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“One Life to Give”

Times Beacon Record News Media hosted a double-feature screening of “One Life to Give” and its sequel, “Traitor: A Culper Spy Story,” at Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts on Sunday, June 23. The screenings were followed by a Q&A with Executive Producer Leah Dunaief, Director Benji Dunaief, featured actors Dave Morrissey Jr. and Jonathan Rabeno and production designer Connor O’Neill. The free event, TBR’s gift to the community, attracted hundreds of history buffs to the Main Stage Theater to learn about Setauket’s Culper spies and their critical role in the Revolutionary War.

Photos by Rita J. Egan and David Ackerman

Dave Morrissey Jr. returns as Benjamin Tallmadge in ‘Traitor.’

Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts, 100 Nicolls Road, Stony Brook will present Times Beacon Record News Media’s latest film, “Traitor,” on Sunday, June 23 at 7:30 p.m. The special screening is preceded by the award-winning “One Life to Give” at 6 p.m. Admission is free, TBR’s gift to the community. Call 631-751-7744 for more information.

From left, Jacob Mariani, Gio Chiesa, Jenna Lennon, Benji Dunaief and Julia Tranfaglia. Not pictured, Fernando Gutierrez Photo from Benji Dunaief

To honor the tireless and dedicated young professionals whose combined talents produced two delightful and historic films, Times Beacon Record News Media’s “One Life to Give” and “Traitor,” we congratulate them on their graduation from Emerson College in Boston on Sunday, May 12. We wish them continuing success in their future careers and hope to work with them again soon. 

Benji Dunaief, director

Benji Dunaief grew up in Philadelphia but was born in Manhattan, which is his excuse for being a Mets fan. In the third grade, his parents got him a LEGO Steven Spielberg stop-motion movie making kit, and a love for building with LEGOs quickly transitioned into a passion for making films. He graduated with a bachelor’s in visual and media arts: film production. 

Through his films, Benji strives to bring to light true stories of forgotten heroes and marginalized communities. He is currently in development on multiple projects, both narratives and documentaries, and in the future looks to begin a career in commercial and feature film directing.

Jenna Lennon, script supervisor

Born and raised in Boston, Jenna Lennon didn’t travel too far from home when she decided to attend Emerson College. Now, she is graduating from Emerson with a bachelor’s in journalism and a minor in publishing. Working on the crew of “One Life to Give” sparked a love of movies she didn’t know she had, and since then Jenna has developed her writing skills as a film critic. She has also gone on to work on numerous film sets. Currently, Jenna works for the Walt Disney Company as part of the Disney College Program in Orlando, Florida. Starting in August, she will join the rest of the “One Life to Give” crew in Los Angeles.

Jacob Mariani, 1st assistant camera

Jacob Mariani has been working with Benji on his creative adventures for years. An experienced filmmaker, Jacob has been working with cameras since he was only 4 years old. Jacob is also a longtime wildlife photographer specializing in birds. He grew up on Long Island and spent most of his life in Nassau County. Graduating with a bachelor in fine arts in visual and media arts: film production, Jacob has moved to Los Angeles and is currently working as a freelance camera operator.

Julia Tranfaglia, gaffer

Massachusetts native Julia Tranfaglia is a producer, director and cinematographer based out of Los Angeles. She is a graduate from Emerson College with her bachelor’s in visual and media arts: film production and a minor in marketing/business. 

Julia is motivated by her passion to make a difference, believing that filmmaking as a means of storytelling has the power to encourage empathy. She is committed to creating films that focus on important, untold perspectives, providing a platform for new voices to be heard. In her free time, Julia enjoys traveling and visiting friends and family. Occasionally she can be found playing her saxophone, particularly “Careless Whisper.”

Fernando Gutierrez, co-editor

Fernando Gutierrez was born in El Salvador and raised in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Manheim Township High School in 2015 and is graduating from Emerson College with a visual and media arts major focusing in editing and postproduction as well as a minor in psychology. He prides himself on his drive to accomplish even the most difficult of challenges. Fernando is an extremely dedicated individual constantly looking to improve himself in his professional, personal and social life. He is always looking to grow and never shies away from the uncomfortable.

 

You’re invited!

Join us for a special double-bill screening of TBR News Media’s award-winning films at Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts, 100 Nicolls Road, Stony Brook on Sunday, June 23. 
“One Life to Give,” the story of Revolutionary War hero Nathan Hale, will be screened at 6 p.m. followed by “Traitor,” the sequel that chronicles the capture of British spy Major John Andre, at 7:30 p.m. As TBR’s gift to the community, the event is FREE.
For more information, please call 631-751-7744.

Michael Pawluk Photography

‘THESE ARE THE TIMES THAT TRY MEN’S SOULS’ — Thomas Paine

Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society will host a screening of TBR Media Productions’ Revolutionary War drama, “One Life to Give,” at the Rose Caracappa Senior Center, 739 Route 25A, Mount Sinai on April 8 at 7 p.m. Followed by a Q&A with Executive Producer Leah Dunaief. Free and open to all. Light refreshments will be served. Limited seating. Call 476-5742.

'Traitor'

By Leah Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Last week, we took our first major film, “One Life to Give,” to an out-of-town showing. An audience of more than 100 history lovers and friends in Philadelphia watched the dramatic story of the friendship of Nathan Hale, Benjamin Tallmadge and the beginning of the Culper Spy Ring. We were impressed by how interested the Philadelphians were in a tale of George Washington’s intelligence service centered in Setauket, Long Island. This is, of course, an authentic narrative of the Revolutionary War and of the founding of America, so I guess we needn’t have been surprised at its broad appeal.

In addition, we screened for the first time the almost completed sequel, “Traitor.” This story picks up some five years later, in 1780, and tells of the capture of John André, British spymaster, by the Patriots, and his fate at the hands of, ironically, Tallmadge. He is now a major in the Continental Army and has been tortured with guilt during the past four years since his Yale buddy, Hale, was caught and hanged as a spy. It was Tallmadge who so earnestly persuaded Hale to join the war effort, and we know of Hale’s end at the hands of the British.

Now the shoe is on the other foot.

André has been caught with detailed maps of West Point, the fort that the British are lusting to capture so as to have free rein in the Hudson River, dividing New England from the rest of the colonies. The fort is under the command of Patriot general, Benedict Arnold, who is about to become a turncoat, hence his dealings with André. 

The sequel is, if anything, even better than the original film. And mine is not the only such verdict. Here are some comments emailed to us by the members of the audience after the screening of both films in succession:

• “Thank you so much for including me in the extraordinary film screening last night. … I was not expecting to see something so professional and polished on every level: script, acting, photography, sound, production and, yes, gory makeup! It is also wonderful to see what an incredible family [my grandson, Benji, is the director] and community production this has been — pulling in all sorts of expertise, including [Bev Tyler, historian of the Three Village Historical Society, who accompanied us to Philadelphia]. … Congratulations to Benji [Michael Tessler, Andrew Stavis and the rest of the team]. … Please let them know how much I enjoyed it. And we’ll all be able to say, ‘We knew [them] when … .’”

• “Wow, what a great night. The films were great, great turnout.”

• “What a joy to be there, we really learned from the movie.”

• “Wonderful event! You should be proud. The movies were great. I learned a lot. I’m excited to share new stuff with my students.”

• “What a treat to attend the viewing … last night. Thank you for including us.”

• “HUGE congratulations from me! Wow, I really enjoyed the movies.”

• “Thanks for including us in the movie viewing. An impressive undertaking with fantastic results!”

• “Had a great time at the movies. We were really impressed!”

And this from an old friend who has followed Benji’s development: 

• “Thanks for inviting me to witness [this] fabulous work. … [Benji’s] enthusiasm of his early years with a camera is super matched by his gifts of eye, mind and devotion to story and characters. It’s a little humbling to think that simply giving him a theater with a screen in his early years [he directed films as a teenager] encouraged him to continue creating worlds in film.”

• “I was so impressed with the level of sophistication given that [they] are young filmmaker[s].”

As you can tell, it was a successful and fun evening. We look forward to screening the two films, one right after the other, here in late spring. All will be welcome. Please stay tuned.

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Sunday was a magical night. After a full year of work, we offered you, our readers and viewers, the initial screening of “One Life to Give.” Our first full-length film, the story is set at the beginning of the Revolutionary War more than 200 years ago, and is about Nathan Hale, Benjamin Tallmadge, George Washington and the events leading up to the founding of the Culper Spy Ring. The location for this screening was the 1,000-seat Staller Center off Nicholls Road within Stony Brook University, and to my amazement and delight, we filled the auditorium to the point where our general manager had trouble finding a seat just before curtain time. This full house by itself is a most gratifying testimony to your regard and to the pulling power of our newspapers and digital media, especially competing as we were with graduation day at the local high school.

It’s also a lot more. In these chaotic and divided times, I believe we yearn to understand our common origin as a nation and the history that we share. History after all is glue that holds us together and, to the surprise of many students who hate social studies in school, is also the series of fascinating stories about people, personalities and events that help define who we are today. And since our film is focused on local people and events, we share a pride of place. Our area has been dubbed the “cradle of history” because of its brutal occupation by the British, the activities of the spy ring and the military skirmishes during the war. Long Island, in fact, endured the longest occupation of any part of the colonies because its farms and forests, livestock and fish made up the unwilling breadbasket for the major British garrison in New York City.

So viewers came to see the history and the authentic local scenes and events, and the familiar faces of many residents as they served as extras on screen. Also some were simply curious. And by the time the movie was over, I believe there was an enriched sense of community among those in the room. As much as we want to know where we came from, we also enjoy a sense of belonging to a community. One viewer from farther away came up to me at the end and said he wished for that pride in his city. That particularly pleased me because we as publishers of the hometown paper have always sought to strengthen those ties. Strong communities can be a powerful force for good. They also want to get the latest local news by reading the local papers, which is not so bad for us.

Making a film was a new experience. My eldest grandson, Benji, the director of “One Life to Give,” aspires to be a professional filmmaker as his career progresses, and as we saw he has already acquired many filmmaking skills in college, where he is now a senior. He also brought to us for this venture a remarkable hardworking and talented crew of young professionals in front of and behind the camera. Thanks to our local connections, which included local historical societies and carefully preserved sites, we were able to put together an authentic venue for the shoot. The weather was wondrously cooperative, and actors and historic re-enactors of considerable skill joined the team. Local restaurants, costume outfitters, dry cleaners, scenery designers, makeup and special effects people and SBU, among others, made in-kind contributions. Muskets and cannons were procured and brought to the filming site, often among hilarious circumstances. One rule became obvious: No day would go exactly as planned.

A number of generous local businesses helped us meet costs by agreeing to be sponsors, and for their help they received credits before and after the film. Their names will be seen near and far as a number of groups have asked to show the film.

My major contribution was offering my house for the 15 young people and their equipment throughout the shoot. I can tell you there was not a clear view of floor or rug during those 16 days. It was great fun with high excitement but on their next film, the shooting of which starts in two weeks’ time for release next year, they will definitely stay in a hotel.

By Heidi Sutton

The 1,000-seat theater at Stony Brook University’s Staller Center was filled to capacity last Sunday night as the community came out in droves to celebrate the first screening of TBR News Media’s feature-length film, “One Life to Give.” And what a celebration it was.

“I have to say this exceeds our highest expectations. We are so thrilled,” said TBR News Media publisher Leah Dunaief, scanning the packed house as she welcomed the audience to “what has been a year’s adventure.”

“I am privileged to be the publisher of six hometown papers, a website, a Facebook page and, now, executive producer of a movie,” she beamed.

TBR News Media publisher Leah Dunaief addresses the audience.

Dunaief set the stage for what would be a wonderful evening. “I’m inviting you now to leave behind politics and current affairs and come with me back in time more than two centuries to the earliest days of the beginning of our country — the start of the American Revolution.”

“We live in the cradle of history and I hope that when you leave tonight you will feel an immense pride in coming from this area,” she continued. “The people who lived here some 240 years ago were people just like us. They were looking to have a good life, they were looking to raise their children.” Instead, according to Dunaief, they found themselves occupied by the British under King George III for the longest period of time.

Filmed entirely on location on the North Shore in 16 days, the film tells the story of schoolteacher turned spy Nathan Hale and how his capture and ultimate death by hanging in 1776 at the age of 21 led to the development of an elaborate spy ring in Setauket — the Culper spies — in an effort to help Gen. George Washington win the Revolutionary War.

Scenes were shot on location at Benner’s Farm in East Setauket, the William Miller House in Miller Place, the Sherwood-Jayne Farm, Thompson House and Caroline Church of Brookhaven  in Setauket and East Beach in Port Jefferson with many local actors and extras, period costumes by Nan Guzzetta, props from “TURN” and a wonderful score by Mark Orton.

The film screening was preceded by a short behind-the-scenes documentary and was followed by a Q&A with Dunaief, producer and writer Michael Tessler and director and writer Benji Dunaief along with several key actors in the film — Dave Morrissey Jr. (Benjamin Tallmadge), Hans Paul Hendrickson (Nathan Hale), Jonathan Rabeno (John Chester) and David Gianopoulos (Gen. George Washington).

“It says quite a bit about our community that we could pack the Staller Center for a story that took place over two hundred years ago,” said Tessler, who grew up in Port Jefferson. “I hope everyone leaves the theater today thinking about these heroes — these ordinary residents of our community who went on to do some extraordinary things and made it so that we all have the luxury to sit here today and enjoy this show and the many freedoms that come with being an American.”

Director Benji Dunaief thanked the cast, crew and entire community for all their support. “In the beginning of this project I did not think we would be able to do a feature film, let alone a period piece. They say it takes a village, but I guess it actually takes three.”

From left, Jonathan Rabeno, David Gianopoulos, Hans Paul Hendrickson and Dave Morrissey Jr. field questions from the audience at the Q&A.

“Our cast … threw themselves 100 percent into trying to embody these characters, they learned as much as they could and were open to everything that was thrown at them — I’m blown away by this cast. They are just incredible,” he added.

“The positivity that was brought to the set every day made you really want to be in that environment,” said Rabeno, who said he was humbled to be there, and he was quick to thank all of the reenactors who helped the actors with their roles.

One of the more famous actors on the stage, Gianopoulos (“Air Force One”) was so impressed with the way the production was handled and often stopped by on his day off just to observe the camera shots. “I really enjoyed just watching and being an observer,” he said, adding “It was just such an honor [to be a part of the film] and to come back to Stony Brook and Setauket where I used to run around as a little kid and then to bring this story to life is just amazing.”

According to the director, the film has been making the rounds and was recently nominated for three awards at Emerson College’s prestigious Film Festival, the EVVY Awards, including Best Editing, Best Writing and Best Single Camera Direction and won for the last category. 

Reached after the screening, Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said the film was the essence of a sense of place. “I thought it was spectacular. I thought that it was one of the highlights of all of the years that I have lived in this community.”

He continued, “It all came together with local people and local places talking about our local history that changed the world and the fact that it was on the Staller Stage here at a public university that was made possible by the heroics of the people who were in the film both as actors today and the people that they portrayed.”

For those who missed last Sunday’s screening, the film will be shown again at the Long Island International Film Expo in Bellmore on July 18 from 2 to 4 p.m.

Filming for a sequel, tentatively titled “Traitor,” the story of John André who was a British Army officer hanged as a spy by the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, will begin in two weeks.

Special thanks to Gold Coast Bank, Holiday Inn Express, Island Federal Savings Bank and Stony Brook University for making the evening’s screening possible.

Photos by Heidi Sutton and Rita J. Egan

Above, a battle scene shot at Benner’s Farm in East Setauket last summer.
Film showcased at SBU’s Staller Center for the Arts

By Talia Amorosano

The wait is over. On Sunday, June 24, an integral piece of U.S. and Long Island history will be revisited in the geographic location where much of it actually took place. At 7 p.m., the Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts, 100 Nicolls Road, Stony Brook, will host the first major public screening of “One Life to Give,” a film about the friendship and lives of young American heroes Benjamin Tallmadge and Nathan Hale, whose actions would lead to the creation of a Revolutionary spy ring based on the North Shore of Long Island.

Presented in the Main Theater, doors will open at 6:45 p.m. After a message from publisher Leah Dunaief, a short behind-the-scenes documentary will be shown followed by the main film screening. After a message from the creators, the evening will conclude with a Q&A with the cast and crew. Admission to the event is free, courtesy of TBR News Media. No reservations are necessary.

Cast and crew gather around a camera to view playback last summer.

The film’s co-producer and writer, Michael Tessler, describes the film as an exploration of historical events with a human focus. “After spending several years researching Benjamin Tallmadge and the other heroes featured in our film, I began to look at them not as detached names in a textbook, but more so as real people, with real stories that deserve to be told,” he said.

 Dave Morrissey, the actor who portrays Tallmadge in the film, describes his character as a “22-year-old kid,” who, despite his relative youth, is “focused” and “grounded,” propelled into action by the death of his brother at the hands of the British. “When something like that happens to you, you turn into a machine … into something else,” said Morrissey. “If you channel the energy and do what’s right, the possibilities are endless.”

By focusing a metaphorical macro lens on the multidimensional characters of Tallmadge and Hale, the film traverses consequential moments of American history: the Battle of Long Island, the anointing of America’s first spy and the events that would lead to the creation of the Culper Spy Ring, a group of men and women who risked their lives and status to gather British intelligence for the Revolutionary cause. 

Though Tessler notes that the film is, at its heart, a drama, he and the film’s director and co-producer Benji Dunaief stress the cast and crew’s commitment to accuracy in their interpretation of historical events. 

“The history comes second to the narrative in most [other film adaptations of historical events],” says Dunaief. “Our approach with this film was the exact opposite. We wanted to see where we could find narrative within [pre-existing] history.” 

“Many of the lines from the film were plucked directly from the diaries of the heroes themselves,” stated Tessler. “We worked closely with historians and Revolutionary War experts to achieve a level of accuracy usually unseen in such a local production.”

The fact that many scenes from the film were shot in the locations where the events of the real-life narrative took place helped give the visuals a sense of truthfulness and the actors a sense of purpose.

“The location took production to the next level. It’s really crazy how closely related the sets we used were to the actual history,” said Dunaief, who specifically recalls filming at a house that contained wood from Tallmadge’s actual home. “It helped to inspire people in the cast to get into character.” 

Morrissey recalls spending a particularly inspiring Fourth of July on Benner’s Farm in East Setauket. “We were filming the war scenes with all the reenactors … in the cabin that we built for the set … in the town where the battles and espionage had really happened. There were fireworks going on in the background while we sang shanty songs. It was amazing.”

The Continental Army shoots off a cannon at Benner’s Farm.

Though locational and historical accuracy played a large role in making filming a success, ultimately, Dunaief and Tessler credit the resonance of “One Life to Give” to an engaged and participatory community. “This was a community effort on all accounts,” says Dunaief, noting the roles that the Benners, Preservation Long Island, The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, the Three Village Historical Society and others played to bring “One Life to Give” to fruition. 

The fact that the screening will take place at the Staller Center, in the heart of the community that helped bring the film about, represents a full-circle moment for the cast and crew. “We’re calling it a screening but it is so much more,” said Dunaief. “It is a fantastic example of how the community has stood by this film, from beginning to end.”

“We’re beyond honored and humbled to use a screen that has seen some of the greatest independent films in history,” said Tessler. “Stony Brook University has been a wonderful partner and extremely accommodating as we work to bring our local history to life.” 

Tessler projects confidence that viewers will leave the screening with a similar sense of gratitude. “This story shows a part of our history that I think will make the audience very proud of the place they call home.”

The future of ‘One Life to Give’: 

Michael Tessler and Benji Dunaief plan to show the film at festivals around the country, to conduct a series of screenings on Long Island, and to partner with local historical societies that can use it as an educational tool. Additionally, a sequel to “One Life to Give,” titled “Traitor,” is already in the works. Filming will begin this summer.

All photos by Michael Pawluk Photography

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The saying, “It takes a village,” certainly applies to us here on the North Shore of Long Island. Elsewhere in today’s newspaper, you can read the article about our making a full-length historical movie (page B11). It was a fantastic adventure and something of a wild ride. From the first rushes, before color and sound correction with the addition of music, the final product looks really good.

The film, “One Life to Give,” delves into the relationship between Benjamin Tallmadge and Nathan Hale against the tense background of the Battle of Long Island and the formation of the Culper Spy network in Setauket. So much of history seems to pivot on a single turning point or a particular event, and the Revolutionary War is no exception. Because of these two men, George Washington embedded his spies behind the enemy lines and the outcome of the war took a decided turn for the better.

Speaking of turns, many of you probably watched the TURN series on AMC, about the Setauket spies, whose fourth and final year is showing on cable television presently. Though based on the scent of real events, those episodes are largely fiction, although they are nonetheless riveting. Our movie, made authentic through the attention and help of local historical societies, is as factual as the history that has come down to us through more than two centuries.

Which is to say, this is the real story and no less intense for being accurate. This film can, and we trust, will be shown to children in the schools as part of the state mandate for teaching local history. But its making would not have been possible without the help of our North Shore “village.” So many organizations, businesses and individuals teamed up to bring our local history to life.

Let me explain. There were three parts to our filming, kind of like a trifecta. First we needed the script, which was researched and written largely by TBR’s Director of Media Productions Michael Tessler and Emerson College junior Benjamin Dunaief, with help from Port Jeff alum and Brooklyn College student Dominick Famularo. Part of that first win was to bring the script to life, for which we needed a competent crew behind the camera. These dozen hard workers were brought in by my grandson Benji, who knew their work from previous film shoots. We also needed high level equipment, some of which came with the crew and the rest we rented.

The second part was to secure the historic locations, also the actors in front of the camera. Here is where the “village” came into play. The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, SPLIA (Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities), Three Village Historical Society, Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society, Three Village Community Trust, LISEC boat builders and Benner’s Farm provided the settings and encouragement.

Then casting calls along with connections brought us the talented actors, who included among many others, Jeff Sanzel, Dave Morrissey Jr. (from New York City, soon to be an equity member), Jonathan Rabeno, David Gianopoulos (who was Agent Johnson in the 1997 movie “Air Force One”) and Hans Paul Hendrickson, who played Hale.

The third win was the unending assistance and support from individuals like the inexhaustible John Worrell, Tim Glynn, Margo Arceri, Fred Bryant, Charlie Lefkowitz, Michael Ardolino, Peter Moloney, Andy Pollen, the Connell family, Virginia Cash, the many battle re-enactors who traveled from near and far, and the contributions of Stony Brook University. Then there are the many local restaurants who helped us feed everybody on set like Setauket Gourmet deli, Setauket Village Diner, Via Pizza, Pasta Pasta and Eastern Pavilion.

There are many more to thank and we will do so in a more formal way, but this is just a spontaneous outburst of gratitude to all those who, with willing hands across the community, make our lives so rich.

Filming the Battle of Long Island scene at Benner's Farm. Photo by Michael Pawluk

By Jenna Lennon

History came to life on Long Island this summer with the production of TBR News Media’s first feature-length film, “One Life to Give,” which paints a picture of the events leading up to the formation of America’s first band of spies, the Culper Spy Ring.

The Culper Spy Ring was organized by Benjamin Tallmadge under orders from General George Washington in the summer of 1778. Tallmadge recruited a group of men and women he could trust in Setauket and, for the remaining years of the war, collected information regarding British troop formations, movements and plans.

The spy ring became the most successful intelligence group on either side of the war during the course of the Revolution. Its existence was unknown to the public until the 1930s when Long Island historian Morton Pennypacker analyzed handwritten letters to Washington and discovered that Robert Townsend and Samuel Culper Jr. were, in fact, the same person.

A battle scene shot at Benner’s Farm. Photo by Michael Pawluk

Based on these true events, “One Life to Give” follows Tallmadge (Dave Morrissey Jr.) and Nathan Hale (Hans Paul Hendrickson) in the early stages of the war and plays off of the speculation that Hale’s famous last words, “My only regret is that I have but one life to give for my country,” were inspired by Joseph Addison’s “Cato, a Tragedy.”

“Tallmadge and Hale are both very motivated individuals. They graduated from Yale at the same time in 1773, and they are good friends. They’re schoolmates and they spent a whole bunch of time at Yale together, but they are very different,” said director, Benji Dunaief, an incoming junior at Emerson College in Boston. “In a lot of ways, they are kind of yin and yang. They’re opposites and opposites that attract and opposites that ultimately prove to be the pieces that transpired into the Culper Spy Ring,” he said.

Colonel John Chester (Jonathan Rabeno), a fellow Yale graduate along with Hale and Tallmadge, tasks Tallmadge with the duty of convincing Hale, who has enlisted in his local militia, to actively join the cause.

“I play Colonel John Chester. He’s from Connecticut. He went to Yale, and he’s friends with Benjamin Tallmadge and Nathan Hale,” Rabeno said. “He kind of acts as a recruiter for getting them involved more in the cause. … so this is really right in the beginning stages of it.”

Cast and crew gather around a camera to view playback. Photo by Michael Pawluk

Hale not only enlists, but eventually is Washington’s (David Gianopoulos) first volunteer to go behind enemy lines and gather British intelligence. Soon after, Hale is captured by Robert Rogers (George Overin), and General William Howe (Jeffrey Sanzel) sentences him to death for committing acts of espionage.

With the motivation of the loss of one of his dearest friends and his brother, William (Aaron Johnson), Tallmadge and Washington form the Culper Spy Ring. “This is a guy who experienced something very traumatic when his brother William died, and it changed the course of history. He took that energy, and he inspirationally manifested it into something so incredibly positive for all of us that we are all benefitting from today,” Morrissey said.

He continues, “As someone who’s brother has died who is also named Will, this was an inspiration for me to be able to hopefully manifest it into something that other people will benefit from in the future. That’s why this is so important for me. I loved working on this film, and I am never going to forget this ever. This one’s for you, Will.”

The producer of “One Life to Give,” TBR’s director of media productions Michael Tessler, grew up “with Setauket in my backyard” and has always had a fascination with Revolutionary War history. “I’m grateful that historians, authors, and film producers have finally brought the narrative of the Culper Spy Ring to life. This history remained elusive for so many years and has evolved from local lore into a spectacular chapter of our founding story,” said Tessler.

Above,the Continental Army shoots off a cannon at Benner’s Farm. Photo by Michael Pawluk

“As a lover of history, the question that kept me up at night and acted as the muse for this piece is simply what tragedies had to occur that would cause the heroes of the Culper Spy Ring to risk everything? Digging into textbooks, letters and the memoir of Benjamin Tallmadge, it became apparent to me that there was an important story to tell, one too often forgotten in the annals of history,” he said, adding “When all is said and done, this is the story of two best friends who saved the Revolution and changed the course of human events.”

While working to write and produce their first feature film beginning in March, Dunaief and Tessler were also tasked with finding a talented cast, a passionate crew and period-appropriate locations where they could tell this story.

“Everyone on the crew I’ve either worked with, somebody on the crew had worked with, or we had just heard really good things about,” Dunaief said.

“I think I wouldn’t do it any other way. We had 12 people on our crew to make a feature film in 16 days. That’s like bare bones. That’s like barer than bare bones. But the fact that everybody was doing two or three jobs at the same time, everyone was pulling their weight and more by a lot really speaks volumes about the kind of people that we had on the crew and had it been a different group of people, I really don’t think we would have been able to finish,” said Dunaief.

Benji Dunaief, left, directs a scene at the Caroline Church of Brookhaven with actor Dave Morrissey Jr. Photo by Jenna Lennon

“We had the most phenomenal cast, crew and community behind us. All of our locations are genuine historic properties beautifully preserved by local organizations — places these heroes actually lived, worked and played. That’s a benefit not afforded to those using sound stages in Hollywood,” Tessler said.

Filming took place over the course of 16 days at many local historic locations including the Caroline Church of Brookhaven, the Sherwood-Jayne House and the Thompson House in Setauket along with the William Miller House in Miller Place.

Scenes were also shot on location at Port Jefferson’s East Beach and Benner’s Farm in Setauket, where a trench with palisades, a fort and nearly 100 reenactors, acting as both Continental and British troops, staged the Battle at Bedford Pass.

“Though exhausting, this was the most rewarding experience of my professional career. Waking up after sleeping in Washington’s marquee tent and seeing a trench, palisades, cannon and an actual Continental Army was just an indescribable experience,” Tessler said.

“This happens to be a local story, but it’s a great story, and it’s a story worth telling,” Dunaief said. “You don’t come across a story like this every day that’s as powerful, as meaningful, as patriotic. There have been so many movies that have been made that have glorified the Revolution, that have taken insane liberties and basically just use it as a backdrop for their own narratives,” he said. “But this is a film that truly pays homage and respect to real people who lived and died for our country, and I think it’s an incredibly important story.”

“One Life to Give” is scheduled to premiere on Sept. 22, the 241st anniversary of Nathan Hale’s execution.