Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Behind the scenes of "Lake Effects"

Producers share their favorite stories from the making of the film

In early 2010, the Laker profiled Sara Elizabeth Timmins, a young actress and film producer with a dream to create an independent film at Smith Mountain Lake.
The ambitious Timmins has spent the two years since then securing funds, fine-tuning the script, signing well-known actors (including Jane Seymour), coordinating wide-spread volunteer involvement from an eager lake community and overseeing the film’s production. “Lake Effects” was finally introduced at a red-carpet screening on Oct. 7 at Westlake Cinema.
    One of the most significant happenings at SML in recent years, the production of “Lake Effects” was well-documented in local media. But, as with any major project, countless stories went untold – funny, quirky, cute, clever – so we asked Timmins and the film’s production coordinator, Chinah Jewell, to share a few of their favorite behind-the-scenes stories.

Sleepy on Set

    By the time 3-year-old Madison Doss got her turn to be filmed as an extra in “Lake Effects,” she had been playing hard enough to take her role as a bored child to the next level.
    “The scene was with [actor] Ben Savage sitting with a group of kids on a dock listening to a news reporter, and he may have been talking with [actress] Madeline Zima,” said SML resident Sue Timmins, mother of producer Sara Elizabeth Timmins, who was in charge of casting extras for the film. “Madison was part of the group of children and she was dozing off.”
    Timmins said the children had been at the site playing for hours in anticipation of their call to set. Madison’s mother, Tawnya Doss, said her family played multiple roles in the film.
    “Sara Elizabeth’s parents and my parents are neighbors and friends,” Doss said. “We happened to be visiting the lake from our home in Harrisonburg and thought it would be fun to be involved.”
    The Doss family, which also includes husband John and daughter Kayleigh, was filmed for a flashback scene in addition to Madison’s big moment.
    “[Madison] is very animated and kept asking, ‘Why are we doing this again?,’” said Tawnya Doss. “When I explained to her that she would be in a movie she asked, ‘Well, can I write my friends, and will they get to see me?’”
    Doss said she was concerned Madison’s nodding off would prevent the scene from being used. Production coordinator Chinah Jewell said the outcome was just the opposite.
    “It actually ended up being very appropriate to the scene,” she said. “The children are supposed to be bored and it’s even more effective that she is falling asleep.”

Sound Backing by Barefoot West

    Smith Mountain Lake-area musician Kyle Forry took a passing interest in the news of “Lake Effects” before a series of events thrust him and his band, Barefoot West, into a substantial role in the film.
    “I first heard about ‘Lake Effects’ through the wonderful world of Facebook,” said Forry.” I Googled it to find out more information and saw that they were casting extras. It definitely sparked my interest in the possibility of being involved musically.”
    At the time, Barefoot West, an acoustic rock/Americana band that also includes locals Corey Hunley, Ryan Greer, Justin Arnett and Chance Taylor, was working on an album of original songs, several of which ended up in the hands of the filmmaker’s parents.
    “My mother mentioned Barefoot West to [producer] Sara Elizabeth Timmins' parents and handed them a CD of our original music. The funny thing is I sent an e-mail to Life Out Loud Films that very same day to ask if there was any interest in using local musicians in the film or the film's soundtrack,” said Forry. “Our friends and fans started sending e-mails to Life Out Loud Films about Barefoot West.”
    Production coordinator Chinah Jewell said the volume of e-mail was enough to get her attention.
    “We started getting these e-mails about how great Barefoot West was and that we should have them perform in the film,” she said. “The director saw them perform at the [SML] Wine Festival and they ended up contributing the most music to the film.”
    The band was asked to perform in scenes during filming and five of Barefoot West’s original songs were picked up for the movie’s soundtrack.
    “One of the songs that I wrote, ‘Rekindle,’ went along with the movie’s story line almost perfectly,” said Forry. “Director Michael McKay was very excited about that and said it was meant to be.”
    If given the chance, Forry said the band would definitely participate in a film again.
    “It was the coolest experience that Barefoot West has ever had as a band. We're all a bunch of characters anyway, so I think we fit in nicely,” he said. “All of us loved every minute.”

Stand-in Savior

    Lake resident Chinah Jewell had recently relinquished her Miss Virginia crown when she took an intern position with Life Out Loud Films at the start of pre-production. Several months into filmmaking, the James Madison University performing arts graduate got her chance to step out from behind the camera and into the spotlight.
    “We had test audiences watch the film in its first draft,” Jewell said. “One of their comments was they wanted to see the main character actively searching for an answer for the solution solved in the end of the movie. We were hoping to get Scottie Thompson, the actress who plays the main character, Sara, to come do reshoots, but she was busy filming an ABC pilot.”    
    While the film staff waited to hear from Thompson, a secondary plan was already forming in the mind of Jewell as well as that of producer Sara Elizabeth Timmins.
    “When it started to seem like Scottie wouldn’t be able to do it, Sara Elizabeth and I both thought maybe I could stand in for her,” said Jewell. “My hair is darker than hers so that was a challenge. Sara Elizabeth went to the beauty store and bought spray-in gold hair color to see how it would turn out.”
    With help from the hair color and careful scrutiny of the scenes already filmed, Jewell provided a nearly perfect actress double.
    “Thank goodness we had all the outfits Scottie wore except for one, which we improvised from my own closet. We had to look at the exact way she had her hair curled too,” she said. “I’m filmed going through files and pulling out record books, scrolling the microfiche machine and on the computer. I can’t wait to see if my friends and family can figure out which parts I’m in when the movie comes out.”

A Special Effect

    Roanoke native Leigh Huff was invited to prospective investor meetings before the start of “Lake Effects.” It was at one of these meetings he met producer Sara Elizabeth Timmins and was able to demonstrate what his tactical marketing, design and production services company, Exemplum, could do for the movie.
    “We provided a number of special visual effects for the film,” Huff said. “Examples of our work include removing lights in certain scenes, creating fog on the water, removing a character from a scene and creating reflections in the sunglasses of an actress. Our involvement was all post-production visual effects where we worked with the director, film editors and producers using film clips provided to us.”
    Huff said being a part of “Lake Effects” provided his employees with valuable experience and the confidence that they can provide high-quality, movie-grade work. The connection has also led to additional projects for the Blacksburg-based company.
    “One of the technical editors that worked on the film asked us to provide special effects for a television show called ‘Rhett & Link: Commercial Kings’ that appears on IFC [Independent Film Channel],” said Huff. “I have always felt that this area has a lot more artistic and technical talent than most people are aware of.  Our role in the production of the film will hopefully be recognized as indicative of the types of skills that can be found locally.”
    Timmins said the partnership with Huff’s company is an example of one of Life Out Loud’s missions.
    “We wanted to provide opportunity to those who have talent equal to that in Los Angeles who just haven't had the chance,” she said. “I knew Exemplum could handle the job, but what was so amazing was at no point did any of our Hollywood professionals question if he had done films before because of the high quality of the work.”