Hollywood Comes to the Valley
By Rachel Levy
Our small city of Winchester is known for the Apple Blossom Festival, Civil War battles, and Shenandoah University. But Blayne Weaver, an accomplished actor, writer and director, wants to help make our little corner of Northern Virginia become known for filmmaking as well.
With the help of Professor Paul DiFranco, Capital Arts Entertainment and Shenandoah University, Weaver is set to begin production later this week on the feature film Santa Girl, a hybrid romantic comedy – Christmas movie set on a college campus.
I recently got the chance to sit down with Weaver to talk about how this project got started and how the students of Shenandoah University will play a roles in the production.
Q: Tell me a bit about this film.
BW: Okay, well I’ll tell you about the inception of it. It’s a company called Capital Arts Entertainment out of Los Angeles that I’ve done writing for before. And they have done many movies working with Paul DiFranco; so Paul moves out here a couple of years ago, buys a home, starts working at Shenandoah and he’s still in connection with the guys who run Capital Arts and they come up with this crazy idea to make a film together at the college. So the company is financing it, the school is providing equipment and students and what not, and it’s this amalgam. They got this script and they brought me on because I’m an independent filmmaking guy, and they asked me if I think I could drop into a college and make this script become a movie and I liked the script a lot so here I am! So now we’re pulling in actors from Los Angeles and we’re pulling actors from the theater department and the acting program and trying to use all of the assets that Shenandoah has to offer to make a really fun christmas movie. Santa Girl.
Q:What’s it like trying to get actors from LA over here with all the Shenandoah students?
BW: It’s really interesting because a lot of the students that are in the film class have had a voice in who we cast. Our star is actress Jennifer Stone who is most known from Wizards of Waverly Place. Which missed my generation, but the students here have really responded to her from the very beginning so it’s super exciting to like watch her reel, and I had no idea who she was but you know I had a 20 year old assistant who’s like ‘oh she’s great, she’s awesome she was always great on that show.’ So I’ve grown to love her work based on the students responding to her. And we got Barry Bostwick who’s most famous from Rocky Horror Picture Show or Spin City. And you know he’s worked in more movies and television than I can probably count, and he’s super excited about coming down to the college. But it was nerve racking because you don’t know how they’re going to respond to being like okay it’s on a college, most of the crew are going to be students most of the talent is going to be you know students, like are you down with that? And luckily we’ve got some really cool people who are excited about the opportunity to actually educate while we’re making a movie.
Q: Being on the college aspect, how has this film different than other sets you’ve been on?
BW: That’s a good question, most ways it’s not different at all. In most independent films you have one, two, maybe four people that really know what they’re doing, and you have a lot of other people who are very green and want to know what they’re doing, they want to learn. So because there is very little money, there is very little incentive for someone to bring in a pro second camera assistant. You know, you need to spend your money on your director, photography, and anyone who wants to help becomes a camera AC so, I’ve worked on lots of independent films where the guy behind the camera knows exactly what he’s doing and the guy right next to him, not so much. You know so it’s not really that different. I think the biggest difference is that normally in the independent film world those guys desperately want to be there, you know they want a career in film at any cost and we’ll see how that works here you know because some of the students in the film class have never really been interested in movies before. I think the shoots going to be totally totally educational, super fun and something they’ll remember forever because every movie is a very distinct special experience.
Q: What positives do you see coming out of this project for the school and for yourself?
BW: For the school, I think they’ve got right now a smaller film department and already were exploding that. Like we’re bringing in equipment that the next group of students are going to be able to use, you know we’re purchasing things specifically for this film that will now be part of the film department. Plus you’re building a crew, there’s freshmen that are working on this movie, who hopefully in four years, be the head guy in whatever department they’re in. You can’t help but learn on a movie set, if you’re at all participating you’re going to learn every single day. I still learn. I always say that the learning curve is a straight up and down line. Like there’s so much to learn everyday. So the school i think is getting multiple benefits, plus it’s just when you make a movie it’s really cool when it’s over and done and you have this experience that you learned and you shared and there it is on TV, or here it is on DVD. And this is going to be one of those movies, it’s a commercial venture you know I believe it will be on TV at some point. I believe it’ll be on the shelves in Walmart and Target and the people who worked on it will be able to say “I did that” you know? For me it’s my first directing gig that I’m hired to do. Normally I’m the motor behind the movie, like I raise the money I write the script you know it’s my passion project. Here it’s a job for hire that i feel like I have the opportunity to really knock it out of the park. And if I can do something like that as a guy being hired then it just opens up my career to all kinds of things. It’s like I’d like to do more television I’d like to do more TV families you know there’s a lot of money to be made in these kind of teen, ABC family, Lifetime, Hallmark, kind of movies. I’m an artist, I want to do a job where I’m getting paid to do it and say great I did a really good job with that now I’m going to make my little weird movie that makes me happy and you know go to the film festivals with that. So if i could balance that, that would be great and I feel like this is a path towards that.
Q: Have you guys encountered any challenges so far?
BW: Oh everyday. That’s the thing about movies you never know what the days going to bring. You could start out planning and know exactly who your cast is going to be and by the end of the day you have to find somebody else. On set it’s like that too you can plan, go to the sets, you can write out shot lists, you can draw pictures of what you want it to look like and you get there and for some reason or other nothing works. The actors are uncomfortable doing it that way it’s not funny and you have to be willing to pivot. Constantly pivoting and meeting challenges.
Q:How has it been so far working with college students?
BW:Great! It’s great! The only down side I would say to working with college students here is that in the beginning they don’t know if they care or not so there’s a feeling kind of of apathy from some students because like I said they just took a film class it’s not like they spent their whole lives trying to be a filmmaker but what’s great is now everybody is getting excited and that’s what I love to see, young people who have never done this before who think it’s cool it’s not daunting it’s exciting. And that’s a thing that really helps with Jennifer Stone being in the film is that she’s the same age as the students so there’s a relativity there that I think is super cool.
Q: Anything else you want to tell us about the project?
A: I’m just super pleased to be here, like it’s Winchester charm, I’ve been in New York for the past 4 years and I just moved back to LA and getting to come here and make a movie with some really talented people and to give young actors and a young crew a chance to prove themselves and learn something, it’s very fulfilling.
Santa Girl will wrap up filming this semester while next semester will be used to do editing and adding special effects.