It's a frosty midmorning on the corner of 12th and Birch streets in Buhl. If not for the massive generator and truck-side snack table, the day's filming location--a whitewashed, dilapidated dwelling--could have been any house on the block. As co-producer Laura Mehlhaff gets up, abandoning the warm stoop huddle of producer Heather Rae and art intern Hayley Curby, we hear calls for sound, speed and action echo from around the corner. It's Day 13--as indicated by the mark in Sharpie on the back of Mehlhaff's hand--and things seem to be running smoothly on the set of Buhl, Idaho, the biggest little film to blow through the Magic Valley since Breakfast of Champions was shot in Twin Falls a decade ago.
"People haven't seen [this] before," says Mehlhaff, "and they haven't had bad experiences with film crews yet, which a lot of people in larger states have. We hope that we don't change that."
Although boasting substantial Hollywood credentials--such as actors Scott Glenn (The Silence of the Lambs) and Kyle Gallner (The Haunting in Connecticut)--the cast and crew have embraced the rural charms of their less-than-glamorous surroundings.
"People are excited to see you in a small town," says actor Johnny K. Lewis, a series regular on the FX drama Sons of Anarchy. "In Los Angeles, they're like 'get off our lawn!' ... and I've seen more awesome mullets in the past two weeks than in the previous five years!"
With daily mustache comparisons and late-night karaoke sessions, the serious and tightly scheduled business of filmmaking here is animated with a quirky atmosphere of cooperation. While a significant portion of the crew and a few key cast members are new to the film industry--including first-time feature writer/director Jaffe Zinn--even novices are expected to pitch in.
"Everyone's kind of filling in where they can, wearing multiple hats," says Boisean Kirk Calzacorta. "I got hired as a driver, but I've been helping in the art department and as a production assistant. It's kind of a collaborative effort--all hands on deck."
The communal experience seems to have left some cast members loathe to move on. At lunch time, actress Alison Elliott (Wings of the Dove) was already seated at the local Moose Lodge, despite having wrapped her scenes two days previously. A lot of the credit for this protracted participation goes to Sundance award-winning producer Heather Rae, who produced last year's Oscar-nominated Frozen River.
"She's good at making connections with people," Mehlhaff says. "I think part of her success is the fact that she's nice and knows how to surround herself with good people."
A longtime proponent of Idaho filmmakers, Rae first met Zinn, a former Buhl resident now residing in New York, after accepting his short submissions into the now defunct True West Film Festival. After penning the full-length script for Buhl, Idaho--a darkly comedic examination of small-town secrets--Zinn approached Rae. The decision to shoot in his hometown became an opportunity both to support the local community and provide valuable experience for area filmmakers.
"It's been really fun shooting in Idaho and being able to bring out some Idahoans as crew to help put this together ... there's immense talent here and immense drive," says Mehlhaff. "We're trying to make this a local and community thing, giving people in the community jobs and trying to go to mom-and-pop stores as opposed to Walmart for items that we need."
While eyes both in Idaho economic sectors and on nearby neighborhood streets watch Buhl's production, on set it's the daily concerns of an expedited shoot that holds everyone's attention--the thickness of a stunt crash pad for Boise actress Rachel LeMar and final make-up retouches. But for those Idahoans around after the final shot, this experience is just the beginning.
"This is an opportunity to prove to our local government that Idaho can make films, we can bring productions into the area and boost the economy," says Calzacorta. "... to set the stage and really get people involved in thinking that Idaho is a film community."