by Leah Draffen, photos by Candra George
SITTING ON THE BANK of the Tchefuncte River with coffee in hand, a young group of four—Shane McGoey, Eric Winder Sella, Harrison Huffman and Kyle Wiedemann—were happy to talk about their first independent film, People.
Two of the four are northshore natives and longtime friends, making the link to “Hollywood South” a natural. Shane, the director and writer of the movie, is from Covington; Kyle from Mandeville. “I’ve seen some of Kyle’s high school films,” laughs Eric. “Kyle and Shane made movies in their backyard growing up.”
“Yeah, we had some good ones. The best probably being the haunted convent where I starred as an investigator,” Kyle jokes. “My mom would have really loved that one.”
Eric is from Shreveport, and Harrison from Houston. Shane and Harrison were always film-focused, while Eric and Kyle are actually lawyers dabbling in movie-making. The comradery and collaboration is evident when talking to the group; thoughts and ideas bounce from one to another.
Now adults, the group technically made a movie in their backyard again—New Orleans. Across the lake and on the northshore, the movie industry flourishes as “Hollywood South,” but the project that drew the four together was a failure. “Our original collaboration was for a movie called Reptiles, to be set in Madisonville,” says Kyle. “Pre-production started, we lost an investor or two and things just kept failing.”
“We had a meeting and decided the most important issue was that we just didn’t like the movie,” Eric laughs.
Shane and the guys decided to make a “tactical retreat” to regroup and decide how they wanted to move forward. The summer came and so did a new script. Shane wrote a comedy based around the failure of the first movie. “The first movie was melodramatic and a bit sentimental. The new movie fits our tone. It’s not very serious and a lot more jaded,” explains Shane.
“When Shane sent us the script for People, it was better, shorter and easier to shoot. We all thought, ‘let’s do it,’” Harrison says.
While some thought it might be easier to give the investors their money back and disappear, the group didn’t allow that to happen. Key to the new plan, though, was the idea of not using large production companies. They decided to make a really independent movie. In only nine days, the script was completed, with minimal changes. One of the lessons they learned from Reptiles was that time is money in the film business.
“The positive from Reptiles was that we identified what was costing the most money and how to produce the movie more efficiently,” Eric says. “Being flexible, tapping whatever resources we could, we decided to avoid traditional funding sources. We believed we could do it.”
And they did.
“What we were able to do would never happen in Los Angeles,” Harrison says. “Here in Louisiana, everyone is willing to make things happen and help.”
Once the script was complete, everyone that read it was excited to join until they learned it was going to be shot entirely in six days. A daunting schedule, yes, but remember, time is money. Sometimes doing what you have to do because there is no back up plan brings out the best in everyone. In just six days, with relatively no money and shooting only at night, the crew managed to complete the film.
With the amount of planning and prep work we put into it, the problems that arose were relatively minor,” Eric explains. “I also think that we were so committed at that point that nothing was going to stop us.”
At least 19 pages of the script were filmed per night. That is almost unheard of. “We had a specific shot list with no flexibility of shooting in 15 different angles,” says Harrison. “Any scene is difficult, but the biggest challenge was that we had to cut all the fat. Without the luxury of time, we were only able to shoot what we outlined on the shot list. Most big films shoot a fraction of a page a day and capture it in multiple ways to be able to construct a completely different movie if they decide to. Fate was in our favor, because it could have gone wrong in so many ways.”
The finished product is a dark comedy filmed in six vignettes. Each features characters who wrestle with each other, emotionally and some physically, in order to gain control of their own perceptions of the world around them. The vignettes provoke a range of strong emotions in drastically contrasting scenes that fold together in a compelling way.
A loaded cast of seasoned and debut actors mix to make the movie what it is—a play on people and ultimately, the film industry. The cast includes Dino Dos Santos, Rane Jameson, Christine Lekas, Mustafa Harris, Allen Frederic and more. One cast member happens to be the grammar school principal of the director.
“Most of the parts were written with specific actors in mind,” says Shane. “We even had the characters using their real names until most of them realized they could change it. In fact, the only one that kept his name was Dino. Can you blame him?
“Rane Jameson was actually going to be the star of Reptiles. Once it failed and People started, I called him and said, ‘Hey, we aren’t doing that movie anymore, but I have a part for you in this one.’ He ended up, in my opinion, with one of the best performances in the movie.”
The talented crew, like the cast, was obtained easily, because the film was shot in July when most productions are in off-season. “It’s a slow time for the industry, so we were able to get some highly talented people on board,” Harrison smiles. “And also, once people read it and saw how pumped up we were about it, they were all in.”
In assembling the crew, Harrison got people who knew what they were doing, but also gave them a step up in position. “We gave people the opportunity to have total creative freedom with very little oversight. Whether it was the sound or the art department, they knew what they were doing. They didn’t need us to tell them. Our job was to make it run as smoothly as possible—allowing them to create comfortably.”
Creativity is exactly what made this movie possible. And the love for it. “In Louisiana, it’s much more about the artist,” says Eric. “That’s a big theme in the movie, because in L.A., you can’t write anything without it being changed by the people with the money. It’s a business. But here, there are still people who are willing to let artists make art.”
“I think Louisiana film-makers want to see the more creative side brought here, both pre- and post-production, as well as the stories being developed here,” Kyle says.
“Everyone was so accommodating. Whether it was the crew or transportation, or the rent houses or Kelli Bingham at Cineverse,” says Harrison. “There were a number of people who helped the process along.”
“This could have only happened in New Orleans,” laughs Eric. “The beauty of it is that everyone is only 1-degree separated. If you need help from a specific person, there’s more than likely someone you know who knows them. However, I also think we’re at the start of something much bigger for the creatives here in Louisiana.”
While People is less scaly than Reptiles, Kyle and the others appreciate how the process began. “You have to fail,” Kyle notes. “That is part of our story now. And even better, People turned out to look so much like what I pictured when I first read it.”
Through the experience, the four of them have learned a lot about people and film making. The first note being, “film is a pain the ass,” says Shane. Now that it is finished, they are submitting the film to festivals in hopes of it being bought.
“What we just did was the most fun that none of us ever want to have again,” laughs Eric.
Follow People’s story at facebook.com/peoplefilm.