If you happened to stroll through Herron Park on Wednesday, Aug. 23, you would have seen a large group of kids aged 9 to 16, all dressed in medieval costume, sprinting through the forest or constructing a fortress out of hay and firewood.
On second glance, you might have noticed that several of the kids were carrying walkie-talkies, others were carrying clipboards with thick stacks of paper, and some were carrying Canon film cameras and sound equipment.
You would, in fact, have stumbled onto the set of Concerning Queens and Laundry Maids, a feature-length film written, produced, directed, filmed, and acted entirely by a group of local homeschool students on a $600 budget. The film, set in the Middle Ages, centers on a laundry maid named Hwyna who escapes into the woods with her best friend to avoid being forced into the kingdom’s army. Hwyna then embarks on an adventure to save her friends, including a young queen, from the throne’s evil usurpers.
The film is the brainchild of producer Mailli Brown, 14, and co-directors Elizabeth Buckner, 16, and Abbi Fisher, 14, who pooled their first initials to form the name of their production company, AME TV. The three girls, along with Melina Baracker, 14, who plays Hwyna, have written and edited 24 drafts of the script since its inception in January 2017. The most recent version clocks in at 69 pages, which will translate to roughly 50 to 60 minutes of film.
In the weeks leading up to filming, the girls contacted local venues such as Bibler Gardens, Bethlehem Lutheran Church and Herron Park to obtain filming rights, scoured thrift stores for costumes and hand-sewed many of their own, raised money for equipment and snacks via their website and GoFundMe page, choreographed fight scenes, and packed “BASH” bags. (“BASH: Because Awkward Stuff Happens,” Fisher says.)
“It’s weird that the movie is finally happening,” says Brown, the producer. “We weren’t sure that it would actually work out — we weren’t sure how many people would show up to auditions.”
Brown is currently managing a cast and crew of about 50 people, which includes 15 parents.
“All the moms are amazing,” Buckner says. “They take us places, they stay for our rehearsals, and they help us when we need it.”
Kristin Cotton, whose two children, Macy, 12, and Teddy, 10, are acting in the film, says of Brown: “She’s such a wonderful leader. She really exemplifies grace under fire.”
After filming each scene from multiple angles, Brown gathers the actors and actresses around her and plays the scene back on her camera, collecting suggestions on how to improve the quality of the shot.
“It can be hard to redo one scene over and over again,” says Sarah Fisher, 9, who plays a vagabond in the film. “But it’s so fun being on camera, and to play a part of any size is really special.”
Baracker, the lead actress, adds, laughing, “All I’ve done in the past week is scream, sob, swordfight, and run through the woods.”
Since filming began, the group has been meeting for around six hours per day, six days a week, and will continue filming through September. The crew is also working on finding a venue where they can host a movie premiere on the film’s release date, February 24, 2018.
The kids consider themselves uniquely positioned to work on projects of this nature due to the fact that they are homeschooled.
“In public school, you don’t have time for this kind of thing,” Brown says. “When you’re homeschooled, you can just dream up something, and then everyone who’s interested can do it.”
Buckner adds, “In public school film classes, they tell you what to do and give you the materials to do it with. But we figure everything out for ourselves. We have the opportunity to make our own opportunities.”
The girls also hope that sharing their movie with the wider community will provide new perspectives on what it means to be homeschooled.
“People think we don’t socialize,” Abbi Fisher says.
“Homeschooling tends to go under the radar, so when people hear this movie is being made entirely by homeschoolers, it intrigues them,” Baracker adds.
In the future, the girls dream of creating a writers’ club, in which students from across the Flathead Valley, homeschooled or otherwise, will gather to write screenplays and TV shows.
“We want to reach out to any kid who wants to be creative, who likes acting and writing,” Buckner says.
Brown adds, smiling, “We already have projects planned out through 2019.”
For updated information on the movie, visit www.amefilms.org/p/home-page.html. Donate to AME TV’s GoFundMe campaign at www.gofundme.com/flathead-valley-homeschool-movie-project. Follow the group on Instagram at www.instagram.com/the_child_artist_movies.
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