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Local filmmakers open craft to all

Posted: May 21, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: May 21, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Linda Simone adjusts the microphone between scenes as members of dollHouse Productions prepare to record a scene.

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The camera is rolling, but the acting stops. The set medic quickly grabs her first aid kit and rushes to the actor. He is on the ground; the blood is dripping from his face.

According to the script of "The Robber and the Miser," an independent film shot in the Santa Clarita Valley, the man was supposed to run a few feet and then gracefully drop on his knee. Instead, he found himself facedown in the dirt.

"I was running without my glasses on, and I hit a rock," Brian Horgan said. "I ate dirt at a full run."

The camera recorded the accident, and somehow it ended up being the best take of the scene. The fall was cut so the audience would have no clue what had happened on set.

"Good editing," Horgan said.


One aspiration

Horgan, 53, a network engineer from Burbank, is not a professional actor. This was just a weekend job. He was starring in a short independent film, made by dollHouse Productions, a nonprofit group of film enthusiasts based in the SCV.

The goal of dollHouse Productions is to provide equal opportunities in filmmaking for those who are discouraged by Hollywood from building their careers in that industry. Women, especially senior citizens, are often stereotyped and pushed out of the standard film jobs, said the founders of dollHouse Productions.

The group was started by Nancy Hanks, 61, who invited friends to participate, including Sue Upperco, 65, Rachel Arno, 66, and Linda Simeone, 64, all residents of the SCV.

DollHouse Productions was created to provide a platform for anyone interested in creating movie magic.

All four founders of the group have held jobs in the entertainment industry, but never had an outlet for their creativity. Now, the women are united by the same aspiration - production of short independent films of all kinds.

In the process, they welcome anyone who wants to participate. In the dozens of projects they have filmed, nearly 40 people contributed in different ways - some helped with the writing of the scripts, some acted, some handled the wardrobe, and some worked with final production.

While the core of the group consists of those in their 50s, 60s and 70s (with one member who is almost 90), young people and even children have played an important role in the group.

Karina Huerta, 26, a Studio City resident, had taken film classes in college. She joined the team last year and said Hanks serves her as a mentor and is a great inspiration.

Members meet on Sundays at the Valley Oaks Village senior citizen apartment complex where Hanks lives. Some of her neighbors take part in the film shoots.

"She is getting people who, I think, normally would feel discouraged or shy about being in front of the camera, and she is lifting their spirits," Huerta said.

Many of the participants take part in dollHouse Productions for fun. But many of the volunteers actually want to build careers in film production. By participating in small projects, they can get experience, their names in the credits, clips for their portfolios and ideas for their new projects.

"We are providing a place to work for free," said Hanks. "It's tough in Hollywood."

"And we have the best time doing this!" she added.


Moral of the story

Last year, dollHouse produced 12 short films. Fable was the genre of the series, and it is defined as a narration intended to enforce a useful truth. To emphasize the morals of the tales, each film ended with an inspiring quote.

The idea was to produce family-friendly stories that would be fun to watch, but also make the audience think, Hanks said.

The entertainment industry lacks this aspect of production, said Lou Fossessca, a member of dollHouse.

"The movie industry should be responsible for what gets put out, so it is not destructive to the future of society," he said.

Another problem in Hollywood is runaway productions, Simeone said. High taxes, expensive labor and permit restrictions have affected the industry in a negative way, pushing the studios out of Los Angeles.

"Something needs to be done to stop that," she said. "People in the entertainment industry lose their jobs, their homes and their hopes."

"All production jobs are affected," Hanks said.

In spite of the situation, dollHouse members feel positive about the industry - they believe digital media will have the answer to the problem. Usage of digital equipment drives down the costs of making films. Both big studios and "home" productions will benefit, Hanks said.

"Independent filmmakers now have a cheap way of getting a great story out there," Hanks said.


Follow your bliss

The latest project of the group will be very different from the fable series they did before, said Hanks.

In the next couple of months, dollHouse is going to make its first independent feature film, "Distant Location." It will be longer, characters will be more defined, and the plot will have more development.

DollHouse plans to enter "Distant Location" in the Santa Clarita Valley Film Festival.

Hanks is convinced independent film has a bright future.

"Once people figure out how to market and distribute independent films, they can have a success," said Hanks. "Networks like Netflix could be the answer."

Huerta also believes in the future of indie films.

"I have faith that we are entering a new dawn of moviemaking, with YouTube and Web series being the basis for so much new content and so much new talent," Huerta said. "I think if you prove you have what it takes, opportunities will come."

The harsh reality of reaching the audience and looking for funding in today's movie industry doesn't discourage the group, Simeone said.

"In life, you get rejected a lot, no matter what you do," Simeone said.

"Never give up, never surrender," she added.

Hanks philosophy follows suit.

"You have to follow your bliss," Hanks said. "Life is too short. Pursue what you really love to do."

For more information about dollHouse Productions, visit



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