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Stills: Community effort brings homegrown film to life

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A new motion picture will feature a cast, crew, and setting that is native to Hernando County. And now the support of local citizens is being sought to bring this professionally made production to the big screen. Since 2018, the Brooksville-native owned and operated Root and Branch Films and Odd!Life Studios have brought quality entertainment to audiences and film festivals across the country, winning many honors in the process. And now, they have embarked on a compelling mystery movie project filmed right here in Hernando.

Founder of Root and Branch Films and Director and Co-Writer of Stills Kyle Marra stated, “Root and Branch Films and Odd!Life Studios are currently collaborating on a short film called ‘Stills.’ The film follows April Monroe, a seasoned detective who is wrestling with disillusionment towards her job as she attempts to unravel the mystery surrounding the disappearance of a prolific lawyer’s nine-year-old daughter. The film touches on themes like finding value in those around us, paying attention to the small details, burnout, and how pressure affects us. I’d love to share more about how we came up with the concept for the film, but it would be a bit of a spoiler. What I can say is that mystery, crime, and suspense are genres our whole team enjoys, so we were looking for an opportunity to experiment with a film that incorporated those elements.”

Marra explains that “Stills” is a homegrown production in every sense of the term.
He stated, “This film has been shot within a three-mile radius of downtown Brooksville. The neat thing about this town is the support that comes from the people here. Jesse Cuddeback, a Brooksville local, provided an unmarked police interceptor for Detective Monroe to drive, The Treiman House made it possible to house talent that was staying for multiple days, coffee for a couple of morning shoots was provided by Mountaineer Coffee, Randi Olsen and Live Oak Theatre supported the film with wardrobe, Wayne Johnson allowed us to convert a space in one of the historic buildings downtown into our police precinct set, Kesseltech outfitted our precinct with computers, and Hernando Sun provided templates that allowed us to make prop newspapers.”

When the community works together, good things are sure to happen. “This production has been a community effort all the way around. It is due to the kindness and generosity of our community that we have been able to make this film a reality,” said Marra.
At this time, more help is needed to bring “Stills” to the big screen. Marra shared, “We are set to conclude principal photography on May 22, 2022, after which it will enter the long and costly journey of post-production. In order to cover those costs, we have launched a crowdfunding campaign that will give more people in our community the opportunity to have a stake in the film. Depending on their contribution level they could receive anything from a thank you on social media to potentially receive a film credit and a few keepsakes for themselves. The proceeds from this campaign will go towards the costs of our composer, another Brooksville local who has composed tracks for films that have gone on to film festivals like Tribeca and films that have gone on to have a limited theatrical release, a colorist who will give the film a cinematic polish, and recouping some of the larger production expenses incurred by our team. Since launching our campaign we have already raised $1,100.00 of our $11,000.00 goal through a combination of in person donations and online donations.”

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The cast and crew of “Stills” take a great deal of pride in this production. Director of Photography/Producer and Cinematographer Lief Thomason helps out with producing, re-writes, very minor directing notes, basically everything an indie crew has to do to get a production done. “Kyle and I have been working together on films for a few years now and have collaborated on this script from the first idea through the 20 or more re-writes we’ve had to make. Plus, as a cinematographer, shooting a story about still photography is really intriguing,” he said. “There’s a ton of little details in here that are either references to well-known photos in history or all the secret frames we put people in to symbolize their presence in the still image.”
Key Grip/Producer Tommy McTague is mostly responsible for light setups. McTague shared, “I’ve been a part of this project from its inception. Kyle, Lief and I have been working through the script, cast and overall story for almost 2 years. There was no way I was gonna let this project happen without being a part of it. I believe we’re doing something special with this film and I can’t wait to see how it turns out! Cheers from the brethren.”

Patrece Bloomfield plays Lead Detective Monroe in the film. “It was important for me to participate [in the film] because it specifically called for an African American woman in this position which I thought was a great opportunity for me to portray such a character in a position of leadership, authority, and expertise…with a particular demeanor. And the writing of the story was just really phenomenal and I really wanted to take part in it, so for me that was really important.”

Paul Saulo plays Ansel Stills in “Stills.” Saulo shared, “My character [Ansel] is a mild-mannered senior citizen with a complex mind. Why I took the role? I just had a good feeling about it. One can see good work went into it. The ambition was there for a good film.”
Tony Palles plays Sergeant Hall. ” As an actor I have to bring him to life for the audience to experience,” he said. “It was important for me to be involved so I can expand my resume and strengthen my acting muscles.”

Isabella Rossiter portrays Katharine Temple in “Stills.” She stated, “I play Katharine, a nine-year-old girl who is sad because her parents are always busy. She gets kidnapped. It was a great opportunity to improve my acting and learn a different type of acting skill other than stage.”

Shaila Velazquez plays Isabel Temple, a high powered attorney whose daughter goes missing and was the script supervisor. “I had the opportunity to read the script last year and thought it was an interesting story and concept. The story had elements that I had not yet been a part of in any previous projects so I knew after reading the script that, if given the opportunity, I had to be a part of bringing the story to life.

Andy Kerr plays James Temple, who is the father in the story. “James struggles with the stress of his daughter going missing, and the frustration that is building from the lack of involvement from his wife due to the nature of her career. Add in her strong personality and demand for results from the detectives working their case, James is trying to keep his marriage and family together,” stated Kerr.

Kerr is proud to be involved in this Root and Branch motion picture. He shared, “”I have known some of the members of the crew for years and have appreciated their attention to detail and the quality they produce. When I was approached by Kyle to audition for the role of James, I didn’t need to read the script to know I wanted to be a part of the project. However, once I read the script I was incredibly impressed with the story and how well it was written. Once on set, Lief and Odd!Life Studios spared no expense on equipment and training. It shows in the quality of the filming but also the creative element that his team brings to the project. Kyle’s ability to draw out of each talent the aspects of the character he is looking for, is vital to being a director any actor would want to work with. The whole team makes being on set fun, exciting and rewarding!”
Rachel Espendez portrays Officer Farley in “Stills.” “She is fierce, by the book and committed to doing her job. Beyond that, Officer Farley is focused on proving that she can hold her own,” she said. “She has been building rapport with Detective Monroe and her fellow police officers, which helps give her the confidence to step up… especially when it counts the most.”

Espendez also shared, “Everything from discovering the opportunity to meeting the entire team and filming day 1 has felt like it was meant to be. Once I read the synopsis and character descriptions for Stills I was immediately hooked and reached out to Kyle Marra. It was important for me to be involved because I knew it was a project I could believe in and the role I was offered fell in line with my goals as an actress. With all the hard work everyone’s been putting in I know this short film is going to be absolutely entertaining and I feel incredibly thankful to be a part of it.”

Marra, a veteran director of Live Oak Theatre productions, says that his love for theater and the arts is also homegrown in nature. “I enjoyed writing and telling stories through high school. I had two amazing English teachers in Mrs. Kahler (of the Brooksville Mainstreet Program) and Ms. Wollerton. They both instilled in me the tools needed to write and pushed me to pursue my writing talents,” he explained. “For a time after graduating, I didn’t. I focused on acting both for film and stage instead. However, my pursuit of acting amplified my interest in writing, producing, and directing. I credit Randi Olsen at Live Oak Theatre for giving me the opportunity to hone my skills. She was the one who encouraged me to start Root and Branch Films and helped us get off the ground. Like Live Oak we believe there is great untapped talent here in Brooksville just waiting for an opportunity to showcase their skills. Since our inception, we have partnered with several local companies and individuals to make quality entertainment. Stills is being co-produced by Root and Branch Films and Odd!Life Studios, another video production company run by talented cinematographer Lief Thomason. The co-writer, key grip, set decorator, costumer, production manager, and several background actors all call Brooksville home.”

It’s been a long and very rewarding journey for this venerable creative team. “Starting in fall 2018, Root and Branch Films and Odd!Life Studios put themselves through makeshift film school by writing and producing four short films in a year,” said Marra. “Each of these films was designed to test our skills, force us to learn new ones, and help us learn more of the valuable tools needed when producing films. None of our crew went to film school. We are all self-taught. These films went on to win multiple accolades across various festivals. One of the most rewarding moments for our team was when we learned that AL, Pins and Needles, and Can I Play Now? won Best Drama, Best Thriller, and Best Family Film at the 15 Minutes of Fame Film Festival. To learn more about our previous projects and their accolades, check out rootandbranchfilms.com.”

“Stills” promises to be another winner for this long-established creative team. Marra stated, “If all goes according to plan ‘Stills’ will be completed by fall 2022. We are hopeful to have a hometown premiere so that all involved will get the opportunity to see their labor of love on the screen. It will also be submitted to festivals in and out of the state of Florida where we hope it will be well received and that our cast and crew will get the recognition they deserve. If you are interested in being a part of this project, please consider making a donation to our crowdfunding campaign. You can find more information for it at: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/stills-short-film#/.”

Movie Credits
Story by:
Kyle Marra
Lief Thomason
Tommy McTague

Written by:
Kyle Marra
James McTague

Directed by
Kyle Marra

Cinematography by
Lief Thomason

Patrece Bloomfield as Detective Monroe
Paul Saulo as Ansel Stills
Isabella Rossiter as Katharine Temple
Shaila Velazquez as Isabel Temple
Andy Kerr as James Temple
Rachel Espendez as Officer Farley
Tony Palles as Sergeant Hall

Megan Hussey
Megan Hussey
Megan Hussey is a features journalist and author who is the winner of Florida Press Association honors and a certificate of appreciation from LINCS (Family Support Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention Task Force) and Sunrise Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center for her newspaper coverage of these issues. She graduated cum laude from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., with a journalism major and English/sociology minor, and previously wrote for publications that include the Pasco editions of The Tampa Tribune and Tampa Bay Times. A native of Indiana, she lives in Florida.
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