BEHIND THE SCENES OF “FULL CIRCLE”
Written by Karla S. Bryant | Photography by Peter Langeness
It may be the only time someone at the Déjà Vu Martini Lounge in Appleton, WI was in conversation with another person when the words that popped into their head were, “This may be the priest I’ve been looking for.”
But that’s what happened when I was talking with actor, producer, and broadcaster Rex Sikes. My short story, “Full Circle,” had recently been published in a literary quarterly. The film production company I’m involved with, Madison-based Living Storm Productions, was planning on adapting it as a short film. Jeff Blankenship, who had been directing films for them, was on board from the start to direct it.
But there was one thing that worried all of us to varying degrees: whoever played the lead character of Fr. Kmichik would have to carry the film. Its success, to some degree, would depend on who was cast in the role. There were a few people in mind and we knew we’d hold auditions, of course. But at the moment, a number of Living Storm Productions members were at the Déjà Vu Lounge after-party for the Wildwood Film Festival, where their film, Freud (also directed by Blankenship), had been an “Official Participant.”
As I sipped my neon blue martini, I listened more closely as Rex talked. In my mind, he was already wearing a priest’s collar and making the no-nonsense, yet empathetic character come to life. I knew the casting decision wouldn’t be up to me, the writer. Still, a writer knows the characters she’s written better than anyone else.
But, that’s in the middle of the process of my story becoming a film. I’d initially meant to write “Full Circle” as a traditional ghost story. But, as the story and characters developed, it turned into something else. It turned into a story focused on forgiveness and redemption, not necessarily in the strictly religious sense, but still on a deeply spiritual level. In fact, in the story, the spiritual world behaves like an attention-seeking toddler… moving objects and throwing things and making noises to catch the attention of those currently living. Or, at least, the attention of one person currently living. I firmly believe that the truth always has a way of fighting its way to the surface. That, perhaps, is at the core of the story.
Just before moving to Madison last September, I received word that “Full Circle” had been accepted for publication in Dappled Things, a literary quarterly. I knew it was primarily a visual story and, with one short story already optioned by a film studio, I thought this one would also work well in a film adaptation. Things began to dovetail. Not everyone is aware that I went to high school with Blankenship in Eagle River, WI. The shy guy who sat next to me in American Lit and Drama class noticed on Facebook that I did some screenwriting and was moving to Madison. He had lived in the area for some time and was directing films for Living Storm Productions. He suggested I meet some people from the group.
Thirty-some years since we’d last seen each other, Jeff and I met and spoke about “Full Circle.” He was very interested in the story and he told me he’d love to take it on. As a director, Jeff wanted to know more and more about the characters’ back stories and motivations and, over the fall, we spent hours in discussion over it. Finally, he was satisfied that it all pieced together for him in a way that he could now envision just how the film would feel and look.
By spring, because of the unique situation I was in as a new member of Living Storm Productions, I was fortunate to sit in on the auditions. For the first time I heard strangers speak the words I’d written for characters whom had been my imaginary friends for months. As different actors auditioned for the roles, I was fascinated by the varied interpretations of the characters. Really? I wondered. The paralegal had that kind of a personality? Well, she could and it could actually make her a more interesting character. It is eye-opening and humbling to see your characters develop beyond your own imagination.
We had a number of video submissions as well. One actress, Joette Waters, was so convincing as the elderly Helen Waldowksi that when we were making arrangements for her to take the bus from Chicago, I cautioned it shouldn’t be too late in the evening because of her age. Glancing then at her head shot, I was shocked she wasn’t elderly at all, just a very talented actress who had excellent make-up on for her audition tape. Yes, she got the role. We were fortunate to find gifted actors and actresses for all the supporting roles.
And then came the auditions for Fr. Kmichik, the lead actor. In spite of my instinct about Rex Sikes being the man for the role, I tried to keep my mind open. In particular, there was another wonderful actor who auditioned, but he was much better suited for a role as an Anglican vicar in a BBC drama. Fr. Kmichik, the main character, is a Polish-American, earthy priest with a strong insight into people. Not a priest who would be troubled by protocol or talk about the weather. Not a priest who would be frightened by something unexplained, but a man who would take on the challenge to find the reason behind supernatural events.
When Rex auditioned via Skype, we ended up with one technical problem after another. Jeff’s audio didn’t work. At one point, he had to communicate with hastily written Post-It notes held up to the screen. Rex had a difficult time hearing me. Fortunately, we had no problem hearing or seeing him. Still, it was frustrating and distracting for everyone. Just as we were wondering if we should set something else up, Jeff gave Rex specific direction and, when he read the lines again, in spite of all the technological problems, Rex’s expression, pacing, and inflection were spot on. My gut instinct had been correct.
Early scenes for a teaser trailer were shot in June and right now, most of the filming is done for the actual film.Living Storm Productions co-owner, actor, and producer, Bryan Royston, is juggling multiple roles throughout the production, along with managing the IndieGoGo campaign (which is bringing us much-needed funds for fixed expenses). Kelly Lajter is working tirelessly and creatively as Project Manager and Script Supervisor, along with Craig Olson as Assistant Director. Another Living Storm Productions co-owner and producer, Alex Contreras, is keeping everyone updated on details through emails and weekly meetings. Steven Dean brings his formidable talent as a cinematographer to the project. Experienced lighting expert, Justin Propp and audio technician, Ryan Meunier, are also on board. The production is fortunate to have a gifted make-up and hair artist, Joshua Harrison, to transform young actresses into elderly women and have it look completely believable.
What I’m learning as a writer on set for the first time is that, just as they say at award ceremonies, there are too many people in the cast and crew to thank them individually… each one of them is critical to the success of the film.
Getting a few peeks at the monitors, I saw for myself that Full Circle is beautifully shot and the acting is outstanding. Right now, even though there are a few scenes that remain to be filmed and the post-production work lies ahead, I’m restless to see the finished project.
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