Tag Archives: filmmaking

The Birds

Two Keas parrots conspire on the rooftop of The Hermitage Hotel at Mt. Cook in New Zealand.

Two Kea parrots conspire on the rooftop of The Hermitage Hotel at Aoraki Mount Cook in New Zealand. The Kea is thought to be one of the smartest birds in the world and is the only alpine parrot.

IMAGINE THIS SCENE:  A man and a woman are watching “Country Calendar” on the television in their house on a lonely sheep station near Lake Wakatipu in New Zealand.  The woman gets up from the couch to get some tea.  She hears a fainting tapping on the front door.

“John,”  she calls out, a little alarmed.  “There’s someone here.” 

She peers through the door’s sidelight window and sees a bloody hand smearing the glass.  “Oh, my God, John.”

"What I'd really like is a roasted red pepper, pine nut and lamb panini with honey mustard dressing."

"This isn't as tasty as that roasted red pepper, pine nut and lamb panini with honey mustard dressing that I stole from those stupid tourists the other day."

John rushes to the front hall.  “What is it?” 

“A man.  He’s hurt.  He needs help.”

John looks through the window.  “Jill don’t open the door.”   He gets a cricket bat from a closet.  He motions to his wife to get back as he opens the door. 

The stranger struggles to stand on the porch.  “They took it,” he snuffles miserably.  He weakly lifts his arm.  His shirt cuff  is shredded. 

“What did they take?”

“My Rolex,” he cries, collapsing on the porch. “My wife.  Oh, my God, my wife.  They took her jewelry. Her gold earrings.  She’ll die without those.  We didn’t have insurance.”

“Who did this?”  John walks out onto the porch to help the man to his feet.

"I know there's some food in there.  You watch the kitchen door whilst I distract the cook."

"I know there's some food in there. You watch the kitchen door whilst I distract the cook."

“They’re coming. Don’t let them in.”  The stranger puts his hands over his head, whimpering.  “I saved for months for that watch. It was so cooool. Now it’s gone…….It isn’t right.  They don’t even need to tell time.”

An eerie sound pierces the air.   “Keaaah!  Keaaah!”  Seemingly out of nowhere, a flock of green birds swoops in, a flash of red under their wings as they dive toward the open door.

“John, John!”  Jill yells, terrified.  John starts flailing at the birds. 

A few birds swoop toward Jill.  She barely gets the door closed in time.  The birds flap at the window for a few moments, and then they disappear.  John and Jill help the stranger to a chair.  “It’s too late,” the stranger says.  “You can’t escape them. They won’t stop until they get it all.” 

“You’re safe now,” Jill soothes, heading toward the kitchen.  “I’ll get some tea.”

The two men hear a noise, something rustling.  Wings.  Screeching.  They hear Jill scream, “Oh, my God, the kitchen window is open!”

A guide talks about Kea parrots at the Willowbank Wildlife Preserve in Christchurch, New Zealand.

A guide talks about Kea parrots at the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve in Christchurch, New Zealand.

“Cut,” the director calls out.  The actors are relieved. Those Kea really play their parts well.  (It’s all acting, folks!  Keas do like shiny objects, though.)

The birds retreat to their perches, where they get the star treatment they deserve — plenty of mango, figs and even spoonsful of honey.

Wouldn’t this be a great scene for the remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “The Birds” ? A new version of “The Birds” is in the works and scheduled  for release in 2011, maybe in 3-D, with Naomi Watts and George Clooney.  The Kea parrots of New Zealand would be the perfect birds to star with A-listers in the dramatically beautiful country of New Zealand.   Super producer Michael Bay, are you listening! 

A flock of these cheeky, brilliant, mischievous and curious parrots could almost take over the world, if they wanted to.  They work well in teams to solve puzzles.  (See videos below.)  

Keas are clownishly adorable and pose no real threat to humans.  Fortunately, Keas are more likely to run off with your sandwich, snatch a gold earring or rip the rubber edging from your car.  There are so few Keas now — 1,000 to 5,000 — they are in serious danger of disappearing altogether.  They’d have to be replicated by computer generated images to produce enough Kea parrots to create a menancing flock.  There were tens of thousands of them as recently as forty years ago. They were named Kea by the Maori for the “Keaa!” cries they make.

A sign at The Hermitage Hotel at Mt. Cook in New Zealand warns people not to leave their food unattended or a Kea will steal it.

A sign at The Hermitage Hotel at Aoraki Mount Cook in New Zealand warns people not to leave their food unattended or a Kea will steal it.

Their numbers have fallen drastically for a number of reasons, including a bounty that was once placed on them because they do take a bite out of livestock now and then.  They also killed by poison set out to kill possums.  Keas, now protected, are an endangered bird on the South Island of New Zealand, the only place in the world where they naturally occur.  They live in the harsh conditions of the New Zealand Alps, eating a wide range of food from fruit and seeds to other birds and carrion.

Here a Kea flies near Aoraki Mount Cook in New Zealand. Kea parrots are only found in the wild on the south island of New Zealand at higher altitudes.

Here a Kea flies near Aoraki Mount Cook in New Zealand. Kea parrots are only found in the wild on the south island of New Zealand at higher altitudes.

New Zealand’s spectacular scenery, already featured in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, would be a perfect location for this new version of “The Birds”.  Naomi Watts is rumored to be in “talks” to take the role originally played by Tippi Hedren in the Alfred Hitchcock version of the Daphne Du Maurier short story, originally set in Cornwall. Watts has already starred in King Kong in New Zealand under LOTR director Peter Jackson, so she’s familiar with the terrain. And who wouldn’t want to visit New Zealand again?


The third video is one I took at Willowbank Wildlife Reserve in Christchurch, New Zealand.


Filed under Biology, Bird-watching, Birds, Entertainment, Environment, Humor, Life, Movies, Nature, New Zealand, Personal, Photography, Travel

I’m Not Ready For My Close-up

fling poster

It’s a good thing I didn’t blink, or I would have missed my four-second big screen debut in the independent film, “fling*,” which is making the rounds of film festivals around the country.  This past weekend it was introduced to Kansas City, where it was filmed.

We invited some friends to see it with us at the Screenland Theater.  All I knew about it was that it involved twenty-somethings entangled in relationships. We’d forgotten how complicated that can get…(trailer video is at the bottom.)

My big screen debut!

My big screen debut!

There were about 500 extras, who didn’t get much, if any, screen time.  That’s why we’re called extras.  Now I pay special attention to the people in the background in movies.  When Rhett and Scarlett are emoting in “Gone With The Wind,” for example, I’m checking out the people loitering behind them.

You know you’re going to see this film, so watch for me at about 1 hour and 45 minutes into it (but don’t keep checking your watch!)  When you see a shot of the store “Hemline,” get ready or you might miss me.  I’m wearing a pale green jacket and carrying a striped straw handbag. You can only see my back.

Director John Stewart Muller is from Kansas City, so he was happy to return to his hometown to shoot the tale of modern mixed up relationships at area locations such as Crown Center, the Crossroads Art District, the Country Club Plaza and the Nelson-Atkins Art Museum.   He wrote the screenplay with producer Laura Boersma.  The two own Steele Films, based in Los Angeles.


Brandon Routh and Courtney Ford find Kansas City very romantic. They were a real-life couple when filming the movie and are now married.

My movie career started in May 2007 with an ad in the Kansas City Star looking for extras to donate their time for the movie that was then called, “Lie to Me.”   Hundreds volunteered, including a guy who flew his airplane from Colorado so he could appear in a scene or two.  I think he got also four seconds, but at least you could see his face.

I grabbed my son Matt just home from college to join me for the two scenes in the clothing boutique, “Hemline,” on the Country Club Plaza shopping center.

Most of the two dozen extras in my scenes were in their 20s.  Many had acting aspirations.  Others, like me, were just curious about the process.  We had plenty of time to get to know one another as we waited around.  Joe was heading off to film school in a few months.  Apple Miller had already been an extra in some locally filmed movies, including an earlier scene in “fling,” and was hoping to get more film work.  Natalie W. had been a part of several earlier “fling*” scenes, and the crew was happy to see her again.  Lisa, another extra, had tagged along with a friend.  She got a plum spot next to some of the secondary players.

I met Apple Miller on the set of "fling."  She already was represented by a talent agency, Talent Unlimited.  Here she is talking with Jean Liebau, talent agent and owner of Talent Unlimited, a full-service talent agency in Kansas City.

I met Apple Miller, left, on the set of “fling,” where we were both extras. She actually knew what she was doing. She didn’t even mind waiting for hours. She already had an agent and had appeared in some movies. Here she is talking to Jean Liebau, agent and owner of Talent Unlimited, a full service talent agency in Kansas City.

Our “call” that night was 6 p.m.  We waited in a nearby vacant store, its bare walls a dingy lavender.  We sat on a row of folding chairs, where the wardrobe crew inspected us to make sure we looked stylish enough.  Some people brought spare outfits. One of the assistants asked my son to follow him, and they both disappeared.  Soon Matt returned, wearing a plain white shirt.  Why the switch? He shrugged.  His black shirt with thin white stripes was certainly more appealing, I thought, but what did I know?

Assistant Director Jim Whitworth gave us the rundown on what it took to be a good extra:  Don’t look at the camera, stay out of the way and take off your shoes so you don’t make noise.

This is harder than it sounds, especially the “don’t look at the camera” part.

Whitworth warned us several times not to take photographs or talk to the “talent.” One wrong move, and out we’d go!

“I don’t even know who’s in this movie,” Lisa mumbled, expressing what many of were already thinking.  Most of us didn’t know anything about the cast or the plot.

“Superman is in the movie,” Apple said.


“Brandon Routh of ‘Superman Returns’.”

Muller and Boersma

Director John Stewart Muller and Producer Laura Boersma


You can’t have fans fawning over the stars when they’re supposed to be focused on their work.

Three hours passed in what Joe called “lavender hell.”

“If something doesn’t happen soon, I think we should form a union,” Joe suggested.

Finally, we were called into “Hemline.”  Crew members handed out glasses of real wine and plates of real appetizers for this scene of an opening reception at a new boutique.

An assistant handed me a glass of wine.

“You look like a red wine drinker,” he said.

Hmmmmmm.  Was this typecasting?

Most of the action in the first of the two scenes took place in front of the boutique, while the extras pretended to shop inside.  We’d be background through the windows.  Some of the extras actually did shop.

We went through our paces several times.  Some maneuvered to get closer to the window, where they might be filmed through the glass.

After that scene was wrapped, half of the extras jumped ship when they discovered the next scene wouldn’t be filmed until after a midnight meal.  Those of us who remained got sub sandwiches, which we took outside to eat standing on the sidewalk in the hot, muggy night.

A mass of equipment was set up in front of “Hemline,” so cars of people drove by slowly to see what was happening.  “Are you extras?” someone shouted.

“Yeah,” Joe said.  “Looks glamorous, doesn’t it?”

We saw the cast and crew eating at a long candle-lit table inside the vacant store.

After the midnight “lunch,” Whitworth counted noses.  “Is this all I have left?”

Hemline boutique on the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City was the location for a couple of evening scenes in the movie, "fling."

My son Matt and I were extras in two scenes filmed in Hemline boutique on the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City in the movie, “fling*.”

By 1 a.m., we were back in “Hemline.” We were handed more wine and plates of food for us to carry, none of which seemed appealing at this point, not that we were supposed to consume anything.  Even with the desertions, there were enough people to make the boutique seem crowded, especially since all of the main actors had joined us.  They looked a lot fresher than we did.  I saw then why my son had to change his shirt.  Brandon Routh wore a black shirt with thin white stripes.

The noisy air conditioner was turned off.  The atmosphere was hot and thick.  The extras practiced a route through the racks. No one wanted to be the one who spilled wine or food on the clothing.  Problems — dropped hangers, missed lines, a car honking outside, a boom in the shot — ruined the first three takes. The fourth seemed flawless.  We looked at the director.  By this time it was almost 2:30 a.m.”That was awesome,” Muller said.  Before we had a chance to rejoice, he said. “Let’s do it again.”We sagged a little.

“I need your ‘A’ game,” Whitworth barked. “We need high energy.  Pretend this is 7 p.m., not 2:30 a.m.”

We regrouped.  The makeup and hair crew dabbed and patted again. This time a few frizzled, frazzled extras got some attention. One hair technician smoothed the flyaway hair on my forehead.

Whitworth called everyone to order.  “Background!  Action!”  The cameraman carrying the heavy film camera on his shoulder marched through the boutique.

The scene played out.  We waited for the verdict.


Lovers at Crown Center.

“That’s a wrap,” Muller said.

Joy!  Relief!  The cast and crew immediately began discussing plans for the next day’s shoot while the extras stood in the store, feeling like…..extras.  Matt and I chased down his own shirt in the wardrobe trailer and then we headed home.

Now, having seen my two scenes in the finished movie, I have to laugh at how the scene appears on the screen. Let’s just say we didn’t have to worry about dropped hangers or flubbed lines….

Was I surprised that the finished product turned out much differently from what I expected?  Or that the extras did a lot of work that never appeared. Not really.  In the summer of 1999, friends Jacki, Nancy and Karissa and my daughter Laura and I stumbled onto a scene being filmed for Sandra Bullock’s movie, “28 Days.”  An intersection in the Soho part of Manhattan was blocked off for the shoot.  Many extras — both pedestrians and bicyclists — repeatedly went through their paces for several takes, as Bullock walked up some stairs from a subway and around the corner to a newspaper stand.  After we had shopped for an hour, we saw that the extras were still hard at work.  That scene never made the final cut of the movie.

These extras walked this street for a couple of hours for a scene in "28 Days" that I never saw in the movie.

These extras walked this street in New York City in 1999 for a couple of hours for a scene in Sandra Bullock’s movie, “28 Days.” I never saw this scene in the movie. Maybe it made the director’s cut.

The dvd of “fling*” will be available in the spring.  You can be sure plenty of the extras will be going through the movie slooooooowly to see whether they can catch a glimpse of themselves.

To learn more go to fling* movie. For additional information, click on w  www.imdb.com Search for “fling,” and then click on “Lie to Me (2008)”

I got this email after the Kansas City opening.  (The big party was past my bedtime……) John Stewart Muller sent a message to the members of Fling – The Movie.

Subject: Additional “Fling” Screenings in K.C.

Just wanted to give you an update on the opening weekend of “Fling” in KC.  The film did great and we all had such a blast!!  Thanks so much to everyone who made it out!!  The movie sold out on both Friday and Saturday night and did strong for the rest of the showings all weekend.  We had amazing after parties at The Czar Bar with Dylan Trees, Dri, and The Republic Tigers
performing.  It was a great weekend!

Because of how well the film performed, Screenland Theater is holding it for another week!  Help us spread the word to anyone in KC who missed it because they have one more chance to see it on the big screen!  There were people who even drove in from St. Louis just to see the movie!

If you go to the theater, don’t forget to check out the concrete handprints and signatures for “Fling”!

Also, check out the great reviews the film has been receiving.  Bob Butler of the KC Star gave the film three out of four stars and compared it to “Bob & Carol, Ted & Alice” and “sex, lies, and videotape”.  Everyone also loves how KC looks on film!

Next stop after this is the Bahamas Film Festival!  We’re also still trying to look into more theatrical runs before the DVD release in May.

We’re very excited about all of this and appreciate everyone’s help in spreading the word!  Let us know if you have any questions or concerns about anything!  Hope this finds you well and thanks again!!


John and Laura
Steele Films


Filed under Entertainment, Humor, Life, Movies, Personal, Random, Relationships