Monday, May 15, 2017

Hanging with Alison Arngrim at Dragonfly Film Festival

Last weekend was the first annual Port Orchard (WA) Dragonfly Cinema Film Festival. It was awesome! They have stated that they plan for a second one next year. I went to a film festival, and ended up getting to hang out all weekend with local director and friend Kelly Hughes and actor Alison Arngrim (Nellie Oleson on the TV show, Little House on the Prairie). Alison looks quite different now in Kelly's new horror film than her younger self did on that world famous TV show.

Alison Arngrim
I've known Kelly for a couple of years now. I first met Alison last year when her character killed me in a film. My first on screen death. So I was looking forward to having a fun weekend. It turned into a fun working weekend and potential for learning and making new friends. And getting to better know the town of Port Orchard, WA.

I got my weekend pass and showed up to do nothing by enjoy the festivities. Well, thankfully, that was not what happened.

Director Kelly Hughes with actor Alison Arngrim on shoot
Friend and fellow director, Kelly Hughes invited me to a shoot he was doing early on Friday May 5, 2017 on a friend's thirty some acres out in Olalla next to Port Orchard.

Last year I had the honor and pleasure to first meet and then play a scene with Alison in one of Kelly's film, The Mephisto Box, for his company Leprechaun Productions. Parts of that film, as well as the head shot of Alison above, which I had her sign at her recent book signing at the film festival, was shot at my old house.

For fifteen years we lived on a couple of park like acres and Kelly took advantage of it while we had time. I was also previously in Kelly's short horror film, Don't Kill Grandpa Until We Strangle the Babysitter. That's me as Grandma's ghost in the trailer with my son as crew dumping fuel on the fire. What a day that was!

I've since sold that home in Suquamish, WA and moved to Bremerton, right next to Port Orchard. As always it was a good deal of fun on this new filming and I learned new things simply from being on a film production set around an experienced director.

My first time on a film set was in 1986 in Seattle. It was the set of the pilot for the TV version of the John Carpenter film, Starman, with Robert Hays. A single season sci fi series, it was an interesting day. I got onto two set locations that day (the other on Queen Anne Hill) and was befriended by the location manager. He put me right next to the 2nd unit director and camera at the Monorail at the Seattle Center. We were all there until about 3AM. Extras were all over the place off camera, just hanging out and being bored as is normal. The location manager was starting and stopping all the rides and lights in the background as the camera and director required. Nice guy. It was a busy set.

Robert Hays, with costars
It may have been even later that night that we got out of there but I wasn't leaving until I had absorbed all I could. I'm being conservative here since I don't clearly remember what time they broke for the night.  I do remember that I was exhausted. I would have been standing just to the right of the camera that took that photo above, only with the stand ins. I never got to see the lead actors.

But back to our shoot at my old house. I wish I had a cell phone back then with a camera as I have no record of that night.

Alison slashed my throat in our scene, during that, my, first ever working with a SAG/AFTRA actress. Even though I'm related to one myself. Like my brilliant and beautiful niece Brandi Nicole Wilson, my sister's daughter. But I have never actually acted in a scene with one before. It was a lot of fun and we had a great day. Alison is a funny, bright light of a professional. Because of some scheduling issues, I even got to host her for the night at my house.

I showed up this past weekend just to help out as I have many times on Kelly's shoots. But I got wrangled into a speaking part (yay!) in his film from which Kelly said he saw some real acting from me (Yay, finally! Progress!).

See, I never wanted to be in front of the camera, just behind the scenes as writer, producer, perhaps director. Indeed, I have resurrected my old production company from the early 90s (Last good Nerve Productions) which produced one of only two 25th anniversary documentaries of the 1960s TV show, Lost in Space. The other was by an Australian production company.

My current and first new small horror film project, The Rapping (no, not Rap music, think, Edgar Allan Poe), will be much higher production values and is using much better equipment. And, it has Alison as The Narrator, an awesome win for our first project.

We shot Kelly's latest project, a continuation of his Mephisto Box project, in the woods. I had read my lines, but hadn't had time to read the script, so what I saw being shot in the woods was pretty unusual. To say the least. There was a lot of work, and laughter, as usual.
Actor Jennifer True after losing an eye to Alison's character
Aside from my scene, five guys around a  fire in a kind of guy's anti adultery support group, I shot footage for a behind the scenes piece, something Kelly has been lacking. Also, I shot some footage in such a way that could garner me some 2nd unit IMDB credits. Racking these credits up!

Me on left shooting, Kelly back to camera - photo by Stan Wankowski
After we shot for the day, and we were running late to get to the film festival, we headed into Port Orchard. I for one was beat and headed home for the day, only to return on Saturday.

JZ Murdock, Ernie (thanks for photo) and Alison Arngrim in Port Orchard
I showed up on Saturday in a hooded sweatshirt and a black leather jacket, thinking (mistakenly) that I could just watch films and take it easy. Instead I ended up (happily) as Kelly's assistant and Alison's support team. It was an experience.

Alison and "King" Louie
We went to the opening of the season" for the local museums and Alison cut the ribbon. The Mayor of Port Orchard was even there. A log cabin museum, another called the Snider Museum which is situated in an old Freemason's Lodge. I am a Mason myself as was my Grandfather who was also a Shriner.
Louie and Allison at Sidney Museum in period costume
I made new friends, got to see two museums in Port Orchard, met "King" Louie who runs a couple of museums and is a photographer in his own right. Also met filmmakers and got to see Alison do her show. She was brilliant.
Screen 2 at Dragonfly Cinema Film Festival
35mm print of Rocky Horror Picture Show - Dragonfly Cinema
As I told her at one point, the more I get to know her, the more impressed with her I am. She is one huge bundle of professional and talent in a rather small package. After her show (I highly recommend seeing her do this if you ever get the opportunity), we held a book signing for her at the next door Bay Street Bistro.
Alison Arngrim book signing with fan and actor Ernie
Alison at book signing at Port Orchard Bay Street Bistro
How to sum up the weekend?

That's difficult. I made some great new friends. Got to know Alison better, more impressed with her at every new encounter. And I heard some amazing stories (like the William Shatner one if no other, and learned about "shipers" (relationshipers who wish characters in shows would get together, if not the actors themselves), and really, just so much more. Yeah, I'm not getting into that mess....

Film festivals are a lot of fun. Especially when you get to meet new and interesting people and see such creativity played out before you. Get out, check out, support your local creative community, if you're so inclined. Because if you wait you're really just keeping yourself from a good deal of what makes life so great to live in. And in these times, can't we all really use a healthy does of that?

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