The Prayer Lines Behind the Bylines
Lora Lee & Tom Ecobelli
Waiting for Chickadee to take flight
spring of 2011 was drawing to a close when I received a message from children’s
book illustrator Jody Wheeler
encouraging me to connect with a sibling pair by
the names of
. I was told only that the sister and
brother were natives of Ballston Spa who had co-authored a cookbook and needed
guidance in securing a publisher.
Could I help? Yes, I supposed I could. But doing so would distract me from other
projects and commitments at the very time when I could least afford to be pulled
in yet another direction.
On top of freelance writing assignments and chipping away on this book, I was
still devoting an hour each weekday morning to helping 89-year-old Village
History Consultant Maurice “Christopher” Morley
as well as transporting my
youngest to and from extracurricular activities.
With Kiersten’s senior prom,
high school graduation and college orientation events merging with my duties as
a member of my graduating class’s 40th reunion committee, the smartest thing I
could do was to ask Jody to tell the Ecobellis I wished them well, but simply
could not make time in my schedule to assist them at this time.
Yet something deep inside wouldn’t allow me to say “No” even though on a
rational level, I believed that to be the best response.
For one thing, the Ecobelli surname evoked fond memories of one of the most
exciting transitions in my young life – one that would make it possible for me
to graduate as a member of Ballston Spa High School’s Class of 1971 as well as
to represent the Rotary Club of Ballston Spa as an international exchange
Closing my eyes, I allowed myself to travel back in time to November 1968 when I
was but 15 and a sophomore at Shaker High in Colonie. My parents had decided to
uproot their 10 children — who then ranged in age from five to 19 — and move us
from the outskirts of Albany to the foothills of the Adirondacks during the
Thanksgiving school break.
Assured by my closest friends that we’d find ways to stay in touch, I embraced
the transition from a rather modest Eisenhower-era abode in a modern suburb just
off the busy Troy-Schenectady Road in Latham to a splendid Victorian-era
residence on the outskirts of Saratoga Springs. I welcomed the prospect of being
able to walk to and from school rather than riding buses as I had done all of my
life. At last I’d be able to join clubs and participate in extracurricular
activities knowing that my own two feet could get me there and back.
My excitement about starting classes at the new school only heightened after
learning that Al and Helen Eisenhauer, two of my mother’s favorite teaching
associates in the village, had invited our family of 12 to dine with them at a
popular Italian-American restaurant that was situated on Church Avenue –
literally on the same stretch of road as our new home.
Told that Mr. Eisenhauer knew just about every instructor in the district, I
looked forward to quizzing him over pasta about those educators I would surely
soon encounter at Ballston Spa High School. Mr. E’s anecdotes about my future
art teacher, Dick Sather, who I was cautioned might remove his artificial eye
and roll it across a table in the classroom, and Mr. Plant, who might well bring
biology lessons to life with graphic stories of his own intestinal surgeries,
represent but part of the reason why the Ecobelli name was seared in my memory.
Despite the many decades that had passed since that first dining adventure in
1968, I could still recall the warm welcome our large party had received upon
making our entrance into the restaurant. It transcended hometown hospitality –
making me feel as if I’d entered an Old World Mediterranean abode where gourmet
food just happened to be on the menu. The aromas of sauces that had been
simmering for hours had made my mouth water as I observed wait staff and
customers laughing and exchanging stories.
The stroll down Memory Lane that was prompted by Jody’s message motivated me to
get in touch with Lora Lee and Tom who had been in high chairs – or close to it
– at the time their ancestors had first welcomed me to Ecobelli’s Tam O’Shanter..
The idea was that I’d spend an hour or so via a May 2011 teleconference sharing
publishing leads with Lora Lee – whose talents are in demand in entertainment
circles on the east coast and with Tom, who makes his living as an actor and
producer on the west coast. At the end of the teleconference, I’d wish them well
and get back to more important things in my life.
Then the unexpected happened. Lora Lee and Tom offered to send me not only a PDF
of their then unpublished cookbook titled Laurina’s Kitchen, but also a copy of
the script for Chickadee – a decision that ultimately inspired me to pen the
testimonial below about my belief in the project.
Feeling as strongly as I did about the importance of their paternal
grandmother’s courageous story being told in a way that could inspire audiences
around the world, I didn’t hesitate when asked if I’d help them try to boost
awareness about Chickadee and the need to raise funds for the independent film.
My decision to take a leap of faith nearly five years ago has proven to be a
blessing many times over. I firmly believe the funds needed for Chickadee to
take flight will arrive at exactly the right time from the sources that are
exactly right for this landmark film project. To learn more, please read my
reflections below before scrolling to my Q & A
director Sylvia Caminer and the section about the
located near the
Additional coverage regarding Chickadee can be found on the movie’s web site at
or on its Facebook page at
Some Chickadee reflections
As a seasoned journalist with a passion for preserving the past and present for
future generations, I was initially drawn to the script for Chickadee because it
is based upon the true story of a courageous Italian-American girl from the
region in New York State where my own immigrant ancestors put down roots well
over a century ago.
by author Ann Hauprich
Wiping away tears as I turned the pages of the masterpiece woven by siblings
Lora Lee and Tom Ecobelli to honor the legacy of their late grandmother, Laurina,
every fiber of my being ultimately applauded Chickadee as a bona fide triumph of
the human spirit. To stop there would, however, be a grave injustice not only to
Laurina and her descendents — but to all who ever were, or are, or might one day
be held hostage by a family secret.
Those who take the Chickadee film project under their wings at this critical
stage in development will be doing far more than helping to bring one of the
most captivating and thought-provoking stories ever written about the abuse and
exploitation of the youth of a bygone era to the big screen. They will be
contributing to the education and empowerment of the silent victims of domestic
violence, including sexual assaults, who walk among us today.
With acclaimed director Sylvia Caminer at the helm, Chickadee will surely also
serve as a beacon of hope and a catalyst for healing as well as being heralded
as a “must-see” for all who endeavor to aid in the prevention of the abuse and
exploitation of children and adolescents.
A sad fact of modern life is that newscasts involving abductions, human
trafficking and related social justice violations are now commonplace – making
the need for audiences at film festivals and in movie theaters around the world
to see Chickadee greater than ever. There has never been a more fitting time for
this movie’s powerful message to take flight.
— Ann Hauprich
Q & A with Chickadee director Sylvia Caminer
Under the direction of Emmy award-winning filmmaker
Sylvia Caminer, Chickadee is
expected to bring star power that includes
Julie Kavner and other celebrated talents to New York’s Capital Region. The
independent motion picture is budgeted at $3-million and will commence
production once funding is completed.
Laurina Film Partners
is presently working
with a number of interested investors and benefactors to make their dream a
reality. The following Q & A between author
Ann Hauprich and Ms. Caminer
transpired in October 2015.
AH: When – and how — did you first become aware of Laurina’s story?
SC: I met Lora Lee Ecobelli’s now late husband (Leo
Burmester) while working
together on a film I produced titled Aftermath. Leo and I had a magical instant
connection. He spoke with such passion and conviction about Chickadee that I
knew I just had to read the script.
AH: At what point in reading the script by Lora Lee & Tom Ecobelli did you know
with certainty that you wanted to become involved with Chickadee?
SC: The very opening of the film grabbed me — the love of a mother for her
children and the torment of having to place them in an orphanage even though
just temporarily is palpable. I was also immediately drawn to the immigrant
story at the heart of the film, both of my parents immigrated to this country
and with the worldwide crisis it is so relevant. Lora Lee and Tom Ecobelli did a
masterful job of capturing the story and building vibrant, multi-layered
characters. The story is all the more powerful knowing it is based on fact —
particularly in relation to the issue of sexual/physical abuse as it plays out
here. This is one of those stories that really needs to be shared.
AH: How would you most like to see the production presented to audiences?
SC: The power of going to the cinema is magical. It is one of the few places
left where we are forced to put away all of life’s distractions for singular
focus and also have an almost communal experience of sharing a story with
others. This seems particularly fitting for this story. Our goal, however, is to
reach as wide an audience as possible and television/digital as of late are
offering some really exciting prospects and have the ability to reach a truly
diverse audience. We also acknowledge that the market for initial purely
theatrical releases has really dwindled and we would definitely consider a joint
release on-demand and in theaters.
AH: The fact that
Chris Cooper – who was last on location in Saratoga County for
the filming of some scenes for Seabiscuit – has attached to the project is sure
to be a tremendous asset both in terms of securing production funding and at the
box office. Why was it important that he be cast as Dr. Porter?
SC: Chris is an exceptional actor. The vitality and detail he would bring to
this important role (are attributes) I don’t believe could be matched by any
other actor. We are extremely fortunate that he and Leo were very good friends
and actually started their careers together at The Actors Theatre of Louisville.
Chris has been attached to the project almost from the beginning. The script
also really hit home with his Italian wife who read the script first and even
helped translate some of the Italian. We are very hopeful that once we finalize
the budget and lock the shooting schedule we will be able to make things work
with Chris’ extremely hectic schedule.
AH: Two other great names attached to Chickadee are
Julie Kavner and
Kindly elaborate on the main reasons they were chosen to help bring the film to
life for audiences?
SC: Again two exceptional actors who bring such authenticity to their work. Pietro is a really complex role and needs a nuanced performance. I first took
note of Raoul in Under the Tuscan Son, he brings with him a real vulnerability
and likability which will give Pietro so much more depth. Pietro can’t simply be
a villain. Raoul is also a huge star in Italy and we believe this film will have
wide international appeal. Julie – WOW! I am just thrilled that she is attached
as she is always fascinating and is truly iconic. I can’t wait to explore the
role of Miss Ottinger with her and watch the magic she brings.
AH: Do you have any idea yet who will star in the leading role as Laurina? If
not, is there a chance there might be a national talent search – such as the one
that took place when ANNIE first hit Broadway? Or when Anne of Green Gables was
being cast in Canada a few decades ago?
SC: We will likely start searching in the tri-state area but we won’t stop until
we find the right person. This is such a pivotal character we need someone truly
AH: When – and where — will casting calls for other major roles take place?
SC: We are super fortunate to have Concetta Di Matteo and Carolyn Long as our
casting directors and they will release a breakdown in Los Angeles and New York
City for the leads and major supporting roles. We will also cast locally for as
many speaking roles as possible. I absolutely love working with local talent and
with our tight budget it makes a lot of sense to hire from the talented local
AH: What about auditions for extras?
SC: We will have open calls locally and our extra’s casting director will
coordinate all of this.
David Amram will compose the score. His reputation precedes him, of course,
but would you care to add “a note” or two re: the importance of his contribution
to this project?
SC: David actually knew Laurina — and he loved her. That type of connection to a
project is really rare. The fact that he is a big fan and friend of the project
speaks very loud to me about the script. One of my favorite parts of making
films is working with the composer, adding the score is like bringing the last
main character to the story. It can either make or break it and with someone
like David it takes the film to a whole other level. My gosh! David created the
score for Splendor in the Grass!
AH: What would most you like prospective financial backers and future audiences
to know about the film’s writers and producers?
SC: Lora Lee and Tom are such talented writers and are so incredibly dedicated
to sharing this remarkable story of their grandmother and extended family with
generations to come. You can’t help but rally behind them, I am really honored
that they have entrusted me with the opportunity to help tell this very personal
story. These two will simply not stop until this film is produced. That type of
passion and commitment is infectious.
AH: What is the anticipated cost of producing Chickadee?
SC: Approximately $3-million, which is a sizable budget for an independent film.
However, with the time period being set at the beginning of the 20th century we
need to have the resources to bring this world to life. What are some of the
rewards (intangible as well as tangible) supporters can expect to receive in
return for their investments? This story is very universal with wide appeal.
True stories if dynamic and done well are typically very successful so we have
very high expectations. This is also a very inspiring women’s film and there
seems to be a ground swell for these types of films as of late. The bravery
exhibited by Laurina at the age of 13 I believe can and will inspire girls the
world over to stand up for their rights and speak out about abuse.
AH: When and where would filming in New York’s Capital Region ideally begin?
SC: Our goal is Autumn 2016, but that is all dependent on when the financing is
secured. We are ready to head right into pre-production and have many elements
already in place.
AH: What do you expect to be some of the greatest challenges while filming on
location in this part of the country?
SC: Whenever you film outside a main metropolis of filmmaking there are some
inherent challenges — like housing, transportation, securing appropriate
locations and finding talented local crew and actors. However we are approaching
these potential challenges with excitement and are thrilled to have the
opportunity to shoot in the region and work with the local talent. The Albany
and Hudson Valley Film Commissions are extremely helpful and we are already
securing some locations including one of the actual mills from the story in
Troy. I have also always really enjoyed being away on location while filming
because it seems to unite the team and often there is a newness and
acceptability from within the community. One of my very first jobs in film was
as a P.A. on Martin Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence so it seems very fitting to
be coming back to the area.
AH: What do you expect to be the most rewarding part of filming on location?
AH: When — and where — would you most like Chickadee to debut?
SC: I think an international film festival like Cannes or Venice would be
AH: What do you hope audiences (vs. critics!) will say after seeing the movie
for the first time?
SC: First off I would hope that Tom and Lora Lee would feel that we gave their
family story life and that it lived up to and hopefully exceeded their
expectations. Further I’d hope that filmgoers would be transported back to the
early 1900s and could relate to this very personal story of hardship and
ultimate victory. Viewing a film is so subjective, we can’t expect (nor would we
want) everyone to take away the same message or even be moved in the same way.
We are making this film for the general public but of course if the critics
connect with it that only helps our efforts in reaching a broader audience. But
you never really know how the media is going to receive a film.
AH: What do you hope the film’s legacy will be?
SC: Hopefully it will be a timeless film that can be shared with generations and
give voice to those silently suffering. Cinema has the power to evoke
conversation and I think the true measure of a film is if the story lives on
with you and so I would hope that a little piece of Laurina would live on.
Laurina's Kitchen: Key ingredient in film's back story
It was an honor to be among those in attendance at a 2012 book launch that
doubled as a celebration of the life and legacy of Laurina Inzinna Ecobelli, the
late matriarch of Ecobelli’s Tam O’Shanter Restaurant in Ballston Spa, NY.
Hosted by Laurina’s grandchildren Lora Lee and Tom Ecobelli, the August event
provided a rare opportunity to tour the once thriving Italian-American dining
destination that was owned and operated by their ancestors for more than four
Professional actors, screenwriters and producers, Lora Lee and Tom had
coauthored Laurina’s Kitchen as a companion piece for Chickadee, the forthcoming
film based on an inspiring story that was recorded in their grandmother’s
journal nearly a century ago.
While Chickadee captures Laurina’s courage as well as her pain, Laurina’s
Kitchen is a light-hearted and heart-warming 108-page collection of many
previously secret family recipes as well as a treasure trove of previously
Peppered throughout the 8.5” x 11” literary treasure published by Square Circle
Press are images of the Ecobellis and their extended ‘family’ around the
restaurant and at home as well as special memories contributed by staff, patrons
and friends who were all a part of the restaurant’s devoted community.
Publisher Richard Vang first heard about Laurina’s Kitchen from Schenectady’s
city and county historian Don Rittner – who is also a Schenectady film
“Don and I were in contact about a forthcoming book of his in late December 2011
when he mentioned the cookbook in the context of the film project Chickadee –
which was inspired by an Italian immigrant girl who grew up to be the matriarch
of Ecobelli family,” said Vang.
He added that the cookbook — which includes dozens of Laurina’s favorite recipes
— was a natural fit for Square Circle Press because the company’s primary
catalogue focus is on the history and culture of upstate New York.
“As a publisher, I am interested in any genre that fits this focus. For some
time, I have been wondering what type of cookbook might fit into our catalogue,
but I knew it had to be special. Given the relationship to such an upstate
institution as Ecobelli’s, I would have seriously considered such a cookbook on
its own merit.
But given the background of Laurina Ecobelli’s early life and the connection of
the cookbook to the movie Chickadee, I immediately knew that this was something
extra special,” said Vang. “I am a foodie, and I love our unique Upstate bars
and restaurants. I never had the pleasure of visiting Ecobelli’s Tam O’Shanter,
but when I saw Tom Ecobelli’s Facebook page and the comments from former
patrons, I recognized that Ecobelli’s was part of the fabric of many people’s
Five years after being approached by Jody Wheeler about the possibility of
assisting Lora Lee and Tom Ecobelli in their quest to find a publisher for
Laurina’s Kitchen, there’s no doubt in my mind that its creation was a key
ingredient in one of God’s Never Fail Recipes.