Peter Facinelli faced a big problem as the co-director and producer of the film “On Fire.” He and co-director Nick Lyon needed to find a way to get across the raging dangers of a forest fire that threatens a family without being able to set anything on fire where they were filming.
“We didn’t have any practical fire on the set,” Facinelli says. “We had a movie about a wildfire, and we were in a forest. You aren’t even allowed to have a fire in the forest.
“To Nick Lyon’s credit, he brought a lot of techniques from other films that he has done. Action films with a lower budget. When he told me all we had was a lighting package and smoke, as an actor I just hoped the CGI looked good.”
Lyon and Facinelli worked with the CGI department for nine months to insert all the burning images into the film. The computer trickery worked, and the film inspired by true events was completed.
Facinelli not only worked behind the scenes on the production, but he plays the working class father who must find a way to protect his family from the devastating wildfires that are ripping through the surrounding countryside. He must flee with his son (Asher Angel) and pregnant wife (Fiona Dourif) if they have any hope of surviving.
Because the film deals with a family dealing with their own personal problems while having to deal with a natural disaster, “On Fire” could be looked at as a family drama, a cautionary tale or a horror film.
Facinelli sees “On Fire” as being a little bit of each one of those movie genres.
“It’s a very horrific theme to be in this environment where the fire comes to your doorstep. So, there is a horror element there,” Facinelli says. “It’s a cautionary tale for sure.
“And then there is the family survival drama.”
When Facinelli read the script for the first time, he knew that it would resonate with a lot of people because of all of the massive fires that are in the news. He knew that the relationship between father, son and mother would also give the production a very intimate feel.
Facinelli recognizes these kinds of elements in scripts because he has been working on television and in film for more than three decades. He is best known for playing patriarch Dr. Carlisle Cullen in the “Twilight” movies. But he has also appeared in close to 100 projects including “Nurse Jackie,” “Supergirl,” “Glee” and “Finding Amanda.”
He also has established himself as a director and producer. Facinelli made his debut as a director in 2018 with the indie film “Breaking and Exiting,” starring Jordan Danger and Milo Gibson. His second directorial feature. “The Vanished,” was a psychological thriller he also starred in and wrote.
In the case of “On Fire,” Facinelli goes for the creative hat trick as the star, co-director and producer. In a production where three different people wear those hats, there is always someone to settle an argument if the other two have a dispute.
Facinelli jokes that there were times when you would see him off in a corner arguing with himself. He was willing to handle all those duties to be able to keep his hand in directing. He will never give up acting because no matter which side of the lens he is on, it all comes down to each job being part of the storytelling process.
“I like to consider myself a storyteller,” Facinelli says. “It all depends on what that story is as to what I will be doing. If the best place I can service the project is as an actor, I will do that. If it is as a director, I will do that.”
He actually had signed on to only star in “On Fire” but when Lyon contracted COVID, Facinelli stepped in to handle the directing duties.
“On Fire” is the first time Facinelli got to play just an average guy. He liked that his character was under a great amount of stress because of his wife being close to giving birth and his older son getting ready to leave for college. Toss in a sick father for his character and the role gave Facinelli a variety of textures to play.
“I wanted him to be relatable. I wanted him to be just a dad,” Facinelli says. “When you look at $50 million versions of this kind of film, you have these dads who are hanging off a building and saying, “I’m going to get my family to safety.’
“What I enjoyed most about this character was that he was just trying to do the best that he could.”
Facinelli’s work can be seen in “On Fire” that is currently playing at the Reading Cinemas.