Westport musician releases film inspired by his band with cameos from CT stars

Bypassing the big screen might not seem like the best move for a first-time filmmaker, but Westport resident Greg Naughton is no stranger to blazing his own trail.

The singer-songwriter and now actor-director-producer has achieved notable streaming success before as one third of The Sweet Remains, an independent folk-rock trio that boasts nearly 50 million plays on Spotify — all without major label representation.

So when the pandemic curtailed Naughton’s plans to wide-release his film, “The Independents” — based loosely on his experiences with the band — it seemed like just another hurdle to overcome in pursuing his art.

“At this particular moment, people have run through all their Netflix shows and all the TV shows that they like and are looking for something fun and light,” he said of his decision to release the film to on-demand services rather than wait for an opportunity to tour with the band in support of the film.

“The Independents” is a “fantastical telling” of the band’s formation, and viewers from Westport and Weston will recognize some easter eggs of their own hometowns within the film’s road trip, Odyssey-like backdrop, Naughton said.

The band drives across the Sauguatuck River bridge in Westport, for instance, and around Naughton’s neighborhood in the Saugatuck area of Westport. In one scene, the Weston Historical Society is “refashioned as the Goshen Inn” for a story line that has the band stop “out in the middle of nowhere” for “a hootenanny” of a live music night in which Chris Sullivan (of television’s “This is Us”) is playing, Naughton said.

Naughon and his bandmates, Rich Price and Brian Chartrand, play versions of themselves in the film, which hits upon the struggles of musicians to find a lucrative niche and pursue their passions amid the “digital revolution” that’s devalued the industry, Naughton said.

“The reason we call ourselves The Sweet Remains is as solo artists, we all had these moments when there was maybe this big record deal, maybe this great opportunity, these great hopeful moments that sort of fell apart, and in the ashes of that, we met (bandmate) Brian (Chartrand), and it kind of rekindled our passion and dream of making music,” Naughton said.

In addition to starring the three bandmates — as well as cameos by Naughton’s father, Weston resident and two-time Tony Award-winning actor and director James Naughton, who plays a policeman in the “Goshen Inn” scene; Naughton’s wife, Tony Award-winner Kelli O’Hara; and their daughter, Keira — “The Independents” also features Tony Award-nominated Richard Kind. The Broadway, film and television actor accepted the role sight-unseen, Naughton said of the part he wrote with Kind in mind.

“He said, ‘Greg, I’m not even going to read it, I’m in,’ which was really gracious of him,” Naughton said. “It’s not a huge role, but he has this big impact, and he’s a character that gets talked about throughout the whole thing, so he has that level of charisma and impact.”

“The Independents” debuted at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival in 2018 and was shown at other film festivals that year, but this is its first wide release and Naughton’s first experience in screenwriting.

“I really so much enjoyed writing this script, and it was something that I just started writing,” he said. “On the side of my desk I would write little scenes about the adventures that Rich, Greg and Brian might have, but I’ve had to really figure out and edit and sculpt that down into a screenplay. That process really lit a fire.”

Looking forward, Naughton said the pandemic has offered him a chance to pen three more scripts while the band waits out COVID-19, and he hopes to tour again this fall.

“It’s just what it is, but hopefully in this moment, this little film of ours can get a little bit of a live music feel and vibe to all of the folks who really can’t get to go and see it right now,” he said.

“The Independents” will celebrate its release with a virtual “watch party” through indiegogo March 3 featuring a Q&A hosted by Chris Sullivan. The film also is hosted through on-demand portals Angelika Anywhere and Laemmle and will be available on Optimum Video On Demand starting March 9.

awinchester@bcnnew.com