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"
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
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."
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
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
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."
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,"
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.
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
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
"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
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
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
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."
AS A PICTURE
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,"
"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."
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."
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."
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."
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
"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."
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."
CAST AND CREW REVEAL
WHAT TRULY MATTERS MOST
"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."
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
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."
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."
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
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."
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
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."
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.