The year 2016 will usher in a number of notable events and among the most prominent will be a heated presidential race that will have many Americans constantly debating about as the vote draws ever so closer. Against this backdrop a rather ambitious political comedy called Swing State just wrapped production during the month of January. This byteclay.com columnist was attached to the project as a behind-the-scenes photographer which allowed for unprecedented access to the entire production from start to finish. This is an introductory tale and the first of several of not only how ideas are turned into film reality, but also a celebration of the work that audiences will not see that is accomplished by all from a Best Boy Grip named Mikey Davis to the director Jonathan Sheldon himself.
Swing State started its life according to director Jonathan Sheldon over ten years ago while the he was watching a music disk jockey impersonate a right wing talk show host. As written by the director on his website for the film, he was able to raise funds for eighty percent of the film and created a Kickstarter campaign to complete funding. Although it can be considered to be a low budget film, it was evident to this columnist and photographer that Swing State would benefit from the ambitions of the cast and crew to not allow that fact prevent them from creating a film that not only is pleasing to view, but that would also stimulate the intellect of the viewing public in a comedic manner that recalls absurdist comedies such as Being There.
Swing State tells the story of a Seattle based music disk jockey named Ethan Smith(Alex Beh). Smith accidentally becomes a conservative talk show sensation named Charles Fern despite the character’s liberal leanings. Swing State examines the length an individual might go to seek fame and fortune and the price it may cost to his state of mind and integrity. The story is very relevant and timeless at the same time and these elements will certainly appeal to a fine cross section of the movie going public.
Upon this columnist’s arrival early in the morning on January 4, I was immediately introduced to the incredibly dedicated, professional and enthusiastic crew that would time and time again prove that the most valuable asset in any film production is the crew that you assemble. Superb individuals such as Key Grip Corbin Speed, Sound Mixer Phillip Tau, Prop Master Steve Petty and costume designer Darragh Marmorstein often went beyond the call of duty with last minute solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems that might cripple more well funded productions. Their value to the production cannot be measured in mere economic terms.
Director Sheldon, his producers which included industry veterans such as Doug Magallon, Adam Falkoff, Arthur L. Bernstein and Gabrielle Almagor and his unit production manager Bob Myers also assembled an incredible group of talented actors. Swing State exhibits the talents of Taryn Manning(Orange Is The New Black), Billy Zane(Titanic), Lorraine Ziff(Six Gun Savior) and Elaine Hendrix(Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll). Swing State will also feature fresh faced actors such as Lydia Hearst, Karina Smirnoff, Nick Loeb and Alex Beh taking the leading role of Ethan Smith. This inspired mixture of veteran and freshman talent will go far in winning over those who see Swing State.
Swing State would be scheduled for a eighteen day film shoot with cast and crew working six days out of seven to complete the project on time and within the allocated budget. Most of the days that started early ran into the night as production would stretch the twelve hour limit on a daily basis. Crew morale was kept high by a number of factors and one individual in particular who was in charge of keeping the crew fed. Joanna Chavez is a chef who was brought upon the production by personal recommendations and she brought a level of professionalism that few could match in the “Crafty” field. The variety and high quality of food caused the crew to give her rave reviews and it was obvious that she would be an asset to any future film or television production.
One of the most intriguing aspects of chronicling a film in production is watching performances unfold over hours and days. During the course of eighteen days watching and documenting the performances became a much loved activity on the part of this photographer. It can be favorably compared to watching live theater without other individuals around you. This columnist had a front row seat to amazing performances conducted by the cast of Swing State. I watched in amazement as Lorraine Ziff transformed herself from a sophisticated resident of the East Coast to a charming Texan music disk jockey whose accent and body language completely sold the role. I laughed as Billy Zane created an iconic and corrupt Governor aptly named Sollow. I reveled with delight as Ted Levine displayed an incredible range of emotions in his role as Rouge Holmes. Cast and crew barely hid their enthusiasm when famed and prolific actor Sean Astin created a Fox News Bill O’Reilly style personality reciting the news from a Swing State created show called ‘The Vacuum’.
Swing State may rise or fall on the performance of relative newcomer Alex Beh who was cast by director Jonathan Sheldon on the strength of his own work in a short film that Beh created. In the pivotal role of Ethan Smith it would be quite evident that the actor would have to create a character that can capture the hearts of audiences even during his most despicable moments. This columnist can quite honestly report that Beh had a uncanny Peter Sellers quality to him during his performances. It was quite astonishing to observe live and without any kind of editorial cuts placed on said performance. I will go on record that Alex Beh’s engaging role as Ethan Smith will be an eye opening moment for those who see the film and will clinch a leading man status for the Mr. Beh.
Can a crew-member of a production remain objective leading up to the release of a film that he was a part of? That is a question that will be explored in a future article. The continuing saga of the making of Swing State will continue to be explored in future articles in this column. Please continue to check back in this column for updates and more insight into the motion picture that promises to skewer politics in a most humorous and enlightening manner.