Making a full length motion picture or short can be a daunting task that might drive some to drink and others to entirely wash their hands completely of the process. There are many components needed to mount such a task and one cannot be blind to the fact that such productions need to have a foundation built on solid financing. It was these and many more issues that the filmmakers of the short film known as Heaven or Hell had to tackle and overcome.
This yeahstub.com columnist first learned of Heaven or Hell directly from actress, model, producer and writer Arlene Barshinger in the month of May 2014. She had wished to hear an honest opinion of a screenplay she had written because of her desire to see it as a feature film. This columnist was impressed with the amazing suspense and fully realized characters that had been created by Barshinger and opined that it would indeed make for a film that people would love to see. It was quite evident that Arlene Barshinger would utilize her proven skills at organization to see this project through and the wheels were sent into motion when she decided to bypass now traditional crowd funding organizations such as Kickstarter or Indiegogo and pursue funding directly through face-to-face meetings and postings on her Facebook page. Pounding the pavement in this manner garnered success as she was able to secure financial and location commitments from individuals such as Kristel and Pei Wang who own The Mandarin in Fairfield, California and also became executive producers on the film.
Now that she was successful in receiving funding for the film the next step would be securing cast and crew and the equipment that needed to be utilized to create Heaven or Hell. Over the years as an actress, Barshinger has been quick to network and make solid connections as well as friendships within the industry. One such important contact that she had established was with producer, writer, actor and director, Josh Hodgins. Hodgins agreed to be the director and bring his crew from his company, Jh Productions into the fold also. Director, Hodgins has also gained a reputation as being an actor’s director because of his own experience as an actor of note in past films as Jackson Horn. A commitment of much needed cinematic equipment was also secured from executive producer, Sunshine Whitton so it was a matter of casting that would conform to everyone’s schedules that needed to be hashed out in order to meet a proposed shoot schedule that would occur sometime in August of 2014.
Arlene Barshinger had seen Heaven or Hell as a film that would clearly demonstrate her abilities as an actress so it was decided that the leading role of Gillian Sanders would be essayed by her. The other major leading role of Robert Mitchell would also be clearly seen as a tour-de-force for any actor to accept and the initial actor who was cast needed to bow out because of scheduling commitments to a television series that he had been working on for a number of years. Stepping in to replace the previous actor was Chase Christiensen who had worked with director, Josh Hodgins on a number of previous productions. Various other roles were filled by noted actors such as Angelique Fawcette, Robert D. Parham, Tony Marsh and Shelley Lesley.
Locations were secured and would include cities within the state of California such as Fairfield, Suisun City and Vacaville. Several cost cutting measures would be employed by Barshinger and her crew which included a skeleton production crew assembled by Josh Hodgins and lodging said crew in the Barshinger home.
A date of August 24th was settled upon for the production to begin that would span four days and it was also marked by the occasion of an earthquake whose epicenter was in the Napa suburb of American Canyon which is a scant few miles from the production headquarters in Fairfield. Production began in earnest despite the fact that the earthquake had disrupted the sleep of the crew in Fairfield.
It is an old proverb on a film set that basically actors always have to “hurry up and wait” and that saying did not escape this production either. A “call sheet” is a daily reminder of when cast and crew need to show up at any given location that has been locked for use by the crew for the motion picture. Although the call sheet clearly stated a certain time for cast and crew to be present, it should be noted that these sheets are meant as the most optimistic guidelines that will inevitably be altered due to unforeseen elements which may and will affect shooting. Heaven or Hell was a S.A.G.(Screen Actors Guild Union) sanctioned production and that requires that any film adhere to certain guidelines and time schedules for actors that may be present. Cast and crew worked diligently within time and safety guidelines over the four day schedule.
The first scenario for Heaven or Hell began at approximately 12:40 P.M. on a rather sunny Sunday and it was fascinating to observe how in most of the takes, lead actress Arlene Barsinger had successfully accomplished her scenes in what mostly seemed to be just one take. This professionalism and adherence to her character’s mannerisms led her to be dubbed, “one take Arlene” by the crew throughout the four day shoot. It was a revelation to also witness the amazing efforts of director, Josh Hodgins as he generously demonstrated various and a wonderfully profound ability to demonstrate to Arlene and the other actors the exact manner in which he wished the characters to come alive for the camera. In between scenes that needed to be filmed on a daily basis, grips(lighting and rigging technicians) and gaffers(electricians) would arrange the area that would fulfill the needs of the director and cinematographer. On Heaven or Hell it was evident that such job titles were traded among the crew to save on the budget and also because of the fact that Josh Hodgins had brought the bare minimum of crew with him from the state of Washington.
Locations often enhance the production value of any motion picture-short film or otherwise. The producers of Heaven or Hell relied upon Larry Powers as the location manager to find areas of interest that would enhance the film. On the second day of the shoot, the cast and crew assembled in an impressive and very spacious home owned by Mariam Khugiani who generously allowed the filmmakers access to her home. The beautiful upscale property immediately added an effective boost in the appearance of the film and Khugiani proved to be a warm and enthusiastic hostess which made her very popular with the production.
Upon the third day of the production it was obvious to this columnist that the cast and crew of Heaven or Hell had a remarkable professional bond that made the filming of this short motion picture to be efficient and rather enjoyable. Filming continued at Joe’s Creekside Cafe in Vacaville where the cast and crew were warmly greeted by owners, Joseph Grannen and his family. The Grannen family also made sure that the cast and crew enjoyed a catered meal and even provided a deluxe hamburger meal that teased many of the cast members because it was strictly only to be used as a prop during a scene at their bar. The hours were long but the camaraderie among the cast and crew boosted morale and kept everyone on point to achieving the goals that Arlene Barshinger had initially envisioned with the film. Heaven or Hell is meant to be expanded to a full length motion picture and when the film’s post production work is completed the film will be exhibited at film festivals and other industry mixers for consideration in that capacity.
The fourth and final day of film production proved to be the eventful in terms of location diversity that began during the late morning at the delta location of Suisun City. The scenic backdrop framed by the delta provided another additional production value boost and the crew enjoyed some proper news delivery consultation from Sacramento news personality, Bethany Crouch. The crew wrapped up production at Suisun City close to 6:00 P.M. and quickly reorganized at The Mandarin restaurant in Fairfield. Owner, Pei Wang allowed Barshinger and her crew full run of the restaurant for as long as was needed. He also instructed his cooks to lavish the crew with a remarkable full course meal that might have contributed to the slower pace of the night because of how delicious the food was!
There was a sense of glamour with a touch of Hitchcockian menace as Arlene Barshinger and Chase Christiensen in their respective roles had dressed to impress which was integral to the plot developments that would unfold during this particular sequence in the film. Non-Disclosure Agreements and also to keep a sense of surprise for the audience prevent this columnist from revealing further details, but it can be safe to say that this scene will establish important character details about Gillian Sanders and Robert Mitchell and what they mean to others and themselves.
When the final scene was wrapped it was with a sense of triumph and sadness. Director, Josh Hodgins gave an impromptu and heartfelt speech thanking all whom had contributed to the film of which he had punctuated with honest hugs to everyone. It fell upon the shoulders of Arlene Barshinger to encapsulate the experience of working on Heaven or Hell and a definite hush swirled through The Mandarin as she spoke. Emotions were quite visible on her face and audibly as she spoke when she thanked everyone which ended in a moment of the two individuals that shepherded Heaven or Hell to completion hugged. It was truly tenacity and ambition that allowed Arlene Barshinger and Josh Hodgins to see this project to the end and perhaps the most fascinating chapter of this saga is about to begin as how the film will be seen by the public and industry professionals alike. It is obvious that there will be a sequel to this story and this yeahstub.com writer will bring it to you in the future!