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Lights! Camera! Oregon!

A Central Oregon film company aims high with feature film The Astronot

One mark of a good film is when the audience has no idea that the filmmaking wasn’t exactly glamorous. In the realm of independent film, long hours, low budgets, physical labor and unreliable rewards are hallmarks. But that didn’t deter Tim Cash and Yuvia Storm of Far From Earth Films from pursuing their cinematic ambitions. The couple started a production company in Bend in 2004, and methodically built a business centered primarily on music videos and commercials. But last year they leapt at the chance to tackle a bigger project: an independent feature called The Astronot. It was a milestone in scope, and took the whole family, including Cash and Storm’s sons Kiran and Isa, to pull off.

The Astronot was written by Canadian musician Pennan Brae. Brae and Cash had worked together on music videos in the past. This time, Brae says, “I’d recorded a more orchestral album.” Brae called Cash to describe the work to him, and to brainstorm a visual project that would accompany it. Brae recalls, “Tim said, ‘Oh, you recorded a soundtrack?’ I suddenly realized that it was a soundtrack, then started thinking about writing a screenplay.”

Inspiration for a storyline struck during a photo shoot for the album’s cover. Brae was wearing an astronaut suit, walking towards the moon, holding a ladder—as if he were going to space, but was inhibited. That image developed into The Astronot’s main character (played by Brae), a man living in rural Central Oregon during the moon landings who dreams of being an astronaut, but is paralyzed by fear until a spunky mail-carrier (played by Storm) begins breaking down his walls.

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“Every filmmaker’s goal is a feature film—that’s the pinnacle,” says Cash. “In some ways, I thought the dream had died.” For Cash, The Astronot project was an opportunity, a call to action and a serious challenge all at once. He agreed readily, but knew it would take effort. “I’d shot hundreds of projects at that point, so I knew what to expect,” he says. The Astronot, in particular, came with unique obstacles. The most daunting was creating a period piece set between 1941 and 1969 on tight funds. Discovering modern details after the camera rolled was a daily struggle. At one point Storm walked into the studio, which had been converted into the main character’s bedroom, and realized Cash and Brae were shooting with 1960s posters in the background of a 1950s scene. Some larger props posed problems too. A 1912 Harley Davidson replica from Illinois broke its first day out, and would have delayed shooting if Cash and Storm’s neighbor, a welder, hadn’t helped. And the elusive owner of a vintage television delayed production for a couple of weeks. When Cash finally got a hold of the TV, his plan to insert another screen behind the existing one to play old footage took more time than adding the footage in post-production eventually did.

The micro-budget of $30,000 meant micro-everything, from sets and props to cast and crew. That’s where the whole family became involved. Aside from Brae, Storm, Cash and their then 6- and 9-year old boys, the only other crew were actors Sandy Silver of Bend, and Brittany Dixon, who came from Portland for two 13-hour days. As the starlet, Storm had the most screen time of the family, but even she doubled as crew between takes. The boys, as well as their parents, thrived with the opportunity. “Kiran likes being behind and in front of the camera,” says Cash. “When I was setting up the crane, he was my grip and was running around setting stuff up. Isa too—he’s now ‘best boy assistant to the gaffer,’ which is me.”

As one hopes it goes when crafting a work of art, some things fell into place beautifully. Like the cabin on the Deschutes River built in 1939 that belonged to a friend of a friend, which was perfect for the 1940s scenes that featured Cash and Kiran as father and son. The weather cooperated as well, even though shooting took place mainly in October and November (which meant Storm and Brae had to brave some truly freezing 4th of July sequences). Finally, during editing, Cash has been astounded by the way the thing that launched the whole project—Brae’s soundtrack—fits perfectly with each scene and ties everything together.

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And no matter the hassles, every day included the joy of creating. “It’s hard looking at a script because it just tells you what to do without many details,” says Storm. “But it really came alive in an amazing way.” She and Cash agree that both the scenery and characters—especially Brae’s quirky leading role—breathed life into The Astronot. In a way, the breathtaking high desert became a character, too. “Mostly people hear ‘Oregon,’ and they think ‘Portland,’” says Brae of his choice of location. “They’re blown away by the landscape here. It’s unlike anything else.” Besides the cabin on the Deschutes and the family’s backyard and studio in Tumalo, the film features Fort Rock, Steelhead Falls, Summer Lake, Santiam Pass and the Painted Hills.

Now in the final stages of editing, The Astronot’s trailer has gained attention from a distributor, but only time will tell where it goes from here. Through all the long hours, the filmmakers still managed to have fun, which seems to be the norm for them. As their sons grow, Cash and Storm hope to work as a family regularly—perhaps on more features, and hopefully with bigger budgets. But in the end, it’s not about the size of the project or fabled Hollywood glamour. “We don’t care about making millions, and we haven’t,” says Storm. “We just want people to watch, enjoy and appreciate our art. That’s our dream.”

See farfromearthfilms.com or pennanbrae.com for updates on The Astronot.

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