A working vacation: Independent film is shot in Cape

Friday, March 31, 2006
Steve Turner and Megan Miller acted in a scene for "Mere Sentience" inside Buckner Brewing Co. Wednesday morning. Turner, also the film's producer, plays a vegan trying to explain his lifestyle. (Diane L. Wilson)

The scene on Water Street Thursday morning was eerily reminiscent of the scene there just a few months earlier.

Then it was Diane Lane, Thomas Jane and a massive crew filling the intersection of Water and Themis streets, crowding the floodwall gate to shoot a scene for "Killshot."

Thursday's scene was much smaller, and the cameras were pointing the other way. Many of the same locals who worked on "Killshot" as production assistants were there, this time as cameramen, assistant directors and sound engineers. But the purpose was the same -- to shoot a movie.

For the past week several local filmmakers have been hard at work shooting what will become a 20-minute drama/comedy called "Mere Sentience."

The film crew for "Mere Sentience" goofed off during a break in the action Wednesday in front of Port Cape Girardeau.

Producer Steve Turner hopes to put the movie out in the film circuit and bring kudos home for the Cape Girardeau filmmaking scene.

"This is what we do on vacation," says Turner after shooting a scene upstairs at Buckner Brewing Co. He's not kidding.

Most of the dozen or so crewmembers on the filming have other jobs. They're working on the film free of charge, just because that's what they love to do. Some might be building a resume, like Southeast Missouri State University video major Joanna Wende.

Others, like local indie film advocates Mike Huntington and Pat Bond, are here because it's just what they do.

Regardless of their reasons for being here filming on a sunny spring day, the fun they have is almost contagious.

'This is what I want to do'

They pose for snapshots, making funny gestures and strange faces. They laugh, they smile, they hug each other. These are people who obviously enjoy what they do.

"This is what I want to do," said Ryan Maurer, camera operator. "I'm just happy to have the opportunity to do this."

Maurer, like five of his cohorts, worked on the filming of "Killshot." "Mere Sentience" is a far cry from the big-budget, big-studio, big-name film that "Killshot" will be, but the dedication to quality by Turner and his crew is the same, no matter how much fun they're having.

Turner is making "Mere Sentience" under the auspices of his production company, Shrader-Turner Films. Turner wrote the film, drawing in part from his own experience as a vegan. "Mere Sentience" (the title is a reference to C.S. Lewis) tells the story of a vegan struggling to justify his lifestyle to others and himself.

Until now the company has primarily filmed local commercials, but Turner's passion for filmmaking means his company is about more than just commercials -- it's a vehicle for the community of local filmmakers to do the work they love, without leaving Cape Girardeau.

The resources at Turner's disposal lends more legitimacy to this film, said assistant director Huntington, a veteran of about nine local indies.

"A lot of us do local 'guerilla filmmaking' where we just pick up a camera and go," said Huntington. "This is a lot different, much more professional."

Huntington and fellow crew members then go into a long inside joke about a mutual friend, saying he would make a film out of a postman dropping off the mail. It's the kind of inside joke only this group can truly appreciate.

Other jokes have enough appeal for the outsiders. As Turner gets ready to film a scene in which he purchases ice cream from Port Cape Girardeau, Bond asks, "You don't drink milk, for real?" Later he says, "Do you only drink milk from cows that willingly give it up?"

Turner just gives a sly smile in response as the others chuckle.

The local film insiders estimate three or four indie films are made here in the typical year, just not as professional as Turner's production.

Organization is key for Turner's film. At each location every crew member helps roll out crates of equipment and set up. Binders litter the set with scripts, releases for extras to sign and other miscellaneous documentation.

"Everybody's on their job, everybody's on their game," said Huntington.

Turner has a good reason for urging professionalism -- he's trying to get "Mere Sentience" entered into film festivals, starting with the July St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase. After that he hopes to find a place to screen the film locally, besides just a showing for his friends and family.

After this week, Turner and his crew will go back to moonlighting in their "real jobs," their vacations over. Over until it's time to film again, at least.


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