What goes into making an Independent Film? What is a cast reading? How does the director get people to star in his film? If you would have asked me a year ago, my reply would’ve been, “How the hell would I know?” But, as one of the writers for a new independent film, you might want to ask me that question, again.
I’ve written several posts on Christopher Eilenstine over the last two years. One of his films, an apocalyptic film called The Soulless is in final production and you can check it out here and here. This year, Christopher asked me, Nick Kisella, who recently passed away, and Michael Kay to co-write the script for Shadows of the Forest, a horror fantasy which will be filmed over the next few months.
Once you have a script, you then need to find a cast. I’ve met several of the cast members, like Brandon Allentoff, Mak Lowrey, and Michael Kay, who is the Production Manager and plays the part of Johnlah. The story revolves around the friendship between two friends. Only one is human.
This past month we did the final cast reading. It took several hours, with Chris, Michael and I jotting down what worked and what didn’t. Everyone had their lines and as the afternoon wore on, I watched as each actor and actress morphed into the characters they were portraying. It was amazing to watch this transition happen right before my eyes.
One of the actresses of the film is an old pro at being in front of the camera. She’s done commercials and television shows, but she is best known for her part in the cult favorite soap opera, “Dark Shadows.” Sharon Smyth played the part of young Sarah Collins, the sister of vampire Barnabas Collins played by Jonathan Frid. Sharon was kind enough to do this interview for Biff Bam Pop!.
Marie: When did you begin acting?
Sharon Smyth Lentz: I started on this path when I was five years old, quite accidently got into modeling, television commercials and print ads. I was the all-American-girl at the age of 5 with the braids and freckles. The look was very popular at that time. I got a lot of work up in New York. My first part in a soap opera was “Search for Tomorrow.”
Marie: I remember that soap opera.
Sharon Smyth Lentz: Yes, I was on that show from 1965 to 1966 and played the part of Susie Carter. I was written off the show when my character developed asthma and had to move to drier territory. That was my first experience with a soap opera and it was done live and was fifteen minutes long. After this part, I did a few commercials and then landed the part of Sarah Collins on “Dark Shadows.”
Marie: How did you get that part?
Sharon Smyth Lentz: I had been going on auditions on a regular basis for commercials and whatnot. I didn’t think too much about it at the time; it was just another audition. I was called back twice and each time I went back, there were fewer girls until it was between me and another girl. She was blonde, pale and thin and, I was round, dark and freckly.
I got the role, but I had no idea at the time that the show was going to be so popular. “Dark Shadows” was the first gothic soap opera, ever! Ultimately, it ended up being the first soap opera to be syndicated, which was a really big deal, historically speaking.
I did not watch the show at the time. I played little Sarah Collins and I knew that the show was popular, but I didn’t watch it. I was on thirty-seven episodes from ’67 to ’68. The show itself ran from 1966 to 1971. There were over 1200 episodes.
Marie: How old were you when you got the part?
Sharon Smyth Lentz: Ten years old.
Marie: Did you understand that you were part of a horror series with vampires? Did this upset you?
Sharon Smyth Lentz: Not at all. I was very naïve and my mother did not ask a lot of questions. We really didn’t see the whole scope of the storyline. I was given my script. I learned my lines. I knew I was a ghost, but it didn’t have an impact on me because it was ‘make believe’.
I knew that Jonathan Frid played a vampire, but I only knew Jonathan, the man. He wasn’t scary to me. He was dressed in a costume and playing a part. Being on the set and seeing people before they went in front of the cameras, made it very comfortable for me. There were only two young children on the set, myself and David Henesy who played the young David Collins. We did what we were told and we had a blast. We had no idea at the time the show had such a following.
Marie: I ran home from school every day to watch the show. What did you do after you left “Dark Shadows?”
Sharon Smyth Lentz: I did a few more commercials, but then I retired when I was thirteen year old. I didn’t want to do it anymore. When you’re in that business you always have to be ‘on’. I wanted to be normal, hang out with my friends and join the girl scouts. I was a teenager. I wanted to go to school dances and not go back and forth to New York because I lived in Philadelphia at the time, but while I was on “Dark Shadows,” I had to live in New York.
Marie: I’m wondering, especially because Nicolette Davis and Mak Lowrey are young girls, if your classmates treated you differently because you were on television?
Sharon Smyth Lentz: I went to a Catholic school and when I was traveling back and forth to New York, I was tortured and teased a lot, but when I moved to New York I went to a school for professional children. They didn’t treat me any differently. My advice to families who want to be in the business is to keep your home life as normal as possible. I had a loving and supportive family and my mom was not pushy. When I wanted to stop, they said, okay.
Marie: When did you return to acting and how did you get the part in Shadows of the Forest?
Sharon Smyth Lentz: When I was twenty-five I decided to do community theatre until I got married and had children. I kept in touch with the “Dark Shadows” conventions, but after the children were grown, I got involved with independent films working behind the camera at first. I was doing production assistant work and everything that needed to be done.
I enjoy the whole processes, the people and the parts that came my way. Other production companies began requesting my help with their shorts or independent films. I was at a convention and met Edward X Young, who plays Samuel Watkins of Shadows of the Forest. Ed passed my name onto Christopher Eilenstine who wanted me to be involved with the film. I’m tickled to death to be a part of this.
Marie: I’m happy that you’re a part of the team and, it’s so funny that you went from “Dark Shadows” to Shadows of the Forest. What part do you play?
Sharon Smyth Lentz: The role that I’m playing on Shadows of the Forest is Grandma Watkins. I’ll be featured in the flashback scenes when Samuel thinks back to his childhood and happier times. Bob Cleary is Grandpa Watkins.
Marie: “Sharon, it was a pleasure doing this interview and we’ll be chatting more during the filming of Shadows of the Forest. I want to learn more about your work behind the camera.”
Sharon Smyth Lentz: “It was my pleasure.”
And now, a message from the Director of Shadows of the Forest, Christopher Eilenstine!