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home : arts & entertainment : arts & entertainment June 25, 2016

8/13/2013 12:27:00 PM
Film shoot is a Sisters endeavor
By Jim Cornelius
News Editor

Sisters hasn't "gone Hollywood." Hollywood has gone Sisters.

The shooting of the family-oriented independent film "Ugly Benny" has been underway in Sisters for a week, using all local locations - and a multitude of local resources, from the film crew to animal wranglers, from equipment rental to caterers.

That local flavor is no accident.

Michael Gough, a key member of the production team, is a long-time Sisters resident, and he made it his mission to see "Ugly Benny" shot in his home town. He just had to convince writer/director/producer Richard Brandes that Sisters was up to the job.

Gough and Brandes go way back - all the way to East Point, Georgia, when they were kids playing Pop Warner football. Both got into the film business, on different paths. Brandes went to L.A., where he's worked on numerous films, and Gough found his way to Sisters, where he was a partner for years in the home-grown camera crane company Fluid Images.

"I was in L.A. for an extended period and we reconnected," Gough told The Nugget.

Brandes gave Gough the script for his project "Ugly Benny," the story of a little dog with mysterious origins who happens into the lives of a small town through his appearance at a local pet shop.

"All the local characters, their lives are changed for the better by their encounters with him," Brandes said.

That small town and those local characters reminded Gough of a certain place...

"He read it and said, 'You sure you've never been to Sisters? This sounds like it was written for Sisters,'" Brandes recalled. "The Oregon Film Commission flew me up here and I looked around and haven't looked back since."

The film is shooting at several local locations: The Belfry Annex, at Angeline and Henry Rhett's house in town, and on private property in the forests around Sisters. The pet shop that is so central to the story was created in a commercial building on the corner of Hood Avenue and Ash St. next to Barclay Park.

Securing that location was a key element in bringing the production to Sisters and Brandes and Gough both noted that landlord Ken Scott was extremely helpful in working it out for the crew to shoot there. The neighbors, Debbie and Jerry Chinn of Vista Bonita Glass Art Studio, have been "incredibly accommodating" of the activity next door, Gough said.

That kind of response has been common throughout the process. It wasn't just locations that made Sisters attractive. Gough convinced Brandes that Sisters has the facilities and the professional expertise to pull off a quality film production.

"The locals didn't make a liar out of him," Brandes said. "They backed him up big-time... Michael knows what he's doing and I trusted his judgment of the local people and the local industry, but it's kind of surpassed my expectations."

Sisters Country has a deep well of creative talent. "Ugly Benny" tapped Eli Pyke of Zion Pictures as cinematographer, and Eli's brother Sam is key grip (he also has a small role in the film). Chris Sawiel is on as a film editor. Sandy and Jim Schneider of Tumalo are assisting with the wrangling of animals and pitching-in wherever else they can be of assistance.

Another Gough is a key member of the production team. Erin Gough, a Sisters High School graduate, is an action sports host and actress in L.A.

"I was able to wrangle her up for hair and makeup and wardrobe," Gough said. "So one of the best things about this was ... to be able to work with my daughter and my old buddy from the fifth grade.

"We're getting catered locally," Gough noted. "Melvin's (Fir Street Market) and Angeline's (Bakery & Café) have helped us out and Sisters Coffee jumped in and are providing us with coffee."

Coffee is an essential on a film set that runs 14 hours and more a day. On Tuesday, August 6, the crew handled 100 takes and 45 set-ups.

What's special for the film crew is the camaraderie that kind of intense work brings.

"It's been a pleasure to work on a team effectively and well, that's on a feature stage," said Sam Pyke. "The teamwork is awesome, because everybody's jumping in to get things done."

Eli noted that the recession has been very hard on local film-production companies.

He said it was gratifying to see those people working as colleagues in a town that offered complete support.

The crew received the same kind of can-do support from the City of Sisters, Gough reported. Red tape kills small, independent productions, and the crew encountered a minimum of the stuff in town. Public Works Administrative Assistant Nicole Montalvo and City Manager Andrew Gorayeb were most helpful and welcoming, Gough said.

Sisters Habitat for Humanity helped the crew out and Sisters Rental has helped with a wide range of equipment. Jim Guild and Nunzie Gould welcomed the production with open arms at their Fish-Inn-Bike-Inn vacation rental, and Sunburst Retreat east of town proved an ideal place to put up the actors.

"In all my years of making films, this is the most welcome I've been," Brandes said.

That pleases Gough.

"I'm very proud of the way Sisters has stepped up to this," he said. "Really proud."

Sisters' response was a key element in Gough's long-range vision.

"This isn't just one movie," he said. "This is an attempt to establish a cottage industry of films in Sisters and Central Oregon."

That project is off to an auspicious start. Based on what has happened on "Ugly Benny," Brandes says he is ready to bring more productions here.

"If everything goes according to plan," he said, "we're going to try to get another one up here before the snow flies."

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