Each week, one of Biff Bam Pop’s illustrious writers will delve into one of their favorite things. Perhaps it’s a movie or album they’ve carried with them for years. Maybe it’s something new that moved them and they think might move you too. Each week, a new subject, a new voice writing on… something they love.
Did you ever wonder how a film was put together, or how actors prepare for their roles? I need to thank Biff Bam Pop’s fearless leader, Andy Burns, for allowing me to do interviews on independent film directors and artists. It was through the interviews I had done here and here on Christopher Eilenstine, director of The Soulless, that led me to becoming one of the writers for Eilenstine’s new film, Shadows of the Forest. Thank you, Andy.
Christopher Eilenstine and I had become friends during my interviews of his zombie film The Soulless, but it was after he’d read Roof Oasis, the first book in my Roof Oasis series that he asked me to be one of the screenwriters. What an honor. Besides Christopher, there are three writers: me, Nick Kisella and Michael Kay. We’ve already done our first script reading.
I won’t give too much away right now, but the story is a Fantasy/horror film and it’s about a troubled girl who is befriended by a mythical, shape shifting creature. It stars Nicolette Davis as Heather Watkins; Mak Lowrey as Tina; Edward X Young as Samuel Watkins and Brandon Allentoff as Brian Fischer.
Mini Script Reading
On September 5th, I headed out to Long Branch New Jersey with my grandson, Nathan Reid and, my friend and navigator with nerves of steel, Jean Ramalho. Nathan is playing the part of Tommy in the film. Christopher wanted Nathan and Mak to meet each other before the formal script reading in November. We were fortunate enough to also have actor Brandon Allentoff drop in. Brandon plays the part of Brian Fischer.
Under Christopher’s gentle tutelage, Nathan and Mac rehearsed their parts for the party scene. It was extremely satisfying for me to see how well Chris guided Nathan’s in his scenes. This is Nathan’s first time working in films. Mak, an experienced stage actress was more at ease with her part. When we had finished with the script reading, I had time to interview Mak Lowrey about the film.
Chatting with the Stars
Marie: “Mak, are you excited about your part?”
Mak Lowrey: “Yes. It’s such an interesting character to play because she’s not human, but she’s trying to fit in with the human world.”
Marie: “What is the hardest part to playing this character?”
Mak Lowrey: “I guess trying to get into the mindset that I don’t know what I actually know. It is hard acting like I don’t know how to be human.”
Marie: “You did great, today. Have you ever worked with the other star, Nicolette Davis, before the first cast reading?”
Mak Lowrey: “No.”
Marie: “Will this be a problem not knowing the other actress?”
Mak Lowrey: “I don’t think so.”
Christopher Eilenstine: “Wait until they work together for a couple of weeks. They’ll be the best of friends… or… the worst of enemies.” Everyone laughs at this point.
Marie: “Are you excited about your costume and, is this the first film that you’ve been in?”
Mak Lowrey: “Yea, the costume is so cool. I was in The Soulless before this film. I played different zombies and I got killed a lot.”
Marie: “You never made it to the end of the film?”
Mak Lowrey, laughing: “Nope.”
I next ask Mak’s mother, Robin, a few questions. Marie: “Are you excited about Mak’s part in the film?”
Robin Lowrey: “I think it’s neat to see her break out of performing only theater work. I think it’s a totally different kind of learning experience working with film. It will be neat to see her go from the singing and acting to developing a character with a backstory and seeing how that blossoms out.”
Marie to Mak: “What kind of stage shows have you done?”
Mak Lowrey: “I’ve done a lot of shows. I was seven when I started and I’ve done twenty-two shows.”
Marie: “Name your favorite.”
Mak Lowrey: “My favorite was one that I did recently, “Anything Goes,” where I was ensemble and we did tap dance. It was a great experience.”
Marie to Christopher Eilenstine: “What were you looking for originally when you wrote the part of Tina and how does Mak fit in as your Tina?”
Christopher Eilenstine: “I envisioned Tina as some kind of regal, authoritative, old soul in the body of a child. There was a distinctive look that I wanted for the shadows, so I began running through all these wonderful actors that I’d met on The Soulless… and, I said Makenzie. There she is right there. As you can see at the reading we did, the role fits like a glove. I’m very excited about what’s she’s been doing so far and I can’t wait to start filming.”
Once Brandon Allentoff arrived, I began to interview him. Brandon plays the part of Brian Fischer. “Hi, Brandon, it’s your turn to get grilled.” We all laugh. “How did you get involved with Shadows of the Forest?”
Brandon Allentoff: “Hi Marie. It’s a funny story on how I got involved. I happened to be on Facebook one day and saw that my friend was in a film called The Soulless and it was directed by Christopher Eilenstine. I’m a very hungry actor, as they say, I sent Chris a message on Facebook saying, “I’m a local actor living in New Jersey and if you have any other projects coming up, let me know and I’ll send you all my material.”
Within minutes, Chris responded and told me about Shadows of the Forest and would I want to see the script. I told him if it’s a sci-fi/ horror movie, I’m in. After looking at the Brian character, I emailed Chris and said, “Okay this character is mine. No one else is playing this character. This is my guy.” The rest is history and, Chris said, “Come on over and we’ll do some parts.”
Christopher Eilenstine: “He’s literally correct in that. That’s what happened.”
Brandon Allentoff: “I took a big chance on just sending the message because I didn’t really know who he was or what he did. I just went to his page where it said he did films and he different projects. I’m always looking for work. I want to get better with my craft. After we started talking, we’ve become good buddies and I can’t wait to start filming.”
Christopher Eilenstine teasingly adds, “Is this when I tell him that I don’t think he’s quite right for the role and that we’re going with someone else?” We all start laughing at this. Christopher is great at getting people to relax.
Brandon Allentoff: “Aww man you can’t really tell me that because I might actually become Brian.”
Christopher Eilenstine: “I told someone the other day that I like to practice my acting once in a while, so while I was packing up the equipment after doing some scenes, I was about to tease Brandon by saying, “It’s not working out and we might need to request another actor.” But, then I said to myself I better not joke around like that with Brandon. I might not live through the night, because when Brandon is filming, he’s in the zone.”
Brandon Allentoff: “Aww man you can’t really tell me that because I might actually become Brian.” Turning to me, Brandon added, “The other day when we were filming the car scene with Laura Casey, I said to her, “You might have to slap me around a little to get me more focused and, when we’re done, slap me around to get me out of the zone.”
Marie: “When I first saw the stills from that scene, and this is before meeting you, I said, yep this is Brian. Where have you worked before this film?”
Brandon Allentoff: “I’ve done work for independent short films and I did “Law and Order: SVU” as an extra; a fourteen hour shoot, but the scene where I was right in front of the camera was cut out of the episode. I was in The Dark Knight Rises where I was originally cast as an extra for one of the bad guys, but they overbooked and instead I had a small scene. But, you can actually see me on camera for seven seconds. I’m the guy who pops in, disappears and pops in again.
I also did a Comedy Central pilot in 2013 but it wasn’t picked up; we didn’t win the contest. I did about ten years’ worth of theater. That’s where I really started out, on a cruise ship when I was seventeen.” Brandon then told us a funny story about his first play, “Grease.”
Marie: “I’ll be doing more interviews for Biff Bam Pop! as the filming progresses, but I’ll end this interview with one last question for you, Brandon. How do you prepare yourself to get into the character of Brian Fischer?”
Brandon Allentoff: “I listen to good music that I normally listen to whenever I’m stressed out and, want to throw people out the window. It’s very good music, not scream music, it’s just fast tempo rock…”
Christopher Eilenstine: “It’s the kind that would give me a cardiac arrest, but he relaxes to it.”
Brandon Allentoff: “I think about people who have done me wrong in the past, and I just channel that inner rage to portray someone as vicious as Brian. I’m capable of getting into that character while separating myself from what that character is.”
Marie: “Thank you, Christopher, Mak and Brandon. I’m so excited to be part of this film and I know my grandson, Nathan is, too. I can’t wait until the filming starts. It will be fun sharing what goes into filming a horror film with the Biff Bam Pop! fans.”
It was a fun afternoon and before we packed up to leave, Christopher told me that I also had a bit part in the film. I’ll be one of the party guests. I’m going to make room on my desk for that Oscar.