The making of "WHAT MATTERS MOST"

The Making of the Film
Setting the Stage
Pretty as a Picture
Building a Community
The Cast and Crew Reveal "What Matters Most"

WHAT MATTERS MOST is a poignant modern-day Romeo & Juliet love story that deeply affects the lives of two divergent families and several members of a small West Texas border town. A forbidden love and its consequences gives way to the uplifting power of trusting yourself and following your heart. For writer/director Jane Cusumano, the process of creating the film and bringing her vision to life also embodied those very same life lessons. Chad Allen, Polly Cusumano, Marshall Teague, Tamara Clatterbuck, and Jim Metzler star in the Chateau Wally Films production.

Produced by Charla Driver, WHAT MATTERS MOST was written by Jane Cusumano, who also makes her directorial debut. The executive producer, James A. Cusumano, her husband, is part of the dynamic Italian family behind this film. The story is about families, something the Cusumanos know much about. Jim is the oldest of 10 children and Jane is the youngest of five. The venture is a family affair, one of love, support, faith and commitment.

After beating breast cancer two years ago, Jane Cusumano learned only a week prior to production in Texas that the disease had returned and had metastasized. Determined to conquer the disease, but not forgo her dream of making WHAT MATTER MOST, Jane steadfastly started filming on schedule. During production, she received weekly chemotherapy treatments at the Harrington Cancer Center in Amarillo, Texas, 30 miles west of the small town of Vega, where the film was shot.

Jane, who is also an accomplished oil painter, contemplates the experience of directing her first film, "I always felt I could direct, even if I approach actors and actors differently. I have this vision when I am writing, and keep present with the mood and theme. I felt that if I somehow got the actors in body and character, I would let them play their parts and tell the story. A good actor should be able to tell the story better than I could direct them to tell it."

The will to create combined with the support of cast and crew was immensely healing and life-affirming for Jane. The accomplishment of completing the film and seeing her entire vision through has empowered her to the core. "I've enjoyed working with this ensemble cast. The camaraderie and the synergy of everyone involved has been incredible," Jane says. "I have found each actor has a different technique so I made myself available to discuss every scene. Some actors want to talk ideas over and discuss more in depth what they are trying to accomplish in the scene. Everyone has internalized the script so thoroughly and brought their own characteristics. I am very happy. I couldn't be more pleased with everyone's input and total commitment to this project."

Still soldiering forth in her personal war against cancer, Jane says, "I feel everything so much more passionately now. Everything I do is significant. The people I love, I love so much more now. WHAT MATTERS MOST is such a personal project. It is so much a part of me that its inspiration combines the love I feel and the passion I have, and this brought me together with a group of unbelievably talented people."

Tamara Clatterbuck, who portrays a struggling single mother, had no hesitation about working with Jane on her first project says, "She is definitely an actor's director. She is an incredible person, a Rock of Gibraltar. I believe she will always come out on top, and she will heal because she doesn't live in denial. She owns what's going on and faces it. That takes and incredibly brave and strong person."

Chad Allen, who plays the sensitive and troubled leading man Lucas adds, "I had some opposition from my agent and manager not to do this project because Jane was so new at the game. After receiving the final draft of the script, I knew it was more important than I first thought. Sometimes you have to listen to yourself. This project means something to me for more than one reason. It feels right."

"WHAT MATTERS MOST epitomizes what everyone in this film ultimately does, letting other people make their own decisions about their lives." Jane affirms. "Instead of trying to insist you know what is best for everyone else, you need to back off and be introspective for a moment and say, 'What I want is this, but is that what matters most.' And most of the characters in this story learn this lesson. In the end, they all do WHAT MATTERS MOST!"

For Jane Cusumano, making the movie wasn't just a healing experience, but a nostalgic one as well. The panhandle Texas town of Vega is just a two-hour drive from the Oklahoma rodeo town, Elk City, where Jane's relatives have farmed since before the "dust bowl" days of the 1930s. It is also the place she spent summers as a child and where she attended and graduated from high school before moving back to California. Inspired by the roots of her ancestors, generations of farmers, dairymen and ranchers, Jane based WHAT MATTER MOST on the unique culture and personalities that distinguish this region of America.

"I started writing this when my daughter, Polly, first went away to college as a film major. I asked her in a perfect world what would be her perfect script. We talked about the films we liked, ones that touch audiences on an emotional level and that explore the human spirit--movies like Giant, The Last Picture Show, Terms of Endearment, Tender Mercies and Hilary and Jackie."

Jane set out to make such a film, and was determined to learn as much as possible. She bought every book on screen writing and diligently attended Robert McKee's seminars at UCLA.

And then fate took over in a dramatic way that could rival any movie. As she neared her final draft, Jane was diagnosed with breast cancer. She hesitantly put WHAT MATTERS MOST aside. She and her husband, Jim had recently restored a Mediterranean horse and citrus ranch in Ojai, California built in 1926 by the noted architect, Wallace Neff (who designed and built homes for Mary Pickford, the Marx brothers, and Cary Grant among other early Hollywood legends.). Despite major surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, Jane dedicated herself for over fourteen months as the general contractor on the restoration of the Neff house. Upon completion, the Cusumanos named it "Chateau Wally" after Wallace Neff. The home has been recognized by the Santa Barbara Historical Society, and singled out by Wallace Neff, Jr. as "the most accomplished restoration of any of the surviving Neff homes."

After successfully completing the restoration and putting her cancer into remission, Jane decided to forge ahead with WHAT MATTERS MOST. "I always wanted to direct, and decided now was the time to make my vision a reality, even without a standard directorial background," she explains. Executive Producer Jim Cusumano, who enjoyed a successful career in the pharmaceuticals and energy industries, was supportive from the first.

"We received a fair amount of interest and several significant offers for the script, but as we explored these options, we realized that as a first-time writer, Jane would lose much creative control," Jim explained. "We had very specific things in mind, so we initially looked to bring in a director who could collaborate with Jane and help implement her vision and at the same time give her significant creative control. We narrowed our choice down to two directors, but it soon became clear that as they became more excited by the project, they naturally began seeing their own concepts, which meant that Jane's vision wouldn't be realized. So we ultimately decided to produce and finance the film ourselves, and bring in other talented people to help us achieve our vision."

With this decision, the Cusumanos formed Chateau Wally Films with the objective to produce quality films that address the human heart and touch the spirit. WHAT MATTERS MOST is the first production that will be distributed and marketed through new business concepts that Jim as executive producer brings to the company. I finally suggested that Jane direct the film herself.

Once Jane received encouragement from friends and colleagues, she became increasingly confident that she could do this. "A lot of people had given me a lot of input to develop WHAT MATTERS MOST and we had already come a long way with this project," said Jane.

With Jane at the helm, cast and crew set up shop in the West Texas Panhandle. She emphasizes, "The town itself plays an important personal role and is a significant 'character' in the story." Together on a road trip scouting for locations, the Cusumanos went to 20 different cities in West Texas, and because they couldn't get a hotel room in Lubbock, they ended up in Amarillo. There they came across Vega, a small panhandle town with a population of 840. Upon contacting the Texas Film Commission, they met Sue Burns Hoffman, who was ultimately hired as associate producer. Burns introduced the Cusumanos to the local talent agent, Sheryl Anderson. Anderson put them in contact with producer Charla Driver, who lives in Amarillo but works out of Los Angeles.





















































"Charla's roster of accomplishments really impressed me," explains James Cusumano, "She had done a number of independent films and had a lot of experience as a unit production manager, producer and even as a director. I called Charla on the phone, and she flew out to Ojai the next day and spent a day with Jane."

"I found Jane quite intriguing, and the plight she is on and up against making a movie for the very first time. It is a grueling process even in good health," exclaims Driver. "I've worked with several first time directors and I enjoy working with them because I generally have more creative input, and they rely on me and involve me much more than an established director."

The challenge for Driver was that Jane did not have a traditional film background. "First-timers tend to get more involved with make-up and props and the technical aspects, but Jane didn't. Although she was a novice about some of the technical aspects, she had a very clear vision of what she wanted to see on the screen."

"With Charla's support and her belief that I could do this, my anxieties went away," said director Jane. "Technically I knew very little, but I had my life experiences growing up in a small town in this part of the country. I understood the way of life here, and it could not have come across if I hadn't lived here and experienced it to portray it on film."

Vega was the perfect locale to film a small Texas town with a lot of character. With a population of 840, the community was only too willing to open their doors to the film crew and accommodate their requests in anyway they could. "This town is amazing," said producer Driver. "Not one thing have we asked for that they haven't been able to produce or accommodated us. Even the local Sheriff chipped in and helped us paint sets to help us stay on schedule."

Knowing exactly the West Texas ambiance and personalities she wanted to capture in WHAT MATTERS MOST, is what led Jane to Vega for this film "WHAT MATTERS MOST is about a slice of Americana that really exists today," Jane continues. "People live here, have families and they are happy. There is no rushing around and getting caught up in the growing stress of modern day living. In Vega people live simpler lives, belong to various organizations, and are sports orientated. The whole town turns out to support local school teams."

"Vega and the script correlated so well that the actual town folk are very much like the characters in the story," comments Marshall Teague, who plays stern patriarch Raymond Warner. "Their kindness, their sweetness, their way of living, upbringing, belief and convictions all come out in this script so strongly. Amazingly, Jane did it without car chases, sex, blowing up buildings or swearing. This story comes from the heart. I personally can't relate directly to a small town, but from what I have observed, Vega is Vega. Jane loved this town, which truly is this script, the characters, the story."

The basketball game in which Lucas gets hurt was filmed at the Vega K-12 School. There are not many of these kinds of schools left in America. Interestingly, this tiny town's girl's basketball team has held the Texas State Championship title for the past several years. "The teachers and the pupils took part as extras in filming the scene, but just like the Raymond Warner character, who also coaches his son's basketball team, the Vega school coach would not allow any of his team members to participate. He didn't want his kids staying up late making a movie and coming in tired the next day to play," smiled Jim. "So we recruited some excellent players from Cal Farley's Boy's Ranch, a home for troubled and displaced boys, just outside Amarillo. They were wonderful boys and incredible players."

Adds Chad Allen, "The town in this piece is as much a character as the personalities, and Jane captures this brilliantly. It is such as integral part in the film. It is interesting and weird to be shooting in a town whose community is the lives of the characters we play. Midway through production, we guys on the Vega basketball 'team' went out to a bar and a restaurant to have some fun. "The underlying essence of the WHAT MATTERS MOST story is that a much simpler life exists in this part of America, and it permeates the very fabric of the present and future of the people who live here. It is not uncommon to graduate from high school, skip college, take over the family business, get married, have children---and look forward to your grandkids," states director Jane. "Also, and most importantly, these folks deal with conflict and difficult issues in much different ways than those of us from urban and suburban Americana do," continues Jane. ". It demonstrates the diversity and strength of our great American heritage and culture."



Driver introduced Jane to cinematographer Michael Goi, who joined forces with Driver many times in the past and had experience working with first-time directors. "One of the things that appealed to me was that Jane's vision was a real labor of love and had a lot of heart to it," noted Goi.

"When Jane and I talked about the 'look' for the film she brought up references to movies like Giant, The Last Picture Show, Tender Mercies and other films that portray the stark southwestern lifestyle. However, we didn't want to go totally in that direction, as there is a strong sense of uplifting the human spirit in WHAT MATTERS MOST, so we made things warmer in tone."

Goi commissioned Harrison Filters to make a unique lime green filter especially for this film to achieve this desired effect. "This created a clean, fresh look throughout the entire film that made the exterior scenes warmer and richer."

The Texas weather and landscape created its own challenges for the team, but Goi was unfazed. "I found it invigorating to work spontaneously with what you are given. Sometimes it is hard to match the erratic weather but, in fact, it worked in our favor on several occasions. The heavens opened and we had a complete downpour the moment we filmed the scene when Heather tells Lucas she is pregnant outside the school gymnasium. You can't pay for that kind of emotional backdrop. It takes the moment to another level and brings so much more to a scene. It's just like when the sun rises or sets, it carries its own emotion to the setting."

Goi has worked with many first-time directors, but working with Jane was a sheer delight. "She works completely intuitively and spontaneously, which I love as opposed to some directors who come in with a specific shot list or story board. She responds more immediately to what she feels as she comes on set. While it doesn't allow the crew to preset scenes, it does allow spontaneous input from people and creates an atmosphere of 'organic growth' for a scene. It also permits the various members of the crew to draw deeply on their personal skills and creativity. I think this approach can have pluses and minuses, but in this instance, I found that the pluses to far outweighed the minuses."

To enhance the personalities in the story, Goi approached each character individually. "Every character for me carries different motifs. Heather is more the hometown girl, while for Lucas I added slight shadows to create an uncertainty so the audience wouldn't know which direction he was going in. For Raymond Warner, I used a hard edgy stoic composition that slowly evolves into something softer to help with his arc of transition through the film. It is all part of story telling that meshes but it doesn't draw attention to itself.



Casting the film was also presented a whole new challenge and experience for Jane. "We couldn't afford major stars, but I was adamant that we cast excellent actors that fit their respective role, as opposed to name actors, who might draw an audience--but did not necessarily fit the part. Everyone we cast could not have played his or her part better. Their performances sing in harmony! It's so exciting! I can't wait to see the film on the big screen."

The role of Heather Stone in WHAT MATTERS MOST was written with daughter Polly Cusumano in mind. Polly captures the tenacity and self-assuredness of the intelligent, headstrong teenager trapped by the pressures, morals and tribulations within a small community. "Polly was the only person I had in mind for Heather, and of course I know her so well, so a part of her went into this character," said director Jane.

"Heather is an underdog in this town, she doesn't even know who her father is," says Polly. "In many ways, she is viewed as 'just like her mother' who is an outcast single parent. Heather is bright and talented, but she too is an outsider, an outcast. And, she is an eternal optimist."

Polly continues, "Heather's relationship with Maynard, the school's only black student further divides her from the main community. Unlike her mom, Heather doesn't treat obstacles as bad luck but as opportunities making her an eternal optimist, in contrast to Lucas, who succumbs to the pressures of his family and the community."

Reflecting on her mother writing and directing a script with her in mind, while her father financed the project, Polly notes, "I feel blessed that I can work as an actress and that I can do it with my family. I certainly couldn't do this a few years ago, the personal pressure would have been too great. But with the circumstances surrounding Mom's illness, this project has become her dream, and I am part of it. She has given a gift to me and I have tried to give it back to her by doing the best I could so that her vision is recognized."

Rehearsal time in the Cusumano household was very much involved with discussions about the character Heather. "It's been heaven, the characters have fleshed themselves out by the actors hanging out with each other and interacting on a personal level," comments Polly. "Our family has become an extended family with the cast and crew and they have been invited into the Cusumano family. It has been like one big Italian family dinner, everyone is invited to eat good food, drink some wine, participate in good conversation, and spend time with each other. That's the epitome of what life is about, bring everything you have to offer to our table and we can feast together, soak up the atmosphere, share our stories and our love."

Jane had no hesitation in asking her daughter Polly for advice on the process. The Cusumanos put a notice in the trade press and received thousands of headshots. The list narrowed to about 300. Casting director Pat Melton was brought on board to help with the process, and one day brought in Chad Allen to read for "Lucas."

"I was not really familiar with Chad's work," said Jane "but all of a sudden, there he was, with this very soft, emotionally tragic kind of presence. Chad seems to me to carry a burden on his shoulders. Not rebellious like kids who have a lot of pressure on them by their parents. He seems to have this inward sense of what he wants to do, combined with his desire to please other people. It is why he doesn't tell his father to 'take a hike.' He loves his family, and he loves Heather, but he has this need to make everything okay---for everyone."

Allen adds, "Lucas Warner is a wonderful character. First of all he is essentially a bit of a lone wolf, an individual spirit in a small town. I don't think he is entirely comfortable in his own skin and doesn't fit in all that well. He has the heart of an artist and the soul of a musician in a town based on set styles and set ideas."

At first, Allen was somewhat concerned with working with a first-time director/writer. "Writers tend to be very headstrong about ideas for their characters, how they sound, look, etc. Jane was anything but. She's so easy and accepting. She was open and honest about discussing Lucas---what she knew and what she didn't know about him, and together we ended up amalgamating our ideas. Jane has managed to bring a group of talented people together and allowed everyone to do their best. Plain brilliant! I am very excited to see what it will look like at the end of the day."

Allen was drawn by the simplicity and honest portrayal of human emotional struggle, a father pushing his teenage son to get married, and also pushing him to be like him and take over the family business. "Although teenage marriage sounds a bit foreign to us from a big city, the struggle is similar," continues Allen. "The arc of Lucas' character must drop down to that darkest internal space before he can decide to live, to pull free. Ultimately he is a strong young man. If he weren't, he would die. It takes both love and strength to win his battle. The choices he has to make are challenging and difficult."

Allen understands difficult choices. He received the script for WHAT MATTERS MOST a few days after learning that a friend had committed suicide. "It was the worst possible time to read about a young man in such deep emotional trouble, and if it had been any other script, I would not have turned up for the reading. It definitely hit me, and I identified with it immediately. So much so that I went in to read on the day of my friend's funeral. It seems to me I was the character in some way."

































"The core of WHAT MATTERS MOST has a universal theme, adds executive producer Jim Cusumano. "A lot of teens experience a feeling of being lost, of not fitting in, and struggle with some aspect of hopelessness. There is something for everyone in Jane's film. WHAT MATTERS MOST speaks volumes about family relationships, between father and son, mother and daughter, and between two young lovers who set out to follow their hearts and souls in terms of what is really important. It also says a lot about small towns and what they will support and will not support within their community. I think it has a lot of important messages for families and for America."

Veteran actor Marshall Teague was immediately drawn to the character of wealthy Texas rancher Raymond Warner, a hard-bitten wealthy "Texas gentleman," determined to make a "man" of his son, even if it means the unintentional bullying of Lucas towards Raymond's own black-and-white view of the future. "Raymond is a very complex character. He's a proud man, proud of his family's cattle empire, which was founded by his great-grand father. Raymond wants desperately to have his son Lucas as a partner, and ultimately take over the ranch. Unlike many parents today, Raymond Warner does not want his son to go off to college. At one point he lectures Lucas, 'College is okay for some people, but you don't need it. We built us an empire.' Perhaps Raymond is afraid that Lucas will end up looking down his nose at a cattle rancher once he becomes a college graduate." Teague adds. "Warner is not a mean man, but he does everything with conviction and believes what he is saying and doing is the right thing. Change doesn't come easily for him."

"Marshall had this very commanding presence and a physicality about him that brought Raymond to life," Jane commented. "I'd had in my mind Raymond as a very strong, imposing man who always gets his way. Yet, he's not just a bully, he also has a soft side. Raymond loves his son intensely, but wants to control him."

When Allen first met Marshal Teague, who plays his father, at the airport waiting for their connecting flight to Amarillo, the dynamics of Jane's characters began to take shape. "I was busy working on the script when he came over to introduce himself," recalls Allen. "It was an amazing encounter as I instantly had a strong desire to get away from this man, and my instincts told me to shut him out. I think he read that, because he said hello and stepped away and gave me my space. On the plane we talked some more, and when we got off the plane, I realized what had happened, I had encountered my father. My dad carries the same character and strong will that I encountered in Marshall, so I immediately felt awkward. I didn't know the right things to say. It was a great power base to be working from for this story."

Gretchen German plays Bunny, wife of Raymond Warner and mother to Lucas and seven-year-old daughter, Jenetta. German was in the same acting class as Polly Cusumano several years ago, and Polly ran into German's husband, James Dipterans, nearly a year ago and started taking private acting-coaching lessons from him. It was Polly who suggested that German audition for the role of Bunny.

German says about her character, "Bunny is pretty much a stage mom putting her young daughter in the 'Littlest Miss Texas Pageant'. Although she is not completely trying to live her life through her daughter, Bunny really wants her child's life to be better than hers. And the only way she believes she can do this is for Jenetta to win the pageant and move up the ladder of success. Bunny is a woman of great potential, but she will never realize it. She married young, which is fairly typical for West Texas. Her life's path was already mapped out before she was born."

German, born in Austin, Texas, identifies with her character having grown up in a similar culture. "Bunny loves her husband but hasn't experienced a great or powerful passionate love and so she doesn't know any different. This is why she continues to make the best of it. She always puts on a smile and always makes the best of everything, but rarely faces reality." German concludes, "Bunny is a multidimensional personality which could easily make her the 'bad guy' because she is controlling and loves the position in society that the Warner wealth has brought her."

Tamara Clatterbuck portrays Anita Stone, Heather's struggling single mom. "I was blown away when I first read the script, it was awesome! I said, I have to do this job and I don't care what it takes."

Clatterbuck, well known for her work on television in General Hospital and The Young and the Restless, as well as a number of independent features such Sour Grapes, City of Industry and Set It Off, caused quite a stir with the staff and customers when visiting the local Dairy Queen in Vega. "I grew up in Akron, Ohio, which is a fairly small town but not to the degree of Vega," Laughs Clatterbuck. "I thought that maybe this kind of lifestyle existed, but to be here and see that it is a reality, is weird. I mean, the 26-year old girl behind the counter at the Dairy Queen had five kids. So, while she puts in 12-hour shifts, her family takes care of her children, and she is not alone!

Clatterbuck also observes, "I do understand the importance of attracting 'names' when making an independent film, but filmmakers tend to get so caught up in that and lose the essence and honesty of the film which is usually what the characters are about. Otherwise, you would never have break out films like Sling Blade. That is why WHAT MATTERS MOST is a brilliant story, and a superb script with the very talented people involved, because Jane stayed true to herself and true to her project. It takes an exceptionally strong person to truly follow their vision as she did."

Veteran character actor Jim Metzler portrays Reverend Worth, a staunch pillar of the community and respected member of the school and church. Rev. Worth's religion does not overtake his humanity and conviction to help others, regardless of class or economic status. Rev. Worth is some one who cares deeply about his congregation. He is a great character to play as he pops up in and out in the background to support people."

"Jane's script and directorial style is right up there with the best of the indeed projects I have worked on. It is a wonderful story, beautifully written, very compelling with rich characters. Jane might be a first time director, but she is a natural. She gives you time and space and is so supportive. You can't ask much more of a director."

Ransford Doherty portrays Maynard, who plays basketball for the Vega K-12 school team and works part-time as a gas station attendant at Anita's Longhorn Café. A newcomer to the big screen, Doherty has guest starred in such television shows as JAG, ER, MTV Undressed and The Huntress for USA Network.

Director Jane Cusumano says, "Maynard epitomizes the good friend, and is also 'one of the guys.' Originally he was white, but it was Polly's idea to make him African-American, bringing a whole other dynamic to his and Heather's personalities, which brought both characters up a notch. This is not a story about racism, but to not reflect that he is the object of derision in a town unaccustomed to open equality would not be truthful. Maynard has his own support group of friends and he feels one with them and they feel one with him. He has no chip on his shoulder."

Doherty's determination to succeed in his chosen profession paid off. "I was working for Enterprise Rent-A-Car, and our casting director, Pat Melton came into the office. I introduced myself and took her business card and started keeping in touch by postcards. Two years later, I was able to show her my work when she invited me to audition for the role of Maynard."

Doherty wasn't the only cast member who had some luck on his side in becoming part of the Cusumano family. Jason Ray Haney made his acting debut in WHAT MATTERS MOST, as Jason Lee Smith, an awkward farm boy and classmate of Heather, Maynard and Lucas. "I had only moved to LA about nine months ago from Midland, Texas when Russell Sams (his co-star) and I were in a bar on Sunset in Hollywood and we ran into Polly. She told us about the film and to come in and audition." Jane adds, "I get this excited call from Polly one night saying, 'Mom you'd never believe it! I met these guys, and they have to be in the movie.' I told her that they would have to come in and audition, just like everyone else. Well, she was right. Both Jason Ray and Russell brought their own charm and love-hate relationship with each other, which syncs with their characters. They're best friends, but they also have a slight disdain for each other."

Reflecting on his first professional acting experience, Haney says, "Jane is awesome! She really, really knows what she wants. She is a great person to work with. I had heard horror stories about other directors, but Jane is great. She lets us know we are doing a good job and doesn't leave us hanging out there. She's full of encouragement."

Like Haney, Russell Sams was new in town, having moved to LA four months ago from rural Clinton, Tennessee. "I'd only met Jason Ray a week earlier as we share the same manager and being both Southern boys, we hit it off and went out on the town together where we ran into Polly. And then there we were in Vega, Texas together."

This is Sams' first acting role. He studied at the University of Tennessee. "For the heck of it," he auditioned for a play at a local theater and got the role and the acting bug. Sams is Troy Decker, high school friend and basketball teammate of Maynard and Jason Lee. He likes a good time and will stick to his friends to the end. On the heels of his first acting role, Sams noted, "Troy is a little wild, a jock, and says exactly what is on his mind. Since I was new, I watched the other actors work and the different techniques. The intensity and eye contact in the moment is all there."

Sams adds, "We guys bonded both on set and off, which is great. Being in a small town like Vega we hung out together, watched ball games, ate chicken wings and told stories, it is a bit like a trip in the twilight zone."

Shonda Farr is Lydia, the pampered daughter of the town's bank president and Heather's rival for Lucas' affections. She notes, "Lydia is basically a spoiled rotten brat, but Lydia ends up in the end doing good. She's not so bad, after all. Lydia is jealous that Lucas is in love with Heather. Amazingly, you always want what you cannot have." As a former resident of another small southern town, Monroe, Louisiana, Farr totally understood the politics and intricacies of the Vega K-12 school. "I knew girls like Lydia who would say things like 'My daddy will do whatever I want.' Lydia is totally not me, but it is so much fun to be play a bitch."

"The great thing about Jane is that she allowed us to be so natural, giving us directions and then allowing us to do it. She would also sit down and talk with me about Lydia, how would Lydia think, feel and react?"

"I didn't know before I arrived that Jane's daughter was playing the lead and her husband was the executive producer. But it's been great! It's like one big family, not a group of strangers coming together. It has created a great comfort zone for everybody on the set."

Jane's dreams, perseverance and commitment to her vision has truly paid off. Her spirit has profoundly affected a cast and crew already passionate about good storytelling and strong characters. Her accomplishment and natural affinity for filmmaking are testament to "what matters most"-living one's dream and having it profoundly affect those around you.


























































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