Lights, camera, action!


— It might have never been done before: The filming of a feature-length movie with actors and a crew (except for the director and producer) all under the age of 20. All were from the Yampa Valley and the film was shot completely in and around Steamboat Springs.

It was a tight budget, time was limited and no one had ever filmed a movie before.

Possibly an example of what the filming last month was like was represented in shooting one particular scene.

It was 6 a.m. and well into the 15 days of round-the-clock shooting of the film, called "Eddie's Tree House." The crew had worked all night, but this was a crucial scene that had to be shot that day.

The scene showed Portia Payton (played by Mari Mack), a teen sensation pop star, arriving at the home in Steamboat Springs where she will get away from it all and try to blend into the mountain culture. Her agent, Jane (Jody Feeley), was figuring out why Portia had chosen the in-the-middle-of-nowhere city to live in.

"It's 6 in the morning and no one knows what was going on," recalled Joe Oakland, who is an editor of the movie. "But we're going to shoot it anyways and I hope it looks good."

Oakland and the crew had shot all night, and at 4 a.m. they retired for a bit while the actors and director Shane Gilbert could block Portia's scene. Two hours later, the crew members were near comatose but on their feet and ready to shoot because there was no time to sleep. One of the cameras they used that day was on loan from a friend who was leaving for Europe the next day.

Plus, there is no getting behind in this low-budget film. They planned for 15 days of shooting, and that's what they were going to do.

"We do only have 15 days," producer T.C. Johnstone said. "The reality is that people were leaving (Steamboat) at the end of the 15 days."

The scene was finished, and Oakland admitted it wasn't exactly what he wanted.

"But I looked at it (afterward) and it looked good," he said.

When shooting ended on June 25, the crew got about 35 hours of footage for the film, shot not in sequence, as well as 15 hours of tape for documentary film that is accompanying the movie. They won't know if they have something until everything is looked at. If they have good footage, then it's just piecing the puzzle together.

"We are still 10 tapes away from saying we are feeling good about it," Johnstone said.

The film "Eddie's Tree House" actually is recent Steamboat Springs High School graduate and future Denver Art Academy student Ryan Scheer's senior project for his modern literature class. He originally wanted to do a music video, then that turned into a short movie. Then he and friend Johnstone, who owns Gratis 7 Productions, figured if they were going to spend all the time doing a short, they might as well make a feature-length film and submit it to film festivals.

"We figured that anyone who had a remote interest in film could join and it would look good on a resume for college," said Scheer, who will study film in college this fall.

After months of planning and looking for a script, Johnstone decided it would be easier to write his own story, specific for Steamboat Springs something he has never done before.

"I figured out what tab meant and got some cheesy character names and went with it," he said.

The story is about a famous pop star coming to Steamboat Springs and falling in love with a cowboy, played by Scheer.

Johnstone sent it off to friend and director Gilbert in California, who edited it and agreed to come out and direct the movie this summer.

As it turned out, Scheer's hunch that people would want to help was right, in a big way. High school students came out of the woodwork to act, edit, do the lighting, run for food, pick costumes, be on the crew, play extras and do anything else that needed done.

In all, about 40 people volunteered, with a core 20 teen-agers coming every day of the shoot some of which lasted 15 hours.

Johnstone, who also was once the director of Young Life in Steamboat Springs, said the experience is an example of how teen-agers, who are often stereotyped as lazy, can be passionate about their dreams if they are given ownership of a project that will accomplish those dreams.

That's what the documentary movie is about, he said.

It shows how teens who have drive can accomplish great things.

They not only finished what they set out to do (or are at least close to finishing it), the crew also showed some responsibility over an incredible amount of charity the community showed to help make the movie possible.

"Some people gave us the keys to a multimillion-dollar home and said it sleeps 14, it's all yours," Johnstone said.

Many scenes were filmed in the house, which the crew stayed in for hours on end.

Johnny B. Good's handed the young filmmakers the keys to their restaurant for a night. They also were blessed with the use of a $7 million private jet, a helicopter for aerial shoots, a new $40,000 Ford truck, clothes from Kali's Boutique, a ranch with full use of the horses and tack, an equipment trailer and a white BMW.

Everything was donated by local residents, something that greatly helped establish the validity of the film. "Eddie's Tree House" was made with less than $4,000 of donated money, but adding up all equipment and time in houses, cars, planes and helicopters donated, it probably would have cost $100,000.

Though all the help from the community was greatly appreciated, it also set up the group for a potential failure.

"Things just started lining up, and that's when it got scary," Johnstone said.

Think of more than 20 teen-agers in someone's second home that sleeps 14 for an extended period of time.

But under Johnstone and Gilbert's direction, the only people older than 20 in the crew, everything was cool.

"It was incredible how professionally each kid approached this," Scheer said.

Scheer and the crew hope the result is a film that will be good enough to enter the Sundance Film Festival and the Telluride Film Festival, which were the goals of the filmmakers.

Before that, they want to premier the film in Steamboat Springs during Thanksgiving or Christmas.

Eventually they hope to have the feature film and the documentary come out on DVD and possibly be used by other high school students interested in making movies.

And this may not be the end of making movies in Steamboat Springs.

"We're going to do it again next year, there is no question," Johnstone said. "We are already in the process of looking for another script."


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