By Adam Poulisse, Berkshire Eagle Staff
Posted: 01/22/2013 12:03:10 AM EST
Updated: 01/22/2013 12:17:38 AM EST

SHEFFIELD — What the Chickadees needed was an earful of inspiration from their coach in the locker room. The middle school basketball team was down 53-0 at halftime.

What their coach delivered instead, unfortunately, was a dispiriting monologue about his wife’s recent infidelity.

Luckily, this was all a fictitious situation, the subject of the low-budget short film “Halftime,” starring several Berkshire youngsters as the players and veteran TV and film actor Treat Williams as their down-in-the-dumps coach.

“He thinks he’s giving a Knute Rockne speech,” Williams said of his character. “I don’t think he knows what’s coming out of his mouth. He’s in so much pain, and I think that’s what makes it funny.”

“Halftime,” which was filmed over the past two days in a locker room at the Berkshire School, was produced for less than $10,000 and all of the young actors, and most of the crew, were from the Berkshires.

“From the moment we hit the ground, we’ve been a little ahead of schedule,” said John Whalan, the producer.

“Halftime” originally started as a short stage play written for the 2012 Berkshire Playwrights Lab Banquet. Richard Dresser, the playwright, wrote “Halftime” specifically for Williams, who dropped out of a four-act play for the banquet due to a scheduling conflict.

“The fact that Treat’s here is going to bring notoriety to the project,” said Diane Pearlman, the executive director of the Berkshire Film and Media Commission.

Dresser wrote “Halftime” in three days.

“I’ve done a fair amount of coaching, and I’m always fascinated by things that coaches tell kids to get them fired up,” Dresser said. “How great to have a situation where everything else in this guy’s life has gone south, and the only thing he has left is this uniquely untalented middle school team.”

The tragic comedy saw few changes from the stage version to the film version, said director Joe Cacaci, who is also the co-artistic director of the Berkshire Playwrights Lab.

Probably the biggest change was actually adding the kids to the scene. In the stage version of “Halftime,” Williams spoke to the audience like they were his middle school basketball team.

“It went remarkably smoothly,” Caci said. “Any time you’re working with kids, anything can happen.”

The seven kids were picked by Cacaci after word spread through the Berkshire Film Commission, Cacaci and Lori Bashour, the general manager of the Berkshire Playwrights Lab.

For the film, Williams bantered with the youngsters between takes. He joined them in poking fun at Hollywood.

“They were great,” Williams said. “They kept laughing at everything on the first take. I said, ‘Keep laughing guys — after two or three of these, it ain’t going to be so funny.'”

Cacaci filmed two different endings for “Halftime” on Monday. In the first one, players sulked out of the locker room after their coach’s speech, leaving less enthused than when they first walked in. For the second ending, the players acted as if their coach’s morose, age-inappropriate speech had, somehow, pumped them up to win the game.

“When all the cameras are on you, it makes you excited inside,” said Toby Keenan, one of the young actors.

“It’s kind of hard, too, because you have to be really, really quiet,” added Rhys Curtis, another actor.

Williams was coughing harshly when the camera wasn’t rolling. He said he was getting over a flu that he recently caught from the set of “Hawaii Five-0,” and reading lines have been counterproductive to getting his full voice back.

Williams’ rough, gravelly voice fit the character of a coach that might have just finished yelling for his team on the basketball court.

“The catch phrase of this entire scene is ‘Life isn’t fair,” Williams said, “and for the last few days, I’ve been saying it’s not fair. I’ve been working for five months to learn this [script] and get it down. And now I can’t talk. It’s not fair.”

“Halftime” was the second short produced by Whalan’s Black Ice Entertainment and Berkshire Playwrights Lab, which plans to produce a dozen shorts adapted from the playwright lab’s one-act plays.

Image: Actor Treat Williams talks with the kids on the set of “Halftime” at the Berkshire School on Monday. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

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