Where you stumble lies your treasure, and that’s just what struggling actress and filmmaker Christy Oldham found during a brief, dark period, when she became a phone sex operator to pay rent in Burbank.
The treasure came in the form of raw material and passionate motivation, which fueled the fire of her new film “Barracuda,” being featured at the Burbank International Film Festival on Sept. 15.
Oldham wrote, produced and starred in the film, which is about a phone sex operator turned vigilante who drives her Plymouth Barracuda across the country, bringing sexual deviants to justice.
“I did the phone sex job for three months and I was done. I couldn’t take it anymore. I am tarnished for life, unfortunately. I know things [about men] that most women shouldn’t know, but it lit a fire in me, like hell blew up,” Oldham said in a recent interview.
Oldham said nothing was ever handed to her, so she developed a strong work ethic from a young age in the tiny Louisiana town of Plaquemine, where her young parents didn’t quite understand her love for writing and storytelling, which presented at an early age.
Not finding what she needed in a small town, Oldham said she headed out as a young adult and worked as a nude figure model while she attended LSU. While there, she was introduced to a Marlon Brando biography and the “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” which became catalysts for her desire to pursue an acting career.
“I met a lot of creative people and learned to sketch — I didn’t realize yet I was storyboarding. I wanted to keep going and decided to move to Denver,” Oldham said.
In 1998, Oldham was headed to Flagstaff, Ariz., with a friend she met while attending Denver Center for the Performing Arts, when they came upon a sign that read, “Los Angeles 500 miles,” so they took a left turn, fell in love with Hollywood, and she never looked back.
Life in L.A. wasn’t easy for a small-town girl who didn’t even know what S.A.G. stood for. Oldham said she made ends meet for many years by working as a background actor and tending bar. While background acting, she met her current partner at Mercury Rising Productions, Shane Woodson, who directed “Barracuda.” Their first production was born.
“Ten years ago we were both struggling actors. We decided we didn’t want to wait to be discovered, so one day we met at a park on Magnolia Boulevard. We decided to take the bull by the horns and write, produce and star in our own short film called ‘Joseph and Clarabelle.’ It did really well at a Northern California film festival, and it inspired us to do more,” Woodson said.
Woodson, now a working actor, has appeared in “Resident Evil: Extinction,” “Zodiac” and also has a recurring supporting role on “The Young and the Restless.”
Woodson said he’s not surprised “Barracuda” has been nominated for Best Feature, Best Editing and Best Film of the Burbank International Film Festival.
“We have a story that is unique and challenging, which is very rare these days. It brings up important social questions,” Woodson said.
The film is headlining “Women’s Night” at the festival this year at Burbank's AMC 16 Theaters.
“The movie is really good,” said Adrian Iniquez, chief executive of the Burbank International Film Festival. “The timing is right, and everything makes sense. The acting and action scenes are great, and the music went with it. This is something I would watch at the AMC 16 with the major studios promoting it.”
Oldham, a self-proclaimed perfectionist, said it took several years to get the film to its current state, with one reason being the select viewers who saw the first cut felt Oldham’s character wasn’t likable. She and Woodson reworked the film until it was right.
“Everyone is flawed and also has some good in them. You can’t be preachy or hit people over the head with something so heavy. I used dark comedy to get my message across,” Oldham said about the real-life experience that she admits made her distrust men.
Oldham said at first the phone sex job sounded good when a friend of hers recommended it because she could work from home, make good money and hone her acting craft. About two weeks into it, Oldham said she was disgusted, but realized there was some great material for a film and began to write down her experiences. She said she heard everything imaginable, including people causing harm to others.
“I was freaked out by the whole thing because these normal professional men would call in — they were doctors and lawyers … your neighbors. Some guys were straightforward and just wanted to relieve themselves, but some wanted me to pretend I was a 12-year-old.” Oldham said.
Oldham said the experience left her angry, and that, coupled with the working title, “The Truth About Men,” turned off potential investors, most of them male, so in 2006 she repackaged the film. She added a sexy outfit for her character and a cool car to the marketing materials. Then she was able to raise the money for production. “Men are such simple creatures. God love ’em,” Oldham said about changing the packaging to suit the investors.
“We shot [‘Barracuda’] using red camera technology, 12 days in Los Angeles and 16 days back in Plaquemine,” Oldham said. “We used the whole town. We got the SWAT team, helicopters, over 200 actors in the film.”
Oldham said she feels validated now that the town people, who didn’t understand her as a creative child, are putting her in a parade later this year as a local girl who’s done well.
Oldham is sticking to dark subject matter and is already working on her next film based on a serial killer from her hometown.
“At the end of the day, if you have a dream it’s up to you to make it happen,” Oldham said. “I’m so validated now. You can’t imagine the satisfaction. I don’t need food or water. I can eat that validation. I’ve turned people into believers.”
CASSANDRA M. BELLANTONI is a freelance reporter and producer. She can be reached at email@example.com