It’s about 1:15 p.m. and not everyone has yet arrived to the set. The shoot was scheduled for 1 p.m. A.J. Farrell, a co-star in the film “Mutt,” has opened up her house to allow for filming. In addition, she has cooked a lunch of chili and breadsticks ready for the cast and crew. She was planning on 14 people showing up. In the end, there is only a handful.
“I like to be grandma on the set,” Farrell said. She is no stranger to the camera. In addition to starring in many commercials when she is in Florida for the winter, she recently completed the movie “6 Dance Lessons in 6 Weeks” as the stand-in for Gena Rowlands. In “Mutt,” Farrell plays the role of Aunt Kay.
“I have my basket and I have my water and band-aids,” she says. “Whatever they want.”
Farrell also helps out with other things, such as keeping the lead actress’s hair in check on windy days.
The lead actress, Samantha Bach, is the first to arrive. Bach plays Meda Paavola, a woman who has roots in both the Native American and Finnish culture and struggles to find her true identity.
When Bach arrives, she almost immediately asks for the bathroom. She is carrying supplies with which she will do her own makeup and costume.
Bach says she learned of the audition through a friend from her reservation. She was excited that a movie would be made that explored the Native American culture.
“I was really excited and wanted to be a part of it,” Bach says. ” It’s a beautiful culture and I really want to share it with everybody.”
Some of the challenges on taking on the role stemmed not only from being on a film set for the first time, but finding the emotion necessary to play her character.
“That’s difficult, but I do really enjoy it,” she says. “It’s fun. I like to try new things. It’s like a dream come true.”
Director Rick Allen arrives next. On top of Allen comes the crew for the day, three students from Michigan Technological University, Kevin Heras, a business management major, and Paul Kirby and Andrew Villa, both specializing in audio production and technology. They’re on a tight deadline as they need to get back to school for class by 3 p.m.
“Mutt” started production on Sept. 21. It is scheduled to wrap on Oct. 30. So far they have shot at places including the park by The Ambassador, 5 mile point and at Brockway Mountain.
“It’s a showcase for this area,” Farrell says.
After a short lunch, everyone gets to work. The scene for the day is set outside in the garden. In it, Meda tells her Aunt Kay she’s pregnant and words are spoken that will be difficult to take back.
Allen works with Heras to block the shots. Farrell is told to kneel in her garden. Bach will be entering through the garden’s outdoor archway.
“The initial shot is the close-up of her gardening,” Allen says to Heras.
Allen maps out the first shot and gives some broad strokes for what he wants in the rest of the scene. But he’s open to suggestion. Heras often gives his opinion on what could be done, if not now, then in post-production.
“I wrote the script, but we didn’t storyboard it,” Allen says. “A couple of days before, I’ll go through the script and I’ll do a shot-list. There’s basically what I would like it to look like and then what it actually looks like.”
A production meeting is held every Thursday night where Allen and the crew can talk about all the shots. There’s three to four hours of prep work that happens before they arrive at their location to shoot.
Everybody has other obligations to attend to, as well. The movie has been made “on the fly,” as the director puts it.
Allen and the production have limited resources. The film is being shot on a $10,000 budget. And despite being in the thick of it, only $5,000 has been raised so far. A Kickstarter campaign was unsuccessful, having raised only $200 of the $10,000 asked. More fundraising efforts are ongoing.
“I don’t have the equipment or the track, things that I would like to be able to get it on. This is the reality check moment where we talk about what we’re really going to do,” Allen says.
After mapping out the scene and dealing with microphone issues, the camera is ready to roll.
“Act 3, scene 4, take 1,” Allen yells and snaps the slate. “Action.”
No less than a second later “cut” is yelled. Heras isn’t thrilled about Bach’s entrance. They find a solution and go again.
“Act 3, scene 4, take 2.”
This take lasts a few more seconds.
“Act 3, scene 4, take 3.”
Bach walks in and says her line.
“Hi, Aunt Kay.”
“Act 3, scene 4, take 4.”
Bach walks in and says her line again. Farrell acts surprised to see her and says a few words. Allen yells cut again. They might have gotten it.
“How’d that one work,” Allen asks Heras, who’s operating the camera.
“It looked pretty good,” Heras says in a somewhat noncommittal tone.
“Are we good or do we need” Allen says, trailing off.
“Should we do one more?” Bach asks.
“Do you want to do it again or are you happy?” Allen asks.
“One more for good luck,” Heras says.
“I want to hear a confident “‘Yeah, we got that,'” Allen says with a smile and a laugh. “‘No problem! In the can!'”
“Act 3, scene 4, take 5.”
It’s a wrap on that angle. But the full scene is longer than that. More shots and angles will be needed to complete the scene. The camera is moved to a different location.
The shoot goes on for a total of 30 takes, some of which worked, some of which could end up on a blooper reel.
Out of the next nine days, seven will be used to film one scene or another.
“Mutt” is based on a story conceived by both Allen and Erica Lord. Lord is a local artist and was a Finlandia adjunct professor for a year.
Lord had an art exhibit at the Reflection Galley in Hancock. Afterward, Allen found himself talking with her and noticed she had very pronounced Native American features and bright blue eyes.
Allen learned about her Native American-Finnish heritage. Lord’s mother was originally a local in the area and had gone to Alaska where she met the man who would become Lord’s father.
Lord was brought back to Houghton and attended Houghton High School.
“She grew up in this mixed culture,” Allen says. “She had a real hard time. She was kind of a victim of racism on both ends. She felt a lack of belonging and expressed that in her art.”
Allen thought Lord’s story would be good for a movie.
“We developed the story together and then I wrote the script,” Allen says. “It’s not biographical, but it’s certainly based on a true story.”
It took Allen about a month to write the script, which he says was easy for him because he had gotten to know Lord so well.
“We had developed the story of it, the only thing left was the characters and the dialog,” Allen says. “It wrote very smoothly because it was writing a story that I had such passion for.”
The film is slated to run just over 100 minutes, but that could change once the film is put together. A Feb. 2014 release date is projected and Allen is hopeful it will be screened at film festivals like Sundance. Even if it doesn’t, a DVD release is planned.