In late 2015, Northbridge Companies’ Avita of Newburyport was handpicked from a wide range of senior living communities to be home to the filming of “The Last Poker Game” starring Academy Award-winning actor Martin Landau and renowned actor Paul Sorvino.
We first heard about the film from the location scout, Shannon Lachner, in early October when the filmmakers were looking for a senior residence in Massachusetts. We finally learned we had been selected in mid-October. Filming then started on Nov. 1 and wrapped Dec. 15.
“The Last Poker Game,” set to debut in this fall, centers on two very different men and the new friendship they share with one another during their continuing journeys through life while in an assisted living residence. In the film, Landau’s character lives with Alzheimer’s disease, which made selecting Avita of Newburyport an excellent choice since it specializes in supporting seniors with dementia. The film offers a realistic look at what quality dementia care looks like and the new friendships that are formed at Northbridge Companies’ senior living communities.
What excited us so much about pairing with “The Last Poker Game” was that it was clear that the premise of the film fits the philosophy of “live well, love life” at all of our Northbridge Companies communities, including our industry-leading Avita residences.
Residents ready for their close-ups
One of the most exciting parts of having the filming at Avita of Newburyport was that our residents had the chance to make their big-screen debuts!
At all Northbridge Companies senior living communities, including the Avita residences, the senior residents come first. So when agreeing to host the filming at Avita of Newburyport, we were very careful about the effect it would have on our residents; we wanted to make sure that not only our residents, but the families of our residents, were comfortable with the entire process. We were careful to make sure that residents would not be scared or intimidated by being filmed, and we sent a letter to all families with the movie’s script so they would know what to expect.
To our delight, everyone was extremely thrilled and supported the filming. We were so glad to be able to offer our residents this exhilarating experience, which beautifully reinforces our philosophy that retirement isn’t the end of the road but just the next step on a continuing journey.
When the film crew arrived on site for eight weeks — three for setup and five for filming — everyone at Avita Newburyport was buzzing with excitement. The crew immediately set to work transforming the private and semi-private apartments into green rooms for the crew and actors, editing rooms, wardrobe and two very cool sets that served as the apartments for Landau’s and Sorvino’s characters in the movie.
Because the production team and actors spent such a long time working in close proximity to our staff, we got to know them and developed several friendships. Our residents even got in on the act; one of them developed quite a fondness for a cameraman. She even spent an entire scene holding onto his suspenders while he filmed!
A picture perfect place for filming
One thing that everyone kept asking us is, how did the film wind up at Avita of Newburyport? Out of all the senior care communities in Massachusetts, how did we get picked? I, too, had that question. More on that later.
Located in Newburyport, a quaint and picturesque Massachusetts town, Avita of Newburyport features three neighborhoods under one roof, much like many of our other Avita communities. Each neighborhood is purposefully designed to be a welcoming and safe community for seniors with all forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, offering spacious private and semi-private apartments and failure-free social activities.
Originally, the location scout had been considering our sister location, Avita of Needham, but due to that location’s schedule and capacity, we had suggested Avita of Newburyport instead. It was especially serendipitous because one of our neighborhoods at the community happened to be completely empty at the time of filming, as we planned to open this third and final neighborhood in January. This meant we had an entire area for the production to use where they would not be intruding on the residents’ day-to-day lives and where they wouldn’t have to worry about dealing with any possible impediments to their filming.
Throughout the process, I had met with many of those involved with the film, including the director of the film, Howard Weiner, M.D., at our community. In addition to directing the film, Weiner is a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, director of the Partners Multiple Sclerosis Center at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and co-director of the Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases at BWH in Boston.
After several meetings and site visits from the producers that spanned several weeks during the summer through early fall, and a final visit from the casting directors, I received a call immediately telling me they had chosen Avita of Newburyport as the location. I was thrilled and shocked at the same time and immediately asked, “Why us?”
From what I was told, what sealed the choice of our community was the warmth, friendliness and enthusiasm from all of our staff and residents. The production team could really feel a difference in the atmosphere at our community and from our seniors; it made them realize that Avita of Newburyport was the perfect place to shoot their movie.
Why the film worked for us
Interest in our community has increased dramatically since word of the filming has spread, but most importantly, the news offers the chance for families in other towns to be aware that Avita of Newburyport offers a safe and secure place with innovative, failure-free activities for seniors with Alzheimer’s and other memory impairments. Plus, we hope that families can see and feel the warmth and friendliness of our community that sold the film producers on Avita of Newburyport.
Although there was definitely a lot of work involved, we enjoyed hosting the filming of “The Last Poker Game” because it shares an incredibly important message that life can still be full of surprises and excitement post-retirement. The opportunity to have our residents be a part of that and represent that theme is one of the many examples of how Avita of Newburyport represents the Northbridge Companies philosophy of “live well, love life.”
Also, thanks to our staff’s willingness to help manage the added responsibilities, it turned out to be a great experience for our entire community.
Gerry Gallin is the executive director of Avita of Newburyport, Newburyport, MA.