It’s a revelation to Cleburne resident Carolyn Britt, the dynamics behind filmmaking. She marvels at the organized chaos swirling through her living room as a small army of camera, lighting, sound and other technicians race to and fro to set up the next shot.
“Let’s go talent, come on,” Director Larry Jack Dotson said. “We’re burning daylight and we ain’t got it to burn.”
Tucked in the corner of her kitchen, trying her best to stay out of everyone’s way, Britt calls the experience of having a movie shot in her home exciting, if a bit different.
“It’s just interesting to watch them running around and moving things around,” Britt said. “And all the people, when you watch a movie you just don’t realize all the people behind the scenes and all the things that have to be done. Now I understand why they give Academy Awards to the people like cinematographers and the costumes and all.”
Cinema Cleburne style
It’s probably premature to consider erecting a Cleburne sign similar to the one in Hollywood just yet. Nonetheless, the recent arrival of Kaufman-based production company On The Porch Film marks the fifth film shot in Cleburne in the past two years.
Dotson and company chose several Cleburne locales for their short film “Amazin’ Grace,” including Wright Plaza, the Hitchin’ Post and Don and Carolyn Britt’s home among others.
“I spent the day before they came cleaning house like Jesus was coming to visit,” Carolyn Britt said with a laugh. “My husband got the easy part. All he had to do was move a couple of our trailers around to the back.”
Dotson’s friendship with Cleburne resident Jamie Dugger led to his decision to film here.
“[Dotson] and I played husband and wife in a faith-based feature length film shot in Richardson about seven years ago,” Dugger said. “He called me about this project to see if I could help and I told him I’d do what I could.”
Dotson said he initially wanted Dugger to play a small role in the film as a Sunday school teacher.
“Well, instead now I’ve ended up being production coordinator, head of wardrobe and, well, I’ll be listed as assistant producer in the credits,” Dugger said.
Dotson asked Dugger to recommend possible Cleburne locations for two or three of the film’s scenes but, upon scouting locations, decided to film the entire project here.
“Which is a filmmaker’s dream really, shooting it all in one town as far as logistics and moving equipment and actors around,” Dotson said.
Like the previous filmmakers to visit town, Dotson and other crew members said Cleburne is simply easier to shoot in than Dallas or Fort Worth, let alone Los Angeles.
Dugger, who has previous acting experience and produced several United Way promotional videos — she serves on the board of United Way of Johnson County — described “Amazin’ Grace” as the story of a girl who grows up too quickly.
“It’s emotionally charged,” Dugger said. “The funny parts are really funny and the sad parts really sad, but that’s what entertainment is for, to pull on your emotions.”
Dotson described the film as not exactly faith-based, but one with a good, positive message nonetheless.
“A girl named Grace grows up in the Texas Bible Belt without the best mother to guide her,” Dotson said. “She’s a strong girl, but she has a lot of adverse obstacles to go through.”
The film marks Dotson’s first directing gig though he’s produced/acted in 50 plus films and stage plays.
“I’ve always wanted to do a Clint Eastwood,” Dotson said, “And this may be the only time I get to do that. I actually direct, produce and even have a small role in this film.”
The finished film will run about 35 minutes, Dotson said, and be submitted to film festivals. He and Dugger both hope to arrange a Cleburne showing, and eventually turn the short into a feature-length film, Dotson said.
“We already have the script for the full-length version,” Dotson said. “My wife, Tracy, wrote the story as part of her master’s thesis, but didn’t tell me about it until it was done. I loved it, but it was written as a story. So I contacted Nathan James, a screenwriter I know. He loved it too and turned it into a screenplay.”
Monday found actresses Rheagan Wallace, who plays Grace, and Jena Waldron, billed simply as Mamma, running through several takes of a highly emotional scene shot in the Britt’s living room. Scene successfully shot, Wallace checks messages on her cellphone while Joshua hair stylist Joyce Sanchez places rollers in her hair for the next scene, a tricky bathroom shot requiring crew members to crowd sardine-like into a short hallway.
“It’s harder than most people would think [making movies],” Wallace said. “But I love it because my job is basically that I get to play. It is also a job with a business side, but you have to remind yourself sometimes that if you find a job you love, you’ll never work.”
A Grand Prairie native, Wallace is arguably the most experienced among the “Amazin’ Grace” cast, having acted since she was 4. Wallace figured California was the place she ought to be and followed her dreams west at the age of 8, landing roles on “7th Heaven,” “Malcolm in the Middle,” “ER,” “That’s So Raven” and a host of other TV shows and films.
“I was the only actress to guest star two separate times on “Malcolm,” Wallace, 25, said. “I played two different characters four years apart. But then another time I spent 2 1/2 months working with Spike Jonze on “Adaptation”, but then they decided not to do the flashback scenes and all my parts were cut from the finished film. Even that was great though, he’s one of those directors who is so in tune with actors and gives you free rein to play around.”
She’s back in Texas, for the time being.
“I missed my family and thought it was time for a change of scenery,” Wallace said. “There’s actually a lot of stuff in Texas [film wise] and I’m surprised how busy I’ve stayed. Right after this I begin filming “Bound,” which will be filmed in the DFW area. A lot of my friends in L.A. are jealous by the amount of work I’m finding [in Texas]. But I’m playing it by ear right now whether I’ll go back or not. I’m heading out there this summer just to test the waters.”
Dotson joked that his crew was on their fourth day of guerrilla film making in Cleburne.
“It’s long days,” Dotson said. “You’ve got to be flexible and shift things around. Today was supposed to be outside shots, but because of the weather we shot inside. But the crew’s been great and no one’s complained.”
Dugger called film making a hurry up and wait affair.
“I love it though,” Dugger said. “Everyone works really hard. You have a lot of collaboration going on, have to if it’s going to work and you get to meet a lot of interesting and hardworking people who want to make the best finished product they can.”
Britt said she enjoyed her and her husband’s part in the process.
“It’s exciting, something really neat for Cleburne I think,” Britt said. “Who knows? We may just make the news one of these days.”