Belsby film makes most of locale
‘Merry Graingers’ features familiar talent, crew, scenery
Serena Belsby was on her way to a sound-editing session this week when she stopped to talk about her film, “The Merry Graingers,” about a ranch family brought together for a funeral.
The film premieres Monday.
Oh, that sort of time frame is typical, said Belsby, who wrote, produced and directed the movie.
“Half of filmmaking – it’s really being calm,” she said.
If that’s true, the other half might be about being resourceful. Living in Cheney to care for her ailing father (he’s better now), Belsby pulled together friends, relatives and a crew of local professionals to make the 88-minute movie, shot on and around her family’s ranchland.
The movie stars, among others, students from an acting class she started in her home. Two more actors are a cousin’s children, and a couple are old friends who flew in to help. The latter category includes, in his movie-acting debut, Arturo Sotta Díaz, a director whose films have been selected twice to represent Cuba in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Academy Awards.
Even the setting – the broad expanses and big sky of the Palouse, populated by bison and horses as well as people – was a result of Belsby considering the resources she had at hand and moving forward.
And it worked, Belsby said. She showed the film to group of friends during a trip back East. They oohed and aahed at the scenery.
“My exotic location is this,” she said.
Belsby, then living on the East Coast, picked up and moved to Cheney in 2009. She had acting and screenwriting experience, studying acting with Penny Allen (who’s coached Nicole Kidman and Cher, among others) and winning first prize at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival’s Hartley-Merrill International Screenwriting Competition. She’s also an alumna of the Sundance Institute’s Screenwriters Lab.
Belsby was no stranger to Eastern Washington. Born in Spokane and raised in Southern California, Belsby spent her summers from ages 8 to 16 with cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents in Cheney in a mixture of work and play.
“I’ve herded cattle, I’ve lined hay bales, I’ve worked with buffalo, I’ve driven wheat trucks,” she said.
The setting was perfect for her screenplay, she said. An aunt and uncle let her film on their ranch outside of Cheney.
Belsby said she made the film for less than $100,000, although she’s still raising money to pay the bills.
It has a certain authenticity, she said.
“I’ll see sometimes films that are set in the country, and I’ll go, ‘The truck’s too clean, the clothes are too clean, that’s an actor playing a rancher.’ ”
In this case, not an issue.