Pure Joy. Those are the words that come to mind when trying to describe what I experienced this fall while filming the musical feature film, The Homecoming. A magical, musical, all-inclusive feature film by Zeno Mountain Farm and the producers of Becoming Bulletproof.
I always dreamed of a world like this: An all-inclusive atmosphere where everyone is treated equally, with kindness and respect, regardless of their differences. On this film set, on a chilly night in Bristol, Vermont, my eyes welled with tears as I looked out and watched that dream happening. And everyone was happy.
No one minded if they had to slow down to help someone into a costume or tie a shoe. No one minded if you had crutches or a limp. No one minded if you needed to sit down between takes or if you needed a little extra help with your dance number. They didn’t even mind if you needed help going to the bathroom. As a matter of fact, this cast and crew seemed to love the challenges, the creativity, the uniqueness each person was bringing to this massive filmmaking endeavor. There was peace and joy on every face as people literally searched for ways to help each other. It didn’t take long to see that every single human being involved was gaining something quite valuable from this experience.
For a moment, I wondered if it would last. Would we end up seeing the melt downs, egos, and tantrums often encountered on film sets? Would someone start stressing over something that really didn’t matter in the great scheme of things?
Nope. Not on this shoot. How could anyone complain? You only had to look in any direction to see someone smiling from ear to ear because they were doing something they loved, with friends they love. They were having the time of their lives. On this film production, everyone was valued. And it was a team effort to handle every challenge. That’s what made it all so exciting.
At one point, my eyes landed on Emily Kranking who was smiling so brightly she lit up the entire football field. She definitely had that sparkle of joy in her eyes. She was playing a cheerleader and best friend to our lead actress, Shannon DeVido. When I asked Emily if she was having fun, she beamed, “I still can’t believe this is happening. It’s like a dream come true!”
Our young lead, Rickey Alexander, seemed to be floating on clouds as he led the most diverse football team ever assembled. The local high school team showed up to play against our movie team, and many of their families and friends came to cheer for the crowd scenes.
As the night rolled on, Lauren Smitelli and Michael Parks Randa directed the cast, crew and nearly a hundred extras with ease, humor and a sense of purpose that drove them through to the final take. Their camera team led by the exceptionally talented Chris “Westy”, worked tirelessly into the wee hours. Perhaps the toughest job was that of our first assistant director (AD), Jake Sharpless who had to make sure we were on schedule, no matter how much fun we were having.
Katie White, our mastermind producer, jumped right down on the field and danced along with the cast. Her infectious energy swirled through the set as she made sure spirits were up and every need was swiftly met. Our choreographer, Frankie Orr, was wearing a cat’s tail as she shouted through a megaphone, while her sidekick dance instructor, Amy Hessler, showed us all how to shake our booties, one way or another. No matter the challenge, these girls had a dancing solution! Our brilliant composer, Madeline Rhodes, who also played the bad girl in the film, entertained the cast often with her gravity-defying acrobatics. Matt Marr, a producer who looks like a movie star himself, got into a band costume and marched right out onto the field too. Almost every member of the crew ended up in the film somewhere, as our costume designer Shari Bisnaught and costumer Maya Luz worked miracles with the help of local seamstress Grace Freeman. Julie Potter, an LA rapper and longtime friend of Zeno, helped shuffle the cast around, always laughing and helping.