhode Island College
and speech communications and documentary film at Roger
Williams University. He is a director, writer, producer
of commercials and industrials for numerous business
clients in the region and is currently completing the
multi-media components for a museum exhibit saluting
American veterans in Woonsocket, RI. He can be reached