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HomeArtLocal film “Stills” debuts Jan. 22

Local film “Stills” debuts Jan. 22

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At 7 pm on Sunday, Jan. 22, Brooksville’s Beacon Theatre will host the world premiere of a Hollywood-style short film planned, produced, directed, and shot right here in Hernando County. Despite its world-class acting, sets, and production values, not to mention its universal themes, this motion picture is homegrown in every way.

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Since 2018, Brooksville 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 called Stills. Kyle Marra, the founder of Root and Branch Films and director and co-writer of Stills, describes the film as the story of 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.”

This dynamic mystery crime thriller is filled with excitement and suspense–not to mention people, sets, and elements sure to appear very familiar to Hernando audiences.

This film was shot within a three-mile radius of downtown Brooksville. Jesse Cuddeback, a Brooksville local, provided an unmarked police interceptor for Detective Monroe to drive. The Treiman House housed talent. Mountaineer Coffee provided coffee for morning shoots. Randi Olsen and Live Oak Theatre supplied the wardrobe. Wayne Johnson allowed the conversion of a historic space into a police precinct set. Kesseltech outfitted the precinct with computers, and Hernando Sun provided templates for prop newspapers.

Stills is getting its due, garnering stellar reviews and many accolades at major film festivals. Stills was screened at the Tampa Bay Underground Film Festival on Dec. 3, 2022, where it won big at the Buffy’s Awards Ceremony.

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Stills won TBUFF honors for:
Best Florida Short Film
Best Supporting Actor (Paul Saulo)
Top 30 Films
In addition, Stills garnered TBUFF nominations for:
Best Short Screenplay
Best Lead Actress (Patrece Bloomfield)
Best Short Film Director

Additional Wins and Nominations included:
Winner: Best Thriller Long Short –
Alternative Film Festival (Canada)

Winner: Best Film – WildSound Feedback Screenplay and Film Festival (Canada)
Winner: Best Short Film –
Cuckoo International Film Awards (India)
Winner: Best Actress –
Cuckoo International Film Awards (India)
Winner: Best Director –
Cuckoo International Film Awards (India)
Winner: Best Director –
Direct Monthly Online Film Festival
Winner: Outstanding Achievement Award – Knights of the Reel Film Festival (India)
Nominee: Best Cast –
Alternative Film Festival (Canada)
Nominee: Best Director –
Alternative Film Festival (Canada)

This triumph in short filmmaking, according to Stills creators, is the product of a long and painstaking creative process.
“From concept to creation, this film has taken roughly two years to get made,” said Kyle Marra (Director/Producer/Co-writer). “We knew this would be a challenging project, so we took our time and planned as much as we could to set ourselves up for success.”
The film, explained Marra, comes with an extensive backstory.

“The idea for Stills came while Lief Thomason, Tommy McTague, and I were working a production gig in October 2020. After the three of us spent time developing the characters, Tommy’s brother, James McTague, and I began writing the film. Once we had a completed draft in January 2021, we spent the rest of the year workshopping the script until we felt like we had a draft that was solid enough to begin the casting process,” he said. “There were over 20 variations of the script as we would add and subtract pieces based on feedback from some trusted friends. Casting took place in Fall 2021, nearly a year after the idea was spoken into existence. From there, we put our first day of filming on the calendar. Our first day on set was President’s Day weekend 2022, and we filmed one weekend per month until we wrapped in May… Once we wrapped filming, we put the finishing touches on the film itself so that it could be sent off to our Composer, Colorist, and Sound Team.”

Fundraising played a compelling role in the production of Stills.
“Filmmaking can be a costly endeavor. Going into this project, we knew we were going to need to raise funds to accomplish what we set out to do,” said Marra. “When we were nearing the end of filming, we paired the release of our trailer with the launch of an IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign in order to raise the $11,000 we needed to get the film done properly. These funds enabled us to bring in the handsome, dapper, esteemed (his words) Chris Dudley of the Grammy-nominated band Underoath as our Composer. They also allowed us to work with an extremely gifted Colorist, Marieta Farfarova. Additional funds went towards paying some key production expenses, festival distribution expenses, and premiere costs.”
The production, according to cast and crew, came with its share of challenges.

“Lief, Tommy, and I have all worked on projects together before, but this one was easily the largest in scale that we have come together to produce. In my role, I was acting as a writer, producer, director, casting director, and more. There was a lot to juggle,” said Kyle Marra. “I don’t think the magnitude of the project hit us until we stepped onto set for day one. After seeing how hard the crew and talent worked and reviewing the footage later, we realized that we had set a standard of quality for ourselves that we needed to uphold for the rest of the shoot… We even made the decision to cut a scene from the script and write a new one a month before our last shoot to ensure that the best possible story made it into the final edit. In the end, we learned a lot and are very proud of the finished product.”

Tommy McTague, Gaffer/Producer, said, “The biggest challenge I had to overcome was my own inexperience. I was the only crew member who had any sort of Grip and electric experience. That put a lot of pressure on me as the Gaffer to A: Know what I’m doing and B: Get the look right.”
“For me, the biggest challenge was making everything intentional. Kyle and I put in a lot of effort to not just make things happen to happen. We wanted a reason behind it,” commented Co-writer James McTague.

Lief Thomason, Director of Photography/Producer, remarked, “We’re mostly a group of self-taught storytellers that have picked up tricks of the trade by being on other sets and telling stories at a much smaller scale. To me, managing a story told with more people, over many months, in this 30-minute time frame was the biggest challenge we had to learn in the midst of production.”

Andrew Kerr, who plays James Temple, stated, “As an actor, sometimes you have very long hours with small on-screen segments and a lot of downtime in between takes. Sometimes you are on set throughout the night, yet you have to be fresh and ready for every scene. When the directing and writing is good, it makes those long days and nights worth it.”

According to Patrece Bloomfield, who plays Detective Monroe, “I had to actually put my real self into the character. I had to remember that in real life, I, too, am a perfectionist like Detective Monroe, who comes across days and weeks where she feels that she is not pulling her weight. That really lent truth to the character, to her frustration, and, at the same time, to her desire to get the job done.”
Paul Saulo (Ansel Stills) said, “The script made the story real. My job was to make you believe it. The challenge was creating a complex character and channeling him.”

Tony Palles (Sergeant Hall) laughed, “There weren’t really any challenges for me making this film other than the Florida heat.”
Shaila Velazques (Isabel Temple/Script Supervisor) said, “To be honest, I don’t feel like I experienced any challenges during the production. My experience as both an actress and on the production team was a good one. The team was great to work with, and I felt blessed to be able to be a part of it all.”

Rachel Espendez (Officer Farley) said, “You never know what to expect when you arrive on a new set for the first time, but any fear of the unknown that I might’ve felt quickly faded. I was welcomed with open arms, smiles, and excitement. From there, we hit the ground running with an intense scene.”

Katie Marra (Officer Alia/2nd AC) said, “Being a part of the off-screen crew AND on-screen cast was a challenge as I didn’t want to overstep my bounds on the day I was talent and vice versa when I was crew. Also, playing a background police officer was a challenge as I had to learn the proper ways to handle myself and a (fake) weapon based on the advice and instruction of our police consultant.”

Audra Thomason (Production Manager) said, “Predicting what happens next and the needs that come along with it excites me. I was made for being there to support the boss and understand how decisions made will trickle down. Kyle, Lief, and Tommy did an amazing job preparing for each production day, but there are always surprises and unknowns. Managing the fluctuating schedule and ever-changing set list was a challenge for me. It’s thrilling and makes me excited for being a part of what this crew does next.”

“This project has been a community effort all the way around,” Marra continued. “We have had the opportunity to work with many talented people from all over the Tampa Bay Area and beyond to make this film. It’s been neat to see people rally around it. This is only the beginning!”

In the eyes of MacTague, Stills personifies the very concept of a homegrown community film. “I want people to know that this isn’t a film thought up by four people,” said MacTague. “This is a community film. We had a dream, and this was made possible by the incredible people of BROOKSVILLE. People gave us a chance when they had every reason not to, and for that, I am beyond grateful.”

For more about Stills, visit rootandbranchfilms.com. This will be a invite only event although a public event is planned for the future.

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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