Bethany Rose Attends Red Carpet Event: Belleville Premiere

I was fortunate enough to attend the World Premiere of the film Belleville. The event was held in the town of Belleville, Illinois, which not only lent its name to the film, but was also the primary filming location. Lead actor Ted Trent, who played Neila in the film, is also originally from the area.

There were two public screenings of the film on the premiere night, Tuesday, April 22nd. Prior to the first screening, cast and crew of the film, along with some of their friends and family members, walked a Red Carpet, posing for pictures and answering questions.

The screening I attended opened with a few songs performed by the Chris Talley Trio (a band featured in the film), and an announcement by Belleville’s Mayor Mark Eckert. Following Mayor Eckert, the film’s writer and director, Dan Steadman, greeted the audience.

It was clear that the audience was thrilled at watching a film with so many local ties. There was clear recognition of Belleville landmarks and local actors and performers. The excitement in the room was palpable from the moment guests entered the historic Lincoln Theater, all the way through to the end credits. It’s no surprise that a large round of applause accompanied the film’s end.

The Red Carpet was an exciting event, with cast and crew arriving in classic automobiles. Each new arrival was announced, and fans gathered in the secured streets to snap photos and enjoy a slice of Hollywood glamor in their hometown.

I spoke with many cast and crew members (and their proud family and friends), to get an idea of what it was like to film in a small town with lots of heart, as well as discuss upcoming projects. The cast and crew were comprised of talent from a variety of places, mostly Los Angeles or Belleville, so it was fascinating to get first-hand accounts from veteran performers and crew members, along with those who claim Belleville as their film debut. Many cast and crew are also expected to work together on Dan Steadman’s upcoming film Expect Delays, which will also shoot in the Belleville area.

Chris Talley of the Chris Talley Trio, whose music is featured in the film.
Chris Talley of the Chris Talley Trio, whose music is featured in the film.

Cooper Shaw, who played Arlene in the film, recently discovered that she’d won Best Supporting Actress at the American Movie Awards for her role in Belleville. I asked her about the moment she found out she’d won. She had received a message from Ted Trent who said, “Call me immediately.” She soon after got another message from Trent that said, “Call me now.” When she returned his call and learned of the news she, “didn’t even know that they had submitted [the film],” and clearly remembers screaming in delight at the news.

Ted Trent, who played the otherworldly character, Neila, had an important connection to the film. He grew up in Belleville, and his father was an area farmer, and even after 23-years in L.A., Ted and his father, Robert Trentman, continue to build their relationship. I asked Ted what his goals for the film are. He replied, “One of [his] main goals is to explain to the rest of the world how beautiful Belleville is. How it has that magical sense that hopefully the film portrays, a sense of innocence, authenticity.”

Dan Steadman, accompanied by his mother, Diane, is the film’s writer and director. Since his next film will also be shot in Belleville, I asked him what about the area inspired him to make another film here. Dan Steadman: I love the community. I love how excited people are about filmmaking and Red Carpet, things like that, and that people are willing to be extras and willing to let us use the locations, and let us show the best of the Midwest. That’s why I love filming here.

Antonio St. James and Cecelia Island. Antonio played the character, Poochie
Antonio St. James and Cecelia Island. Antonio played the character, Poochie

I also asked him if there were any major similarities or differences between working with major Hollywood names and local actors.

Dan Steadman: A good actor’s a good actor. I’ve been lucky that almost everybody I’ve ever worked with has been a real team player. So whether it’s Octavia Spencer who’s won an Academy Award, or a St. Louis actor who’s been in this movie, they’re all huge team players. I would tell you a great diva story if I had one, but they’ve all been disappointingly wonderful.

Tim O’Leary played Willie, the farmer Neila befriends during his time in Belleville. He loved doing a lot of the outside shooting. He also shot a fight scene for the film. He said that, “As an actor you love to tell a story, but you also experience the things that you’re acting.” So while he found the fight scene was difficult to film, he also loved it. He says one scene in the film, where Willie and Neila are having an important discussion, really made him think about life, and he realized that he is, “Not a deep person because [he] is really smart, but [he] is a deep person because he felt a lot. It doesn’t matter how intelligent you are, it matters how you can recognize how you feel, and that’s been a big gift.”

Kate Barton plays Willie’s wife. Having not seen a final version of the film prior to the Red Carpet, she explained that she was very eager to see how one of her pivotal scenes turned out. Without saying too much, it is a scene that Kate knew would require some special effects, so she could not wait to see what the finished product looked like.

Ted Trent’s friend from junior high, Alie Morgan, got an invite from Trent to be “assistant for a day.” But once director Dan Steadman saw her on set, he asked her if she’d like to be in the film. She was excited, and recalled that she actually met Ted Trent in a junior high production of Annie, noting that she, “was in his very first play and now [she] gets to be in a movie with him.”

Improvisation was used in many scenes of the film. Two actors recalled their experiences with improvisation. Shawn I. Chevalier played a friend of Willie in the film, and said that her scene, “started scripted and turned into improv.” She enjoyed the improvisation because it allowed her to create, “a whole new character,” adding depth to the role and the backstory of Willie, and felt that the improvisation actually made the shooting easier.

Aerial Hawkey played a bartender who serves Neila his first drink. She says most of her role was improv, but she had a great improv teacher. She also had been a waitress before, so she used her past experience to help her with the role.

The first actor to appear onscreen was Bob Snyder. The local actor received his role through laughter. When he went to audition, he was asked to describe himself. His response? “I was born and raised in Belleville. I’m just an old, square-headed, hard-headed, Belleville Dutchman, but I’m proud to be from Belleville.”

William Conklin played another of the film’s bowlers, and he has real-life experience as he used to bowl in a league, but a recent surgery added a slight complication to shooting. After he filmed his dialogue, he was asked to bowl a frame. He was hoping that if the footage was used in the film, they would, “use some special effects or throw in some strikes.”

Margery Handy plays a concerned citizen who stops Neila from drinking the water in Belleville’s fountain (which is a large fountain in the middle of a high-traffic roundabout). She said, “the entire square was blocked off. It was a bit overwhelming at first, but the crew told [her] their was nothing to worry about, so [she] felt calmer then.”

I was excited to talk to Wayne Ault, who teaches Political Science at Southwestern Illinois College. I asked him if teaching a course actually helped prepared him for acting. He felt that it did a little bit, but explained that if you, “ask any professor or instructor, the very first day [of teaching] you’re always nervous, but after you get through the first day, then you’re OK.”

Andra Harkins played a book store owner in the film, and had an interesting audition to get the role. Rather than a traditional audition, she was asked to focus on her improv skills, and once the script was completed she was then offered a role written specifically for her. Her caring book store owner plays a pivotal part in Neila’s character development, and her success in the role led to a larger role in Expect Delays, playing the mother of a dysfunctional family.

Cathleen Lindauer, the tourism director for the City of Belleville, served as production manager on the film and had a role in the jewelry store scene. During filming, she says she learned the true meaning of “Quiet on the Set!” Lindauer noted that she didn’t realize just how much sound was picked up during filming. So during filming the producer, “would turn around and say, ‘Cathleen, are we good here now?’” Lindauer also picked around 15 of the film’s locations. She was proud to, “Showcase variety and showcase the community,” but said it was “hard not to pick everything” because Belleville offers so many great locations.

Jennifer Blomstrom played a waitress in the film. One of her first film roles was as a zombie in Sound of Nothing. It was filmed in the Granite City area (another Metro East town), and she said that appearing in the film actually provided her with, “the best Christmas card photo ever,” and that she, “got to eat someone’s intestines.”

Ted Jordan previously did stand-in work on I Love You Phillip Morris, and Hurricane Season. When cast members needed a break, Ted and other stand-ins would take their place so that lighting and camera work could be figured out even when the actors were not on set.

Actor Bob Snyder
Actor Bob Snyder

Getting to discuss the film with the crew was also a great opportunity, as I learned about some of the triumphs and difficulties of each job.

Rachel Farrell was responsible for the props, wardrobe and set design of the film. As the film takes place around and on Halloween, pumpkins and jack-o-lanterns were key elements on the set. But the carved gourds didn’t always turn out as planned. Rachel, “had sketches to put on the pumpkins for the Trick-Or-Treating scene, and every one [she] made a mistake on. The cat lost its leg, the ‘Boo’ pumpkin lost [a part], and the ghost lost its tail.”

Logan Short had a role in the film as a concerned father, but he also worked as the script supervisor. He said that for that job he, “maintained continuity, sharpened colored pencils, and [he] wrangled chickens.” Like many of the local actors, Logan gained his role in a unique way. He went to what he thought was a seminar on filmmaking, but was asked if he was there for the audition. Without hesitation, Logan said he was, so he read part of the script, then improvised off of some questions and landed the role.

Keith Nussbaum played a Belleville resident who knew Willie. As a local resident he knew half the cast before filming. He was also a production assistant, which he says, “really runs the gamut, fills in the cracks, and makes things run smoother.”

David Lubbers, one of the film’s cameramen, explained one of the trickiest shots of the film.  He said it had to be when he was, “sitting in the back of a pickup truck, taking off really fast. [He] had to shoot through the window. One of the people who was there sat behind [him] to keep [him] from falling out of the back of the truck.”

Brett Frager was the film’s cinematographer, and he pulled inspiration from a number of television shows to help capture the right look for this film. He is a huge television fan, and since Belleville is a fictional documentary, he was looking for a, “fly-on-the-wall feel.”  Shows that, “show real emotion,” were inspirations, and he listed Friday Night Lights and Parenthood as two of his inspirations for the look of this film.

Geoffrey Burch is the film’s composer, and has already started composing for the upcoming feature. He said that “Belleville has treated us so very, very nicely, the prospect of coming back and working with people from Belleville is really exciting. I don’t think they could have picked a better place than Belleville.”

Many of the cast and crew were eager to discuss upcoming projects.

Antonio St. James played Daryll (aka Poochie). His upcoming roles include work on , “Chicago PD, Gone Girl, and The Makings of You.” He filmed all of them around the same time, but enjoyed it. His mother, Cecelia Island, says she is very proud of Antonio.

Actor Stephen Potter, who played one of Willie’s friends in the film, was excited to discuss his upcoming short film called The Regency, where he plays, “a semi senile proctologist who answers his phone during examinations.” He did emphasize that the film is a comedy!

Bill Finkbiner, who played Police Officer Scott in Belleville, discussed the film Coyote that recently found distribution through Wild Eye Releasing. The film stars Bill Oberst Jr., and says that it is, “an art house horror film,” that features a “tour de force [performance] from Bill Oberst Jr.” He describes the movie as, “visually stunning and enthralling. Literally like taking a horror movie and putting it on psychedelic.”

Ron Klein, who played Stanley, one of the bowlers in the film, received a classic role in Expect Delays. The role? Santa! He said preparation is easy, just, “wear a suit, sit, and say ‘Ho, Ho, Ho.’” He says his young grandson is his biggest fan.

Jessica Ambuehl played a shopper at Keil’s Clock Shop (an actual store in downtown Belleville). She is part of a Midwest Talent Showcase. St. Louis is the host this year in June. She was selected to compete and will be viewed by agents for an opportunity to be signed by them.

The entire evening was a success!

Article by Entertainment Writer & Film Critic, Bethany Rose