For years, actress and film producer Ronda Belser has seen Hollywood studios come to Colorado to shoot a movie only to cast from out of state. Her latest and probably most ambitious project aims to change that trend.
The film industry has a history of casting from New York and Los Angeles, but “Body Keepers,” an independent horror movie with an all-Colorado cast and crew, is meant to showcase in-state talent. That includes two eager, fresh-faced teens from Parker, Kristi Hoopes and Karlie McLaren.
Belser, a Screen Actor's Guild member who moved back to Denver from L.A. 10 years ago in favor of corporate management, still dabbles in movies, television and commercial voiceovers. It has been “discouraging” to see major studios bypass, if not dismiss, local talent, she says.
Her film not only is utilizing writers, directors, producers and actors from Colorado, it is being shot on location in Denver, Lyons and Nederland — the latter of which is the primary setting for the teen horror flick.
Belser, the creator and executive producer for “Body Keepers,” put out casting calls in 20 Colorado cities with 320 people auditioning.
McLaren and Hoopes made the top 25 after auditioning at the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock. From there, it was up to online voters to decide who the main characters would be. Even those who don't land a major part get a smaller role.
At the urging of investors who wanted to make sure she was serious about the project, Belser quit her job at a Fortune 500 job to dedicate herself full time to “Body Keepers.” She has also enlisted a handful of Hollywood veterans, including Shelly Cole, who had a recurring role on “Gilmore Girls” and is now contributing her time and expertise to help the teen actors.
Hoopes, a student at Legend High School, views the entire experience as a learning opportunity. Having never acted on camera before, she found her way through auditions, callbacks and script readings before landing a speaking role that also incorporates her interest in singing.
“However you get your foot in the door, it doesn't matter what door it is,” said Hoopes, 16.
Belser took an innovative approach to putting the movie together. She was partly inspired by Boulder-based Hitching Post Theater, which requires a writer to quickly create a script based on the headshots of the two main characters. The actors then get an hour or two to rehearse with a director before a one-act production in front of an audience. The making and viewing of the show, from start to finish, happens in one day.
“It forces the actors to memorize their lines quickly and to trust your instincts when you're up there,” she said. “There's this fear in it and it's intense.”
Low-budget films that became wildly popular, such as “The Blair Witch Project” and “Paranormal Activity,” further inspired Belser. And with a budget of less than $100,000 for “Body Keepers,” she has carefully researched the secrets to the creators' success.
They are shooting with a Red Digital Camera, a high-quality device that has been used in feature films. Belser said she does not want to make a B movie and wants to make Colorado proud while putting its film industry workers on the map and offering them a chance to work on something unique.
Belser is motivated to create something special, ideally a film that generates a groundswell of interest. But she has encountered her fair share of doubters, who give her a sarcastic “good luck” when they discover the “lightning speed” at which “Body Keepers” is being made, she said.
The film will start shooting within the next two weeks, and Belser is laser-focused on a mid-October release in 50 Colorado theaters, just in time for Halloween.
For more information, go to www.myteenmovie.com.
The film is based around the true story of Bredo Morstol, whose grandson brought his cryogenically frozen body to Nederland, Colo., in 1993. Since officials discovered his body on dry ice in a shed on the family's property, the town has celebrated “Frozen Dead Guy Days” as a way to boost tourism. Legal battles have ensued over the keeping of the body on the property, as well as rights to the family's story. The movie focuses on a fictitious group of teens who sneak into the shed before the start of “Frozen Dead Guy Days” only to discover there is much more going on.