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Written on April 4th, 2012 , Performing, The Business of Art Tags:

Part of a promo pic!

This week I have decided to sing the praises of doing something crazy and seemingly beyond reach for the love of doing it. And somehow making it work out.

A couple years ago was a particularly stressful time in my life, and I wanted more than anything to be in an action-adventure film, to play a part in a movie where, after the going got tough, my character found a way to save her damn self instead of being rescued. Preferably after an awesome fight sequence. Yeah, and I’d also like a pony and world peace, right?

My awesome husband, a photographer and videographer, said, “Why don’t we make our own?”  So we did! Part One of “Last Stand at Sunset Pass” will be released on YouTube on Monday, April 9th, 2012 (here’s the link to the trailer I encourage you to ‘do it yourself’ as well. Below is a rough of our how-we-did-it to use as a road map. 


Lights, Camera, Action!

We started with a list of needs and a list of cheap (or free) solutions.


We decided to shoot the entire thing outdoors, except for a fireplace scene (because we have a fireplace, and found some free fake brick from a set (try your local or even Equity Theatre after a show—you’d be amazed what get’s thrown out!).


My husband had a digital video camera, and our then-college-aged daughter had a friend with a mini DV camera as well. Both my husband and daughter had done substantial film editing. If your family members/friends do not have experience in this capacity, most high schools have a media program with students very able and interested. High School students in media arts have more time than college students in media arts! 

Zoe stars in Las Stand at Sunset Pass


Our original thought was to offer the project up as a week-long workshop, which I still think could work, with less-experienced performers having acting classes in the morning and shooting in the afternoon. Ultimately, we decided it would be too much preplanning and probably not enough interest, so we ended up just putting out the 4 shoot dates in emails and facebook announcements to friends, found out who be available on which days, and designed the plot and cast accordingly. Most available performers were female, so I had to come up with a reason why that would be true (we decided there was a war, and the men had all been conscripted).

Knowing we had no budget, we made sure to suit the project to what was accomplish-able in terms of production values. We set out to:

                     * create a process-oriented project

                     * make a fun B-movie film, and release it as a web-serial

                     * embrace ‘sincere but stylized’, in the way one now enjoys Louis                               L’Amour

                     * set the time/place in an alternate history so we could have modern cloth, but no modern weapons or technology. We       costumed characters with a loose “future/past” concept.

We prepped, location hunted, and structured a loose plot and scene sequence over approximately 3 weeks prior to the shoot. The cast list continued to be extremely fluid, so I decided to rely on improvisation.

We decided our one big expense was that we would feed people often and well, so I cooked a lot n advance, and also pre-ordered some stuff from local fooderies.

And…we’re on!


We had set aside four days in which to shoot, the idea being to get to location, set-up, run each section, and shoot it, go home and watch.

Luckily, the actors were all in for the whole shebang, and ended up having fun also holding booms, toting props, helping create the set, climbing trees, learning sword fights, and running the B-roll camera. Although this sounds highly stressful (and I don’t deny that it was), it was also HUGELY fun. The process of problem solving the text, props, plot, and shot requirements became a real adventure for all of us, and in many ways, the highlight of the whole thing.

On our final day, the day we had set for the giant final fight sequence (which had been the only heavily rehearsed stuff), it poured. Absolutely POURED. We couldn’t reschedule, so we set-up make-shift umbrella/tarps for the cameras, made a big fire in the fireplace, and counted on just getting soaking wet.

Somehow, this was the most fun day. 

Chicks ponder their fate.....



Delightfully, most of the high school and college students that were involved have gone on to futures/careers in arts and narrative!

I got to climb trees, run for my life, jump off a 35 foot bridge and swim away from the bad guys, and then solve my problems by hitting bad men with large swords (very satisfying).

My husband, whose shorts have been largely commercial or non-fiction, got the chance to test-drive some production and shooting concepts for fiction in a low-stakes environment.

Finally, we had found a way to include both our aging dogs in the film—Zoe, now almost 15 and a little creaky and nearly deaf, and Bandit, who died of cancer 8 months after we shot the film. I treasure the only instance I have of them on film, captured being so thoroughly themselves. In “Last Stand at Sunset Pass” Bandit will forever joyously romp through the fields, and Zoe will meander about, looking for treats.

It’s all very very doable, and doable at nearly no cost but time. So choose a ‘slow month’, dream your dream B-movie style, and HAVE FUN.

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