This post is about one of my favorite Houston book editing adventures. Ever.
Imagine a book editing project in the middle of a feature film… in post production! As a book editor, this was a new one for me! Author Joe Barfield, a Houston book editing client, had an interesting assignment. I met him at a coffee shop to discuss a book edit…but this was no ordinary book edit! Production for a full-length feature film was already under way—the screenplay had been written first, followed by a book that needed some TLC.
Katy Student Film Making Intersects with Houston Book Editing
Better yet, the movie was a high school student-driven endeavor. It seemed impossible, but against all odds the project pulled through with the professionalism of a major studio. The student actors had a lot to work with, for Joe’s story was inspired by his roots in Spring Branch (where I’m from, no less) and those long ago glory days of sandlot football and cruising dirt roads around Westheimer.
For those who remember Houston in the 1960 and 70s, this is a wonderful foray into their youth. The takeaway is that kids back then had a lot of the same problems that kids have today — bullying, temptation, and the haves-and-have-nots. The lesson is that they needed the same help and encouragement we should be providing our own children today. I really loved the book, so grab it today on Amazon and check out the trailer.
As a journalist, I’ve enjoyed interviewing some amazing movie directors and producers so have adapted films from books or unique stories:
- Mark Schmidt, Director of Walking with the Enemy
- Roma Downey, Producer of Son of God
- Peter Ramsey, Director of Rise of the Guardians starring Alec Baldwin
- Galley Molina, Director of I’m In Love With a Church Girl starring Adrienne Bailon
- Todd Burpo, Author of Book Heaven is For Real, adapted as a major motion picture starring Greg Kinnear
- Rick Santorum, CEO of EchoLight Studies and producer of Max Lucado’s book adaptation to film, The Christmas Candle starring Susan Boyle.
I interviewed Joe for Katy Lifestyles & Homes and share the article below:
Katy Teens Turn Novel Into Full-Length Film
By Melanie Saxton
Author Joe Barfield shakes his head in wonderment. Who knew an evening spent talking about his novel and screenplay would culminate in a feature-length movie? He never dreamed the motion picture would be shot by students on a Canon 7D camera priced at just over $2,000 — almost unheard of the world of movie making.
“I sat in my friend’s living room, and it just so happened teenagers were listening in,” explains Barfield. “As I shared the synopsis of Live for Today — weighty issues of teen bullying and suicide — the response was, ‘This should be in theaters!’ The teens took it from there.”
Tackling the Impossible
Live for Today is about high school — football, cheerleading, friendships, rivals and coming of age. It is based in part on a true story set in 1960s. A high school student blames himself for his brother’s death, but ultimately finds love and the meaning of life. Hardships, hope and choices… this was a story — the story — reflected in the halls of every high school campus.
A small group of Katy students approached their teachers and principals, excited about the film project and asking for support. The pitch: A broken promise takes a 17-year-old boy down a suicidal path of self-destruction. Will the persistence of a coach and the love of a girl be enough to save him?
“Not so fast,” warned many of the professionals. “Wait until you are ready. High school students simply aren’t capable of producing a full-length motion picture.” But the students continued to dream and plan, backed by Barfield, who believed in the project and their vision. Kristen McKenzie, a first-year theater, English and Bible teacher at Faith West Academy, pushed hard on their behalf and took a lead role in the film opposite the main character. Much of the film was shot on her parents’ land in Katy, at Surfside Beach, and on actual school campuses and athletic fields. The result rivals studio-quality films, which might surprise the naysayers, but not the actors and crew.
Cast and Credits
The film would rise or fall based on talent. Auditions were announced in the local plot-twist2newspaper, yielding 80 young hopefuls from schools, both public and private, and the community of west Houston. From there came the herculean task of selecting just the right cast.
Denver Danyla took the lead role of Lance. He grew up with Kristen McKenzie, graduated from Faith West Academy and now attends Azusa Pacific University in California. Caleb Ortega of Morton Ranch High played the younger version of Lance’s character. “Live for Today is a project we can all feel proud to be involved in. The anti-bullying, anti-suicide theme is something teens can relate to. Just about everyone knows someone who has been affected by bullying
and has considered committing suicide,” he says.
Aisen Li is a Texas A&M student who won the role of Brent, Lance’s best friend. “I really enjoyed reading the script and liked the moral behind the story. High school can be a tough period of time for teens and can lead to irreversible decisions,” he says. Li believes the movie will help some teens get a better perspective of life and inspire others.
Miguel Mora, another lead role, was the “jerk” boyfriend/athlete and one of the younger actors on the set. His size helped land him the role. “It’s not everyday a teenager can say he/she was part of a movie. But even more surprising, the movie was made by teens — just a group of us who pitched in our time and effort for what turned out to be a really nice film. God took something so small and made it grow.” Mora believes the film should be in theaters. “It’s better than the movies out today,” he says.
Savannah Wilson is a sophomore at Cinco Ranch High and member of the Cinco Ranch Theatre Company. She was an extra, and Live for Today was her first film experience. Christine Thomas, another Cinco Ranch High student, was also an extra. “I had the opportunity to apply the training and skills that I had just learned through the International Performing Arts Showcase in Los Angeles. It was rewarding to witness how students could work together to produce a film,” she says.
Jacklyn Daniel of Katy Junior High was also an extra. Leonardo Urbina of Morton Ranch High played the part of Timmy Renfro. Lexi Midmay, the daughter of director Del Torres, had a difficult character — a nerd that some of the jocks didn’t like. Midmay has been involved in Lakewood Drama for years.
Luke Johannson, an 8-year-old from Fielder Elementary, played the boy by the river who told Lance’s girlfriend that Lance had a knife. “It was my mom’s idea for me to audition, because I like to act on stage. I don’t think people should make fun of other people,” he says.
Ricardo Casco, just 17, filmed the entire project through his enterprise, Digital Ricky. Jacob Berardi, a 22-year-old college grad and filmmaking major, did the editing and created the trailer, happy to work on a small independent film with a powerful message.
Brian Mathew Carr, whose interest was piqued by the storyline, won the role of Coach Turner. “Joe Barfield originally wanted Denzel (Washington) to reprise his role in Remember the Titans, but the film’s budget would barely have covered the cab ride to LAX,” he quips. “Joe got me, instead.” Coach Turner is both tough and caring, something Carr “got,” having his own team of players at home (his children). He believes the film is a must-see and will help the audience understand the hurts others secretly harbor. “I hope the film can be an inspiration for young people who want to try their hand at acting/directing,” he adds.
Robert Batycki is a Mayde Creek High grad, attends First Baptist in Katy, and is now a mechanical engineer. He took the part of Coach Clemens. “The film shows there is always someone there for you. No matter what you have done in the past, you will always have people who want you to be happy and want to help you get there,” he says.
Behind the Scenes
Because the movie is set in the ’60s, costumes became a challenge. “Stage moms” were tasked to find attire for the student actors. “We all shopped at thrift stores and dug through closets looking for clothes that fit the setting,” says McKenzie, who in addition to teaching, helped with auditions and production.
Traci Bourque-Johannson’s son, Luke, was one of the youngest actors. She played the emotional role of Beverly, Lance’s mother. “I wanted to be a part of this movie to help the audience understand the effects bullying has on the victim and the victim’s family,” she shares. She believes the character Beverly was relatable — just a mom trying to do her best in a very difficult situation.
“This is an independent film, and like any indie we need funding to finish our project,” says Barfield. They are so close — tantalizingly so — to the final sound editing. Then comes their debut at the Austin Film Festival.
Live for Today is available as an affordable ebook on Smashwords. This is a funding effort, for every ebook sold raises $2 for the film. “It might not sound like a lot, but it adds up, and our budget is modest,” says Barfield. IndieGoGo/Live-for-Today is another fundraising source. The filmmaking effort is pay-as-you-go, inching toward completion.
Students administer the Facebook page. On it an impassioned summation calls to fans: “Experience to make the film is limited, but where there is desire and dedication, anything is possible. All of us are determined to turn this story into a full-length film for people of all ages. This is for all teenagers following their dreams.”
Barfield and Carr welcome feedback from the public and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org Check out smashwords.com to purchase a copy.
Contact Me with Your Houston Book Editing Projects
If you are local (Houston, Katy, Fort Bend, Cy-Fair or The Woodlands area) and have a Houston book editing project, I’d love to consult. I work with Texas authors in addition to authors all over the United States, Canada and Australia.