A Man Full of Trouble

Film and preservation often work hand in hand. Mad Men brought renewed interest to Mid-Century Modern. Downton Abbey helped save Highclere Castle and other English estates.  Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby has already inspired countless Art Deco retrospectives and it hasn’t even opened yet!  And right now in Philadelphia, a local film student is using his thesis project to marry comedy, history and preservation.

Writer/director and Temple University student Michael Johnston’s dark comedy about a suicidal Alexander Hamilton re-enactor not only promises to be a wickedly funny and clever indie short, but it is making strides toward preserving a Philadelphia landmark, The Woodlands Historic Mansion, Cemetery and Landscape.

test shoot

A still from a test shoot at The Woodlands. Image via A Man Full of Trouble

A Man Full of Trouble explores the life of Alexander Hamilton, Founding Father and part of the first American sex scandal, through the eyes of Nick Crane, a career Hamilton impersonator who is cut from the Constitutional Convention re-enactment because he berates tourists who misidentify him (which is often in a city dominated by Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson), and he attacks his fellow impersonators when they stray from the facts! Nick soon finds comfort in a beautiful woman with an  Alexander Hamilton fetish and unknowingly re-enacts Hamilton’s infamous  sex scandal .

Johnston says of his inspiration, “I wanted to write a film that explored and expressed Philadelphia’s history and architecture. Hamilton’s famous sex scandal with Maria Reynolds took place right down the street from my apartment. The story and the film’s visual style enable me to show off Philadelphia in a way I never could previously. The locations, interior and exterior, provide beautiful pathways (sometimes treacherous, ankle-twisting cobblestone streets) into Philadelphia’s colonial past.”


Researching at Temple University. Image via A Man Full of Trouble

The majority of the project will be filmed at The Woodlands, an elegant eighteenth-century neoclassical mansion on the west bank of the Schuylkill River.  Originally a classical villa with a two-story columned portico overlooking the waterway, it was enlarged in the style of British architects Robert and James Adam in 1786. It is perhaps the earliest full realization of the Federal style in the US.  Johnston calls it, “the perfect location for the film.”

The Woodlands is  intrinsic to the project. Not only is the film highlighting this National Historic Landmark by shooting on location but it is actively raising funds and awareness for The Woodlands ongoing restoration and preservation. It is featured prominently on the film’s website, Facebook page, and in media coverage.  Location fees are going directly toward restoration/preservation projects.  Additionally, the premiere party for A Man Full of Trouble will be held at The Woodlands and will double as a fundraiser for the historic landmark!


The Woodlands Mansion, Cemetery and Landscape. Image via Hidden City Philadelphia

The Woodlands is just one of several historic locations Johnston plans to film.  Other locations include Independence Hall, the Powel House, the Second Bank of the United States, and Society Hill. When asked about the “take away” for the film, producer David Leith Fraser remarked,  “The film examines one man’s conflict and the ending of the film will elicit different responses from different people. If I had to choose one, I would say the film asks that we study and preserve our history.”

If you’d like to support the making of this  film, visit its Indiegogo page and contribute!  After all, as Johnston says, “By supporting our film, you’re not only helping us rent our location, you’re also contributing to restoration and preservation of a gorgeous piece of architectural history.”

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