Survivor’s Malcolm Freberg: About to start his ‘Wayfaring’ trek across America

11 Jun

Let’s face it—at one time or another, most everyone has wanted to do what Malcolm Freberg is about to do. Starting July 1st, Freberg and a small video production team will take off from Los Angeles on a 20-day loop across America titled “Wayfaring.” Where they will go and what they will do isn’t even within their control. It’s within ours. And we’ll have a chance to see what they do each day almost instantaneously.

Malcolm Freberg

Malcolm Freberg

In conjunction with the project, Freberg launched a Kickstarter campaign on June 11, running through June 26, in hopes of raising $9,000 to help cover a portion of the costs of the trip. Here’s the site: (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1135751081/wayfaring).

During their journey, the team will shoot and edit a short episode every day — meaning 20 episodes in 20 days, each available on the official Wayfaring site the day after it’s shot. Therefore, whatever happens on July 1st is available for viewing the morning of the 2nd, whatever happens on the 2nd is available on the 3rd, and so on until the event is over. Every major decision – what city to visit, what crazy stunt to attempt – is decided by a public vote via social media.

“I’ve been kicking a couple of ideas around for TV shows, looking for something that would be both entertaining and interactive,” he said during an interview in Los Angeles. “I wanted to create something like an interactive children’s book, where the audience is going to control our schedule and itinerary. Our team doesn’t choose where we drive or what we do each day of the road trip; our viewers and followers do.”

Freberg is no stranger to adventure, as millions of viewers of the reality TV series “Survivor” know. He was a contestant on back-to-back seasons of the show—“Survivor: Philippines” and “Survivor: Caramoan.” And he competed in both those seasons with just a two-week break in between. So you’d think a little trek across the country wouldn’t seem too challenging or daunting. Think again.

Freberg and team are ready to make a 20-day loop across America, at America's discretion.

Freberg and team are ready to make a 20-day loop across America, at America’s discretion.


The “Wayfaring” team, consisting of 13 men and women who will traverse America in a bus and passenger van, have partnered with Zoomph, a social media engagement platform, to host all polls. Each morning, in conjunction with the episode, they’ll announce the choices for that day’s travel. These locations will be assigned hashtags, and followers will post votes to their social media account.

“For example, say one day we’re deciding between riding bulls at a dude ranch in Texas, or playing alien-related games in Roswell, New Mexico (these will not necessarily be choices on the trip),” Malcolm said. “The options will be announced at the end of the previous day’s episode, as well as on the Wayfaring website and Twitter account. They’ll be accompanied by unique hashtags, in this case #WFCowboys and #WFAliens (‘WF’ = Wayfaring), which you’ll use to make your choice. Simply post the designated hashtags to your social media account, and you’ve voted.”
ON AND BEYOND--WAYFARING LOGOEach poll will have a limited run time. The #WFCowboys vs #WFAliens poll may be open when you wake up and end at 12:30 PM EST/9:30AM PST, but Malcolm and crew will also be announcing quick, impromptu decisions throughout the day.

“Say our crew has to stop for fuel at a gas station in Podunktown, USA — Wayfaring may poll, “What should Malcolm start a conversation about with the clerk: #WFRoadkillRecipes, #WFCommunism, or #WFFlirt?” You will be dictating every step of this journey.” He says it’s possible the trek could come through most anyone’s hometown, within geographic reason, depending in part on the amount of social media activity that community and/or its followers generate. Malcolm will fill in the gaps with his own special brand of nonsense, but he says that never before has an audience had complete control over a living, breathing protagonist before.

“This won’t be a life-of-luxury trip, either,” he said. “We’ll be living off Raman noodles, sleeping in the van and not hotels, and we want it to look and feel gritty.”

The Texas native who was raised in Georgia and graduated from Dartmouth (where he played football) says “this is me catching up on this kind of experience. I had a corporate education background and never did the vagabondish, get-out-of-town thing. But now’s a chance to let go of our responsibilities for a few weeks, have an adventure, get out of our ruts, and let the country drive our journey interactively. What lies ahead and is in store for us is largely dependent on how our viewers and followers direct us.”

One thing the crew does know is that the journey will start in Los Angeles and end in Los Angeles, when the entourage arrives back in town on July 20. In between—who knows?

A number of rewards and incentives are tied in to the Kickstarter program for those who want to support and feel a part of the project. The official Wayfaring website is at http://www.wayfaringlive.com. You can also follow on Twitter: @MalcolmWHM (https://twitter.com/MalcolmWHW) or @WayfaringLive (https:twitter.com/wayfaringlive).

–Tom Haraldsen

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Carrie Preston and company drink to the truth in ‘Vino Veritas’

28 Jan

If you had the chance to really find out ALL of your spouse or partner’s secret thoughts or actions, would you do it? That’s the dilemma facing Emmy-award winning actress Carrie Preston and three others who spend an unusual Halloween night together in “Vino Veritas.” Director Sarah Knight’s exploration of the inhibitions and frustrations of these two couples in this new release is now available on VOD and iTunes.

Actress Carrie Preston stars in "Vino Veritas," a wonderful new film recently released on VOD and iTunes.

Actress Carrie Preston stars in “Vino Veritas,” a wonderful new film recently released on VOD and iTunes.

Preston plays Claire, the sheltered and under-achieving wife of her physician husband Ridley (Bernard White) who finds one of her few delights in life at the community’s annual Halloween costume party. When Claire and Bernard arrive at the home of friends Lauren and Phil (actors Heather Raffo and Brian Hutchison), she is fully attired in her Queen Elizabeth I dress. But the couples never make it to the party, instead deciding to sample a Peruvian wine brewed from the skins of blue dart tree frogs. If ever there was a time when the term “truth serum” applies to alcohol, it was cinematically evident on this film.

“The story was originally from a play done at the Purple Rose Theater in Michigan,” Preston told me during an interview from her home in New York. “It’s the theater Jeff Daniels started, and a wonderful regional theater. Sarah’s mother saw it first and just loved it, and kept encouraging Sarah to take a look at it and consider it as a film.”

Knight, whose previous work was mostly on documentaries, worked with David MacGregor, the screenwriter and playwright of the story, to develop her narrative feature debut.

“We filmed right here in my hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska,” she said during our interview. “We got a lot of great things by doing that, including being well fed because my parents did the cooking and handled craft services. That made the heat and long hours (the film was made in July in a home without air conditioning, and in just 12 days of shooting) a bit more palatable. And the cast was great, real troopers. Carrie’s dress weighed 30 pounds and she had to wear it throughout the film.”
Carrie Preston--1

For Preston, best known for her roles in The Good Wife (for which she won the Emmy) and True Blood, she found the role of Claire to be “a great acting exercise, playing a person who has this shell that she wears when she’s out in the world. In the course of the film, that shell gets broken, and you get to see all the wishes and the vulnerable and the funny and exciting contents within her. The real self comes out. It was fun and ultimately a poignant journey with this character, and I was able to get on board with that.”

Raffo is best known as the writer and solo performer of the Off Broadway hit, 9 Parts of Desire, which details the lives of nine Iraqi women. Her character, Lauren, was the one Knight was most drawn towards.

“Much like me, she is an incredibly forthright person who expects those around her to follow suit,” Knight said in the film’s press notes. “This is a story in which, thanks to the effects of a tribal concoction, the characters are stripped of the carefully composed social masks they have diligently fashioned for themselves. The superficial veneer of what passes for civilization is peeled away, layer by layer, to reveal not just personal quirks and secrets, but the primal core that drives so much of our behavior as human beings. Whether the subject is children, faith, sex, death, or the drives and desires that are hardwired into our DNA, this is, finally, a film about what it means to be human.”

As the blue dart tree frog wine takes effect, secrets are revealed, though to lighten the mood a bit, Lauren asks each character to tell what their last meal on Earth would be. So I posed that question to Preston and Knight.

“A Thanksgiving dinner,” Preston said, “Southern style. Turkey, squash casserole, green beans with salt pork and biscuits. That delicious comfort food that congers up all my memories of Thanksgiving, which is my favorite holiday.”

For Knight, the final feast would simply be “fried chicken livers, which is a Nebraska delicacy. I’m here with the parents now and I’ve been eating a lot of them recently.”

The next obvious question was this: Put into a situation like these four characters in “Vino Veritas,” would either of them risk opening up their souls by drinking the wine?

“I don’t know—maybe,” replied Preston, who is married to actor Michael Emerson (Person of Interest). “We’re both pretty comfortable with each other, and we’ve been together for almost 20 years. But I also think that one thing that’s great about long term relationships is that there’s still mystery. There’s still things about Michael that I don’t know and I love and relish finding those things out as we talk. Part of me wouldn’t want to mess that up—to get it all at once.”

“I don’t have much of a filter anyway,” Knight said with a laugh. “I don’t think there’d be much difference—me being on truth serum. I’m always interested in what people think, but I don’t necessarily want to know what they think about me. That’d be my only hesitation.”

“I’m very proud of this film,” Preston said. “I think it’s such an interesting study of marriage and relationships and telling the truth.”

“I’ve had the chance to tour with the film a bit at festivals,” Knight said. “I do think it resonates, but every audience is so different. There are certain lines that get laughs, and others that get a silent reaction. It’s sort of a Rorschach test for the audiences, to see what they get and what they don’t. There’s a lot to relate to there, and I hope it inspires conversations between couples and friends.”

By Tom Haraldsen

Lindsay Lohan returning to screen with ‘Inconceivable’

23 Jan

For fans of actress Lindsay Lohan, just about anything you read over the past few years would have seemed almost inconceivable, given the beginning of her career for the talented young movie star. But she hopes those headline-making days off the screen are behind her. Now, the term inconceivable is about to become something much more positive.

A happy and healthy-looking Lindsay Lohan came to Sundance to announce her next project, the psychological thriller "Inconceivable".

A happy and healthy-looking Lindsay Lohan came to Sundance to announce her next project, the psychological thriller “Inconceivable”.

Lohan, looking happier and healthier than in recent months, made her first-ever appearance at the Sundance Film Festival this week, announcing that she will star in, and serve as a co-producer, of the new film “Inconceivable,” a psychological thriller to be produced by Randall Emmett for his Emmett/Furla/Oasis Films. It will be distributed by Grindstone/Lionsgate Films.

Lindsay 2Lohan will portray Katie, a young woman on a journey to reclaim something she’s lost. The similarity to her own personal story wasn’t lost on Lohan, who sourced the script.

“I related to the character in a lot of ways,” she said with a smile. “It’s about finding something that’s utterly important to her. I approached Randall because of his incredible resume of work (including “End of Watch,” “Rambo” and “2 Guns”). I was anxious to get this going, and basically asked him, ‘Are you in or are you out?’”

“Lindsay is one of the best young actresses in her generation,” Emmett said, flanking her at the press conference in the Social Film Loft at Sundance. “She found the script and loved it. We’re anxious to get started on casting and finding locations.”

The film will begin shooting in mid-March, in either New Orleans or Atlanta. Lohan flew in from London to make the announcement at the Sundance Film Festival, a big stage for filmmakers from around the world, not to mention entertainment writers.

Lindsay Lohan and producer Randall Emmett

Lindsay Lohan and producer Randall Emmett

“This is very therapeutic for me, throwing myself into every facet of this production,” she said. “I like being involved in something this big.”

She’s hooked her star to an impressive wagon. Emmett/Furla Films has produced 70 movies over the past 15 years, generating $500 million in box office sales. Its latest film, “Lone Survivor,” has topped the ticket sales charts the past two weeks. The company recently wrapped production on “The Prince & Captive” to be released later this year.

“We’ll be announcing more casting news in the next few weeks,” Emmett said. “We’re very excited to be working with Lindsay and producing ‘Inconceivable.’”

–Story and photos by Tom Haraldsen

Foreigner: Still rockin’ audiences worldwide

29 Oct

The longevity of Foreigner is not a surprise to rock and roll enthusiasts, who’ve embraced the band and its music since the group came together in 1976. And now their latest CD, “Feels Like the First Time,” offers amazing versions of their biggest hits, plus a DVD of a performance. The group is currently finishing a long tour, and we caught up with the band for an interview for On and Beyond and Entertainment Journal.

Foreigner’s debut album produced #1 hits ‘Feels Like the First Time,” “Cold As Ice” and “Long, Long Way Home.” Their album “Double Vision” followed, and during the zenith of the ‘80s sound, three more Foreigner albums topped the charts.

Still rockin': Foreigner remains a hot concert ticket throughout the world.

Still rockin’: Foreigner remains a hot concert ticket throughout the world.

Though the group broke up briefly in 2002, founder Mick Jones responded to an outpouring of public support and encouragement and reloaded a new powerhouse lineup of musicians, and Foreigner was back. Now, 37 years after the group’s first performances, its latest tour is once again propelling them to the top of the charts, taking them across the U.S. as well as to South America, Mexico and Europe. They will return to England to start a new tour of the UK next April.

Multi-talented musician Tom Gimbel, who plays rhythm guitar, keyboards, sax and flute for Foreigner, spoke about the group’s long-lasting and ever-increasing popularity.

“It’s a real testament to the quality of the songs,” he said. “Mick is a master of songwriting. Woven into his material is a real heartfelt, soulful sentiment. I’ve seen Mick write a song and actually be in tears. He puts his heart into it and I think that sincerity shows up over time.”

Jones was elected last February to the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In addition to penning many of Foreigners’ hits, he wrote “Bad Love” for Eric Clapton and “Dreamer” with Ozzy Osbourne, and has produced records for the likes of Billy Joel and Van Halen. He’s been nominated for both Grammy and Golden Globe awards, and won the prestigious British Ivor Novello Songwriter Award for “The Flame Still Burns” from the movie “Still Crazy.”

Gimbel, who joined Foreigner after performing with Aerosmith for years, learned that Jones was looking for someone “who played guitar and sax and sing. I wanted to man that rhythm guitar, so I jumped at the chance to join the band.”

In 2012, they experienced another surge in popularity when three of their songs were featured on the “Rock of Ages” soundtrack, “more songs than from any other band,” Gimbel said. Hollywood took note, and several tracks were included in the films “Magic Mike” and “Pitch Perfect.” Those send Foreigner music downloads up 400 percent, with their catalog outselling The Eagles, Def Leppard, Tom Petty and The Who that year.

“I think people still have a lot of hunger for this type of music,” Gimbel said. “It’s kind of a throwback in a way—no spinning, no deejays—what we call traditional rock. All ages show up to watch us, and I can’t believe how young some of the kids are who are rocking out. It’s nice to see some who enjoy their parents’ music.”

His favorite Foreigner tune? “’Urgent.’ I always get an extra charge out of that one, playing the sax in a brutal, almost full tilt pace—going from 0 to 1,000 miles an hour. It’s a challenge, but it’s an adrenaline rush for all of us, and it really kick starts the show.”

Though many of today’s up-and-coming musical artists are geared to go solo, Gimbel believes “kids still love to form rock bands in their garages. It’s more fun to be in a band, and there’s a lot of great ones out there that we haven’t heard of. But we will.”

Like his Foreigner bandmates, Gimbel is right where he always wanted to be—enjoying a career in music that keeps on giving not only to their fans, but to group’s members as well.

“If you have a little luck, develop some talent and work hard, good things will happen,” he said. “These are great years for us.”

And for fans of Foreigner as well.

-Tom Haraldsen

Judy Norton: Living and loving the evolution of TV

3 Oct

Back in 1971, when “The Waltons” premiered on CBS, no one realized the popularity and longevity that the series would enjoy. For nine seasons, it dominated the ratings, winning numerous Emmy, Golden Globe and People’s Choice Awards. It also broke new ground in network television—proof that a show about family, and family values, could succeed even as the world’s values began changing.

Actress Judy Norton had no idea how impactful her role as Mary Ellen Walton on the show would be. By time she was 6, the Los Angeles native was already working in television on programs like “Ozzie and Harriet,” “The Tammy Grimes Show” and “Felony Squad.” But it was as the eldest Walton daughter that her career really took hold.
Judy Norton
Fast forward to 2013, and Norton is breaking ground again with a new role, and a new type of TV offering. She plays Judge Sophia Wyndom on “Bluff,” a series launched this year on ConvergTV and the Venture Channel, accessible on the popular Roku Box (www.roku.com) system. It’s a new forum for TV—not only in its content but in the way it’s offered to viewers. And it’s a sign of the continuing evolution of entertainment in this age of technology.

“‘Bluff’ is produced completely by an indie company,” she said during an interview from her Southern California home. “It’s great that we’re part of an evolution in the film industry, where you can make a film or TV series without a big budget or superstar names. As producers, we’re no longer held back—equipment is easier to use and so much less expensive, and digital technology gives us more capability to craft the shows the way we want them.”

“Bluff,” a suspense-laden, character-driven police drama that tackles social issues like alcoholism, drug abuse, parenting after a divorce and child trafficking, was created by Canadian actress Jewelle Colwell, who stars as Detective Summer Brown. She pitched the idea to Norton through a mutual friend.

“Jewelle and I really hit it off immediately,” Norton recalls. “I loved what she was doing. She had a web series for one season, and took the core of the story and turned it into this TV series. It was kind of a natural progression for her, and for all of us as we produced the first six episodes.” Norton has also penned and directed some of those episodes, and the collaborative team is working on securing financing to produce six more.

When “The Waltons” was airing, there was far less competition in the TV market.

“We had three networks, and thus the opportunity to have extremely high ratings,” Norton said. “It was good for us, and even today, more than 40 years from when the series started, it still resonates. People still see and hear of the show. It’s a lot tougher for shows today to get anywhere near that kind of recognition.”
Judy on Bluff
Still, as this year’s Emmy Awards proved again, non-network shows such as “Breaking Bad” and “Homeland,” and “House of Cards” on Netflix, are increasingly popular and in demand. The playing field has been leveled greatly for independent filmmakers and producers.

Norton has continued to perform for more than three decades since “The Waltons,” with many other TV appearances (including three Walton reunion shows) and on stage. She sings, dances and is an exceptional athlete. Her website (judynorton.com) showcases her great variety of talents. She lived and worked in Canada for several years (and returned to work on “Bluff,” which is filmed in Alberta), and has written the screenplay for a film titled “Finding Harmony” that will be released next year. Just last week, she began filming a new web series called “Disorganized Zone.” She’s as busy as ever, and she’s passionate about what “Bluff” has, and will continue, to accomplish.

“It’s a demographic that we have not fully served,” she says. “‘Bluff’ is really about the people who put on a public front, and use that to kind of bluff through their lives. What’s behind those facades is what we dive into, the demons and skeletons in their closets. It’s a much more mature show than the typical series, which makes it challenging to write. You can’t really express those types of emotions in actors with dialogue alone. But we all love that challenge.”

And she’s quick to point out that one of the secrets behind the series’ success is the investment, literally and figuratively, of the whole team.

“I really love the collaborative aspect of working with friends in this industry,” she says. “We have a fan page on Facebook that we constantly keep updated for our viewers, and get their comments and feedback. As new platforms open and develop, we keep our fans posted. It’s what makes this industry so exciting for me personally, and for so many of my fellow actors, writers, producers and directors. You have to get creative on all of this. Only a handful can do it for fame and fortune; but doing what you want to do, and doing it well, is its own reward.”

–Tom Haraldsen

Lexi Ulmer: Writing and singing from the heart

26 Aug

Songwriter Lexi Ulmer could be the next big thing in female pop music.

Songwriter Lexi Ulmer could be the next big thing in female pop music

If you watched the MTV Music Awards on Aug. 25, or have turned on a radio in the past couple of years, you know there’s an ever-growing popular trend in contemporary music—female singer/songwriters telling it like it is to their former boyfriends in ways totally relatable to scores of other young women. Taylor Swift and Colbie Caillat have made millions of fans, and millions of dollars, doing just that.

Add another name to the list—that of 18-year-old Californian Lexi Ulmer. Like Taylor and Colbie, she sings on her self-titled debut EP about love found and lost, dreams hoped for but never realized, bonds broken. She hasn’t made a fortune doing it—at least not yet. But again, don’t be surprised if she someday joins that list as well—and shows up to collect an MTV Moonman or two of her own.

And ironically, she says she’s never been in love.

“I’ve always been fascinated with it (being in love), though,” she said during a telephone interview from Southern California, where she was busy packing before heading off to her first year of college. “I’ve written songs since I was about 10, but it all truly began when I was a freshman in high school and had a crush on a senior football star. I started writing songs about trivial things…like his girlfriend. It progressed from there.”
Lexi Album
Her CD features seven songs she penned prior to recording the album last fall. Her opening song, titled appropriately “I’ll Start With This,” sets the tone for a great musical romp through many emotions. “Get Over It” sends a message to an ex to move on, “Think of Me” warns a former beau that he’ll be sorry he let her go, and “The Day I Met You” seems to serve as a launch site for someone meeting that person they fall instantly in love with. The comparisons of her music with that of Swift and Caillat are both flattering and accurate.
Recording the album was a dream come true for Lexi.

“It was the most amazing experience putting it together,” she said. “I got to work in a studio over three months with some fantastic musicians and a great producer.” She sells the CD on iTunes as well as her website (lexiulmer.com), where fans can connect to everything going on in her life.

But music isn’t her only focus. She starts classes this fall at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, where she’s planning to major in public relations with an emphasis in music marketing. She is a young woman very much in control of her life, and her future.

“I loved Flagstaff from the first moment I visited it,” she recalled. “I’m from Lake Arrowhead, and the entire NAU campus is bigger than the town I live in! Plus, it’s in the mountains and surrounded by trees—just like here.”

Writing and singing “are the most amazing forms of therapy in the world,” she said. “That’s exactly how I deal with my emotions. I started writing songs to fit the story of how I am feeling at that moment.” She spends much of her time online, contacting record labels and looking for representation, as well as scheduling performances at small venues or corporate events. Her goal is to get that first recording contract and take the next big step professionally. She knows things take time, and she seems to have the patience necessary to endure.

Oh, and as for that “never been in love thing,” guys—beware. She’s in no hurry for that, either.

“I meet people and become easily infatuated, but never long term,” she said. “I’m too independent—don’t want to have to compromise anything.”

That would seem a pretty good formula for success, something very likely close-at-hand for Lexi Ulmer.

–Tom Haraldsen

‘Austenland’ cast, crew discuss bringing the romantic comedy to theaters

23 Aug

The first time Stephanie Meyer read the novel “Austenland,” she said it was “adorable. The best tribute to obsessed Austen freaks (like me) that I’ve ever read.” That was in 2007, when author Shannon Hale’s novel was first published by Bloomsbury. Little did either of them know that four years later, they’d be collaborating on a screenplay, along with writer/director Jerusha Hess, to bring that novel to film.

Actress Keri Russell and writer/director Jerusha Hess at the "Austenland" premiere during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.

Actress Keri Russell and writer/director Jerusha Hess at the “Austenland” premiere during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival

“Austenland” opens today in a nationwide limited release. It delighted audiences at this year’s Sundance Film Festival in January, and enjoyed a true Hollywood-style premiere in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago. For Meyer, best known as the author of the “Twilight” series, being a co-producer of the film was a delight—almost as much as reading her good friend Hale’s book for the first time.

We caught up with these three ladies, and the talented cast of “’Austenland,” at the Festival, in a closed bar that served, as many closed Park City businesses do during Sundance, as a press venue. It was the second time that Hess has been part of a SFF premiere. Along with her husband, Jared, they premiered the hit “Napoleon Dynamite” at Sundance in 2004.

“This time was much different,” Hess said of her directorial debut. “There was a lot less pressure than before with ‘Napoleon.’ It’s still very professional, but less stressful for all of us.”

She was introduced to Hale’s book through a friend, “and I read it that very night. Shannon and Stephanie were friends, and then I became involved and we worked on the screenplay for about a year.”

“Austenland” is the story of Jane Hayes, played wonderfully by actress Keri Russell, a single New York woman who has an unhealthy obsession with Mr. Darby from the BBC adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice.” She soon learns of an opportunity to visit a getaway-destination themed on the Jane Austen classic—a sort of Fantasy Island for women wishing to live out their dreams of meeting the proud and proper gentlemen of Austen’s story.

“Jane’s (Hayes) obsession with Mr. Darby is over-the-top,” Russell told me. “Her bedroom décor is all about Mr. Darby and Jane Austen. She really thinks that visiting the resort will somehow propel her fantasy into reality.”

The "Austenland" cast at Sundance

The “Austenland” cast at Sundance

What she soon discovers after arriving at the England countryside resort is that other Austen-crazed women have similar dreams. The resort’s owner, Mrs. Wattlesbrook (magnificent Jane Seymour), quickly puts Russell’s character in her place, telling her she had not booked the “deluxe” package and thus housing her in a less-than-luxurious room. From there, the fun begins, as Russell meets fellow guests with the “given” titles Miss Elizabeth Charming (scene-stealing actress Jennifer Coolidge) and Lady Amelia Heartwright (funny and neurotic British actress Georgia King). Soon, they are introduced to the gallant men of Austenland—actors JJ Feild, Bret McKenzie, James Callis and Ricky Whittle. All of the cast members were present at Sundance for the press interviews, though Coolidge missed the film’s premiere due to her role on CBS’ “Two Broke Girls.”

Jerusha Hess and actress Jane Seymour

Jerusha Hess and actress Jane Seymour


“Working with these ladies was delightful,” Seymour told me. “I know that Jerusha was directing for the first time, but this seemed like one of the most relaxed and professional sets I’ve ever been part of.”

“I had a ball doing this,” Coolidge said during our interview. “I loved the way my character evolved as we went along. One of the best experiences I’ve had as an actress—working with these guys.”

“I think they were all surprised that three chicks could put this together,” Hess said in a Q & A after the film’s premiere at Eccles Theatre in Park City. “And not just three chicks—but three Mormon chicks.”

She said the film was shot at a time when Russell was “quite pregnant” with her daughter Willa. In fact, she was eight months pregnant when the film wrapped.

“When she was riding her horse in the film, we had to make sure to have someone ride right alongside of her, to protect her,” Hess said. “Some careful editing to be sure!”

“This was such a marvelous collaborative experience for us,” Feild said. “Everything about the production was top notch—from the costumes to the art direction.” And Whittle added that “being here at Sundance with the film just makes this experience even sweeter. Although I wish it was a bit warmer outside!”

Ironically, Hess was in Ogden a couple of nights after the film’s SFF premiere when she got the word that Sony Worldwide had bought the rights (Sony Pictures Classic is releasing it).

“During our Q & A, some kid came up and told me he’d read on Twitter that the film had been acquired,” she said. “Everyone in the cast and crew began texting each other—we were all thrilled.”

Jared Hess makes a cameo appearance in the film himself, but this was Jerusha’s film from start to finish. Though she’s currently taking a break to stay home with the couple’s children while Jared is directing a film with Jim Carrey and Owen Wilson, “I’m not done as a director! I loved working with the actors, the costumes and makeup and the artists. This came about organically in a way for all of us, but it’s definitely in my blood now. I might never let Jared direct again!”

“Austenland” is rated PG-13 and will likely be opened to a wider audience after its initial premiere week. That’s typical of how Sony releases independent films it acquires at Sundance and other film festivals. If you like comedy, romance, and Jane Austen, you’ll love “Austenland.”

–Tom Haraldsen