Keepin’ it Local

Kasey Maier and Janice.

A movie production, a thunderstorm and an urban garden party

By Janice Carter Levitch

One of my favorite things is the sound of falling rain. There was plenty to be heard at the Prelude Urban Garden Party held recently and set directly on Frankfort Avenue – where city meets garden. The event benefited the Waterfront Botanical Gardens, and I couldn’t think of a better place to be, even during a fierce storm. Kasey Maier is the executive director and was the fiercest storm of all while overseeing the entire event. On her watch, nothing could’ve stopped the libations and fun from flowing, not even Zeus – ruler of clouds, rain, thunder and lightning. But I have to say, he gave a mighty go at it. There were moments when we thought the tent might be effortlessly lifted and float away like a kite. Thankfully, everything stayed in place and the evening was magical.

“Our fourth annual Prelude was a huge success despite the thunderstorm,” Maier said. A success indeed. It was a sold-out evening and the guests attending were in for a real treat. The experience began under a tent with a cocktail reception and cellist Ben Sollee performing in the garden area staged in front of the Heigold façade, which marks the future entrance to the gardens. Artist Jeaneen Barnhart beautifully hand-painted the cello that Sollee played for this special performance. The instrument was auctioned off later in the evening to a very lucky bidder. Maier went onto say, “Serving a sit-down dinner to 200 under a tent in a deluge was very exciting. Atria Hospitality pulled off a beautiful and delicious masterpiece … not soon forgotten by the guests.”

Ben Sollee.

The live auction continued as the fearless emcee Greg Braun rolled through the evening with ease. Braun introduced Merry Kay Poe, who gave an eloquent speech reminding every one of the importance of supporting this fundraiser and the positive impact Waterfront Botanical Gardens will have on our community. On a soggy note that ended with umbrellas and laughter, the rain continued to pour down on us. In the end, however, it added a bit of exciting energy to the memorable evening.

Speaking of memorable…Stargazer Films USA invited me to the set of their latest production, “Murder at the Mansion.” What a day it was. When I arrived, Anthony Del Negro greeted me and we discussed the filming.

“We are thrilled to be working with actress Audrey Landers as the matriarch of the family,” he said. “She is best known for her role as Afton Cooper in the television series ‘Dallas.’” A producer and casting director, Del Negro commented, “I put out a breakdown of all the role descriptions (in) the script and that gets blasted out to agents and managers. Then they submit the talent that is appropriate for those goals. I review all the submissions and go through who we might be interested in auditioning.” Anna Hutchinson stars in the film as Deanna and has a natural beauty that translates flawlessly.

“In the film, I go to my fiancé’s house to meet his parents for the first time,” she explained. “I have to find out who the murderer is before they murder me. (It’s) sort of like the game Clue, but it’s very complex and a great murder mystery.”

The producers of Stargazer Films USA are Shane O’Brien and Zach O’Brien. These guys certainly know how to accomplish something: They’ve distributed their films worldwide and have 17 more films on the docket right now. A Louisville native, Zach had this to say about being back in the Derby city, “We wanted the look of the South. So much is done on both coasts in New York and California. The people love coming here, the crew and actors especially. We love the big open spaces, the nice cars, classic architecture, and it’s just a different look of opulence that movie-goers are drawn to. Everything kind of feels like what people used to get from a show like ‘Dallas.’”

Appetizers at the Waterfront Botanical Gardens Prelude.

“Our goal is to get people to move here to make movies,” Shane said. “Right now I would say our crew is probably three quarters from Kentucky and a quarter from Los Angeles and other areas. But we’ve heard people would move here if they had work. Tax incentives are in question at this point, and we want to make the community aware we have moved here along with other industry crew members to make films here, which helps the local economy to grow because we are also hiring local professionals.”

Emily Wortham is the production designer and scouted out the location for this film: the Malvern House, home of Babs and Lee Robinson. “They have the most magnificent hospitality I have ever encountered,” she said. “We have been overwhelmed as a film crew by their generosity. You won’t find better people in Louisville, and this is the iconic Louisville home. We are so lucky to find a home that is film perfection down to the last detail. It’s full of color and life; it’s a very happy, vibrant, sophisticated home. You can tell how beloved it is by this family.”

Sam Irvin is the director of the film and has had experience with some big-name actors and directors that have paved the way for his success. “This film is much more about the spookiness and who-dun-it,” Irvin said. “We want you to think about who the murderer is because it’s more of a mystery thriller and definitely not a horror thriller. The luxury of the Malvern House certainly lends itself to the ambiance of a mysterious mansion where the movie takes place.”

Irvin went on to comment, “Stargazer Films USA has a lot of other projects coming to Louisville and I just love working here. The people are great and the landscape is fantastic. Everybody here is excited about what we’re doing and want to help. It’s a Southern way. I grew up in the South in North Carolina and understand the nuances of a Southern lifestyle and keepin’ it local.” VT