Having just retired after a successful 30-year career in the television industry, Bob Gilbert — producer of “Ask Bob” and “Let’s Talk” and vice president and general manager of WABU-TV Boston — had plans, which included travel, fun with friends and working on the fixer-upper he and wife Susan Scannell Gilbert recently had purchased in Hopkinton.
Two weeks later, COVID struck … and plans changed.
“Everything just shut down, you know? And I got bored pretty quickly,” Bob said.
So, he decided to focus on his lifetime ambition and write a screenplay.
“I knew it was going to be kind of campy — and kind of stupid,” he confessed with a chuckle.
After finalizing the script for “Atomic Poop” — which Bob described as “a romantic comedy, and in the middle of all the normal problems that romance has, aliens invade Earth!” — he and Susan set about production.
With Bob’s broadcasting experience and Susan’s acting career (including roles in TV shows “Dynasty,” “Remington Steele,” “The A-Team” and “Ryan’s Hope”), they were confident in their abilities. They bought and learned to use a 4K camera and sound equipment and shot the footage themselves. Susan handled casting and costumes and did the directing. Bob was in charge of writing and photography as well as scheduling.
“At first we were going to call it ‘The Cheapest Movie Ever Made,’ ” he said jokingly. Financing it with their own savings, they used their still-empty house as a movie set and tapped local drama students to provide the talent.
Even with their combined background, “making this movie was like going to college!” said Bob. “We learned so much — good things and bad things.”
For example, he shared, a movie is legally required to have closed captioning before it can be made available for audience viewing. Also, network outlets won’t deal with filmmakers directly; an agent is required.
In addition to those hurdles, unforeseen challenges arose (“COVID was probably the least of them!” Bob remarked), particularly when their leading man quit midway through filming. Not wanting to scrap and reshoot everything they’d already filmed, they had to “get creative” to explain the replacement actor: “He goes into a spaceship and is hit with an ‘alien transformation ring,’ ” Bob said with a laugh.
Despite the obstacles, they persevered, and “so many really nice people helped us,” he noted gratefully. One friend gave them a monitor, and another edited the footage. Hopkinton Center for the Arts and local businesses Murphy’s Eats & Treats in Ashland and Weston Nurseries allowed them to use their properties for filming.
When production finally was complete, it was time to get the movie on the air.
“Another really nice guy I talked to from New Jersey directed us to FilmHub,” Bob said. “They have some basic technical requirements — length of the film, closed captioning — but then you can just load it up. You don’t need a middleman; the distributors are unnecessary.”
The Gilberts took his advice and sent the movie to FilmHub. “Atomic Poop” now is available on Tubi, a free-to-download streaming app.
“I can’t tell you what a thrill it was to see it come up! It just made our little movie real,” he recalled. “We were so proud to be able to tell the talent that they could call their mothers and tell them to watch.”
Bob again expressed gratitude to all those who contributed to the project and declared, “None of this would have been possible without the help of my amazing, lovely wife!”
He also credits his relentless determination.
“So many people were telling us we couldn’t do it — ‘It’s too expensive, too hard, too much work.’ … They basically told us it was impossible, you know?” he said. “But I just don’t give up! That’s my message to people with their lifetime ambition: Don’t give up.”