by Christine Autrand Mitchell
It’s strange how things happen, but it seems that sometimes they’re just meant to be. Through a friend I was approached in early December to produce a series of short films through a non-profit outreach program called Hopes and Dreams Project. They work with children in crisis: Those of active military, those critically ill, homeless and those of first responders. This was impossible to pass up—to help children. Hopes and Dreams sprang out of Jerry Payne’s United States Entertainment Force, working with veterans in events such as the annual September Stand-Down.
This first project, a short called Build a Better Fastball, was written by Matt Otstot, a local actor, writer and news anchor. It’s about a major league pitcher in a slump and how a “crisis child” has the solution. Yes, it’s “feel good” and has its drama as well, both behind and in front of the camera. It includes critically ill children and two boys whose father has twice served overseas and earned two Purple Hearts.
The outreach program lasts about four weeks and includes workshops, photo session, counseling and a great opportunity to use the arts—film in this unique case—to pull kids out of their stressful situations and offer them a creative, fun and adventuresome outlet.
The remainder of the cast includes local kids and teens who auditioned, and the adults are volunteering actors you may well know from local television, theater and film (lucky I’m a casting director). The crew, as well, is volunteering and is a truly amazing group of folks who have stepped forward with their expertise and equipment.
For example, we have Joy Quigley, President/Festival Director of Fresno Filmworks, as Director of Photography (DP) and Co-Director with me; Matt Crum of Justified Media is editing the short film and donating equipment; Lisa Vialpando is Key Makeup and Hair, with years of commercial and film experience; Paul Best and Peter McCandless are donating equipment and will be camera operators; Production Designer is Gia Biglione. Many of us wear multiple hats on small productions like these, as I’ve written here in the past.
This project can be seen as a true independent production—no budget. Funding is critical for future projects of Hopes and Dreams and the group is seeking donations, find out how you can help on their website. It makes this film a little different, although most local filmmakers are used to working on colleagues’ films for “free”.
A short film takes as much preparation as a feature, if you want to do it right. Since we had a script, we moved on to secure crew and cast. Because the film benefits children, it was fairly easy to find both, for which we are so grateful. Aside from the Directors and DP, we have an AD (Assistant Director), two camera operators and their ACs (camera assistants), Gaffer and Grips, Sound Engineer, Production Designer, Makeup and Hair, CG (even that!), and a partnership with the Grizzlies so we’ll be filming at Chukchansi Park the last weekend in January.
We had a table read, acting workshops and are still in rehearsals, a few more than are common for film because we are working with children new to camera or new to acting entirely. Their improvisational abilities have been the most fun and surprising.
At the same time we did location scouting, built databases, searched for props and sorted through a million details, began the meals process (donated and volunteered), secured crew and equipment, wrote articles, and ran into roadblocks we quickly overcame with full determination. That is the key to independent filmmaking: Determination, or is it stubbornness? Seriously, though, it is a fantastic team effort.
We then moved on to scheduling, which is trickier than it sounds. We are most dependent on weather in January as we’re outdoors. We schedule down to the minute because we have two short days to film, only during daylight and with children who have their time limits. That is where we are to date.
We still need extras for the baseball game for January 30th at 1:30 pm at Chukchansi, if you’d like to contribute to the Hopes and Dreams Project by being extras.
Next time I’ll tell you about the shoot.
Questions? Contact Christine at Christine@EntandemProd.com