A ‘Curious’ saga, from camp to curtain
Ask Ryan Schneider about producing the independent film that will premiere at Lido Live theater in Newport Beach next Thursday, and he’ll sum up the moviemaking process in one sentence.
“Every dream and desire just happened,” he said Wednesday afternoon about the film, “The Curious Story of Spurious Falls.”
Schneider, a parishioner at Beachcities Community Church in Huntington Beach, runs the church’s KidsGames, a worldwide sports and creative arts camp designed for children to learn more about God, build community and make friends.
Each year, the camp hosts a different theme with activities for kids ages 4 through fifth grade. Last time, Schneider mulled over ideas with a fellow parishioner and thought the camp should focus on film and media.
What lay ahead was finishing an 80-page script, borrowing props and selling tickets fast for the film’s premiere.
But let’s rewind to the beginning.
At the end of summer 2013, Schneider was debating the camp’s theme with Kellie Krueger, an English teacher and fellow parishioner. Krueger liked the idea of showcasing a film at the camp and offered to write a script.
For a month, Krueger brainstormed ideas with a group of friends, each throwing out ideas to contribute to the plot.
To write the script, she wouldn’t need a desk. As a multitasking mother of a toddler, she lay in a hallway of her home, computer in hand, writing and blocking her child from crawling around the house. The first draft was finished by Dec. 31.
“It was nothing profound,” Krueger said with a laugh.
The story is about Simon, a boy whose father is getting married to a woman who doesn’t want him on the family vacation. Simon is dropped off in a strange town to stay with a mysterious aunt he has never met. As Simon explores the town, he meets locals who each share a story about a man who lives on the hill above the town of Spurious Falls. Each townsperson has a different story, leaving Simon wondering the truth. As he explores the town, he realizes that the truth about the man on the hill is more important than he thought.
“The message we’re trying to get across is that people have different beliefs about God or religion, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s all true,” Krueger said. “It’s about seeking the truth, making decisions and not passively taking beliefs that are given to them. We want people to ask, ‘What do I believe?’”
Krueger and Schneider sat down with Andrew Gutierrez, director of film and production at Beachcities, to direct the film. Gutierrez, who had worked on Hollywood sets for more than 20 years, helped make the motion picture “Selena,” starring Jennifer Lopez. He served as a producer with Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jackson and Angela Bassett, among other people in film and television. He developed the video department at the church.
“When we talked about this idea at creative meetings, I kept thinking, ‘How can we do this?’” Gutierrez said.
He compiled a phone list. Close friends of theirs had acted locally; Gutierrez, Krueger and Schneider would call them. Gutierrez also dialed numbers of friends who were professional actors.
Everyone said yes.
“Coming from my background, that does not happen,” Gutierrez said. The cast included four members of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Arts (SAG-AFTRA), requiring the team to negotiate contracts with SAG.
In the end, the creative team lined up David Barrera, whose credits include “The Big Bang Theory,” “Castle” and “Evan Almighty”; Austin Mincks, who has performed in “Melissa & Joey” and “Criminal Minds” and modeled for H&M; Don Williams, who’s acted on the History Channel, Lifetime and Hallmark Channel; and Jenn Parks, who, before having two kids, acted and worked with Gutierrez.
Another friend of Gutierrez’s helped with cinematography. Eric Hann, who lives in Los Angeles, was described by Schneider as valuable to the process.
The cast and crew headed up to Krueger’s hometown near the Sequoias, where they filmed from March to the end of May. Because they had only a tiny budget, they pulled props from neighbors, friends and family. A typewriter for one scene is Schneider’s. A sword belongs to one of Krueger’s friends. Costumes were either made or picked out from friends’ closets. A home that was used belongs to a family Krueger knew from childhood.
“Everyone came in this for free,” Krueger said. “They had to take weeks off from work but wanted to help on this project. It will be awesome.”
But after the film showed at camp, Schneider envisioned something bigger. With a few adjustments and additions to the script, he thought, it could premiere at larger theaters.
“We thought it was for all purposes at camp, but at the end of showing it, we thought we could actually do something with this,” Krueger said.
After the film’s showing in the summer, Krueger and Schneider sat down with Gutierrez to pick apart scenes and add more details.
Gutierrez said the most challenging part was making everything come together.
“I feel responsibility to make it look and sound really good,” Gutierrez said. “When we premiere on Thursday night, that’s the reward.”
For Parks, who plays the aunt, the project was special from the beginning. Krueger had sent Parks a text asking the fellow parishioner if she wanted to be a part of something fun.
“I’m glad I answered a text,” said Parks, whose husband and two children have roles in the movie. “It’s an incredible story, and my family and I are all excited.”
Schneider said that because people made sacrifices to be part of the film and help expand a small idea into a bigger vision, it’s all the more gratifying to have their efforts projected on the big screen at Lido Live.
“I knew [Lido Live] was a monumental spot, and I wanted to show it in a theater with history,” Schneider said.
Newport’s Art Deco Lido Theatre on Balboa Peninsula has been around for about 75 years, and the Newport Beach Film Festival hosts some screenings there. The theater underwent a change in operators as new company Lido Live took over after Regency Theatres lost its lease on the property at the end of June.
Dave Schniepp, who oversees movie bookings at Lido Live, said that after meeting Schneider and the crew, he knew he wanted to carry the film.
“It’s been a real pleasure working with these guys,” Schniepp said. “I was excited once I saw the trailer.”
Schniepp said both showings Thursday night are 75% full so far, but added that the percentage was a good number since it’s tough to sell a full house. He projects an increase in ticket sales, even a sellout, within the week.
After securing the premiere, Schneider wanted to do something else. He wanted the event’s proceeds to benefit a person and a foundation in the community.
That someone is McKenna Wetzel, a Huntington Beach girl who lost her battle with a rare inoperable brain-stem tumor in 2011 at age 7. Her parents founded the McKenna Claire Foundation, helping to cure pediatric brain cancer by raising awareness and funding research.
Portola Coffee Lab will serve brewed coffee at the premiere and give the profits to the cause.
Gutierrez said he hopes the audience will be transported to another world on Thursday as the fiilm hits the screen.
“I want people to be carried away and see where they wind up,” he said.
And Schneider? He said he’ll think of the evening as a blessing.
“The talent and the willingness has been incredible,” Schneider said. “Through those frustrating moments to filming long hours, we’ve all become strong friends. We’re like family.”
IF YOU GO
What: “The Curious Story of Spurious Falls”
When: 6 and 8 p.m. Nov.13
Where: Lido Live, 3459 Via Lido, Newport Beach
Information: (949) 723-9006 or visit spuriousfallsmovie.com