By Ruth Thompson | Wicked Local | February 7, 2024
From a young age, Ben LeClair loved movies.
“My mother worked at the cable company, and we had every movie channel,” said LeClair, who grew up in Scituate. “But it wasn’t until the ‘The Witches of Eastwick’ filmed on the South Shore that I remember feeling hooked. I have strong memories of visiting the set just to watch the process.”
Now he’s a film producer. He and others produced “American Fiction,” which was partially shot in the South Shore, and has been nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
The film stars Jeffrey Wright as Monk, a frustrated novelist who is fed up with “the establishment” profiting from Black entertainment. He goes on to use a pen name to write an outlandish Black book that “propels him to the heart of hypocrisy and the madness he claims to disdain,” according to a summary of the movie on imdb.com.
STRIDE (Scituate Together for Representation, Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity) is sponsoring a special screening of “American Fiction” at 7 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 9, at The Reel Harbor Theater, 1 Mill Wharf Plaza, Scituate. A panel discussion on race, identity and storytelling takes place afterward, but is sold out. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for youth and seniors and are available at scituatetheater.com and atomtickets.com.
“American Fiction” will also be shown at at 7 p.m. Thursday and Saturday, and at 11:30 a.m. Sunday at The Reel Harbor Theater.
A Scituate public school kid’s journey to Los Angeles
LeClair attended Scituate Public Schools, graduating from Scituate High School in 1995. He met his wife, Leslie, in the sixth grade at Gates Middle School. They remained friends over the years, then started dating after college in 2001. They moved to Los Angeles the following year, where they still live with their three sons.
“It’s been a long road for both of us,” LeClair said. “Anything good that has come our way, personally or professionally, is mostly because of Leslie. I’d be nowhere without her.”
After college, LeClair said he was at a crossroads, so “I packed up my Subaru, which I still have, and drove to LA.”
He spent a couple of months living on the couch of a friend-of-a-friend before getting a job working for legendary producer Scott Rudin (“No Country for Old Men,” “The Truman Show,” “Clueless.”).
“It was an intense place to work but my experience was ultimately positive, and it opened a lot of doors for me,” LeClair said.
We’ve been through a lot to get to this place.”
LeClair likened the production period of working on a film to building a house, with the producer serving as general contractor. But that there are always surprises.
“My father was a jack-of-all trades — a carpenter, a fireman, a cranberry grower and a politician,” he said. “Being a producer is a lot like that — it’s many jobs rolled into one.”
LeClair says production company aims to ‘work with great people’
Five years ago, LeClair joined T-Street Productions, a production company founded by Rian Johnson and Ram Bergman — the team behind “Knives Out” and “The Glass Onion.” Last year, in addition to “American Fiction,” LeClair produced a film called “Fair Play” that Netflix bought after a bidding war at Sundance.
“I’m working with that filmmaker, Chloe Domont, on her followup that will hopefully shoot this year,” he said.
He became involved with “American Fiction” after the agent of writer/director Cord Jefferson sent the script to T-Street.
“We loved the script and had a great first meeting with Cord, which led to a mutual decision to try to make the movie together,” LeClair said. “Our aim at T-Street, first and foremost, is to work with great people. Cord is a special guy. And while it’s not a rule, we lean toward original projects that also feel relatable.”
“American Fiction” is up for Best Picture, Best Actor (Wright), Best Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay (Jefferson) and Best Original Score.
“The reception has exceeded all expectations, but the local connection is obviously what makes it very special,” LeClair said. “If we had shot the film in Ohio this would still be my career highlight. But the Scituate factor makes it all really special, if not surreal.”
Childhood connections arise during filming of ‘American Fiction’
While plans were to shoot scenes for the film in and around Boston, LeClair said he never intended for any to occur in Scituate. However, it was his decision to have the production office on the South Shore rather than north of Boston.
While scouting locations, a Scituate house was chosen.
“There are a lot of beach houses between Quincy and Marshfield,” LeClair said. “The Scituate house just happened to be the one we all loved.”
The owner of the beach house turned out to be Stacey Hendrickson — LeClair’s sixth grade art teacher. He did not know that when the house was chosen.
“From there, my connection to the town started to have an impact on the film,” he said.
For example, his 80-year-old father, Don LeClair, built the wedding arbor used in the wedding scene and delivered it to the set during a rainstorm.
“He was a Scituate firefighter during the Blizzard of ’78 and helped rescue people from houses along the same block of Turner Road where we shot the film,” LeClair said. “Months later, Hendrickson’s son used the wedding arbor for her own wedding.”
The Volvo featured in the film belongs to a neighbor of LeClair’s in-laws in Hingham. And his childhood friend, Robin King, is a chef who owns Restaurant Oro in Scituate.
“One night we ended up shooting later than we expected, well past midnight,” LeClair said. “All of the restaurants were closed. I called Robin and he drove to Oro and personally made dinner for the whole cast and delivered it himself.”
Despite some of the “thorny topics,” LeClair said the goal was to make the movie fun and accessible.
“If it starts a conversation on the way out of the theater, that’s great,” he said. “But the actual conversation is up to the audience.”
Annmarie Galvin, a STRIDE member, called the film “delightful.”
“I loved the universal themes of family and loss and getting older, but also that everything was wrapped up in a story about how we talk about race,” she said. “Kudos to Cord Jefferson for telling this so well.”
She thinks “American Fiction” will inspire discussion, “which is the most awesome thing.”
“Scituate was a shining star in the film,” Galvin said. “The icing on one delicious cake.”