I was recently asked if I wanted to visit the set of a horror movie, “The Girl,” directed by Jennifer Blanc-Biehn and starring Michael Biehn. Is that a trick question? Who wouldn’t want to see every girl’s post-apocalyptic dreamboat and watch a woman call the shots?
The day of the set visit arrives, and it’s a scorcher. I had to come to grips with the fact that I was going to look less than professional, because it was a shorts day. I arrive on set immediately and spot two people who stand out – great corporates here – it’s 95 degrees and these two are wearing suits.
One of Jen’s publicists, Grace, approaches me and says she’s glad I made it, and “come and talk to the actors.” Maybe she doesn’t realize I’m press. I believe the proper protocol for press is to leave them out in the sun as far away from the action as possible for a few hours, and when the star walks up for the two-minute allotment, gives a sound bite, points to their phone and says “I gotta take this” and walks off into the sunset. I’m about to find out I have died and gone to Press Heaven.
It turns out the suits are actors posing as FBI agents. Lorraine Ziff and Nick W. Nicholson are combat vets of Blanc/Biehn Productions and have worked on a few projects together and will most likely work together on a few more in the future. Lorraine, her husband Larry, and their son Matthew all work in the biz. Lorraine will be seen in an HBO show in the near future but barred me from mentioning the title.
Nick is totally relaxed and relating a funny story, but I’m completely distracted by the fact that there is not one drop of sweat on this guy, and ask him his secret. He said on one project he was playing a senator and dripping all over the set and holding up scenes while makeup mopped him up, so the director came over and said, “Nick you are the senator – all of these people are here to serve you, you don’t have to sweat.” Nick replied “Okay, bitch, get me an ice tea,” and the rest is history. Now that’s acting.
Grace comes back and takes me into a little cabin that has a portable AC unit. I am grateful because it’s so hot I barely remember my name at this point. She points to a chair and says, sit here and talk to Tia. I get myself situated and turn to say hello, but it’s not just any Tia – it’s Tia effing Carrere! Who, by the way, is so amazingly gorgeous, heat or no, and graciously answered all of my questions.
It turns out Jen’s mother Jenice has a car service out of Topanga Canyon, and Tía makes use of it continuously. During one ride, Jenice asks if Tia would read a script for one of her daughter’s projects. Tia wasn’t sure about playing the part at first, because she has always played strong women and this character is a wife in complete denial hiding from the true horrors in her life and marriage.
She said, “If I knew a man like this in real life, I’d stab that guy with a fork.” She thought about the role and decided because Tia was so resistant to doing it, that ultimately it would be a challenge and accepted. She said that the key to getting an ultra-low budget project like this done is to hire actors that know their shit. Tia Carrere and Michael Biehn? Done.
As I’ve been talking with the actors, Jen, Michael and Tristan DeVan have been shooting scenes all day in the heat. Tristan’s been doing commercials since he was three weeks old. This is his first big project, and the 11-year-old is holding his own with the pros.
Finally, there’s a break between setups, and Jen says she has a couple minutes, but of course, I have a prior commitment and have to leave. She knows it’s a pain but could I come back the next day and then maybe I could also get two minutes with Michael? Yeah, it’s a pain to get invited back and have full access to one of my passions – NOT!
The next day, as luck would have it, Jen can talk to me as soon as I get there. It’s her second time directing and she’s frazzled and says never again, until the next time. Her first film, “The Night Visitor,” was easier because they had four small cameras, a small cast and shot it all in one house.
This is more ambitious, with several scenes outside and others in various buildings fortunately on the same property. Their DP, Steve Romano, has a relationship with Sony/Panavision and they feel privileged to be using the camera that shot “Oblivion.”
Jen and Michael started this production company so they could create roles that they’d like to do. Their business model is starting out small, moving fluid in a short amount of time and sharing the profits with the crew and actors, making it a group effort to create a quality product that will act like a savings account somewhere down the line.
At this phase in the company, the upfront paychecks are minimal with an eye to the future when residuals start rolling in. Jen feels optimistic, and by the number of projects they have in pre and post production, it looks like she’s right.
Blanc/Biehn is grooming the crew for the future by showing them the ropes so novices and interns will acquire the much-coveted IMDb credit. For example Michael and Jen will produce “The Sound of Thunder,” an award-winning script written by Larry Wade Carrell, a producer and the 2nd unit director on this film.
Jen is imparting her knowledge to actress Hallie Jordan, who is not only a co-producer but also has a part in “The Girl.” Michael’s son, Devon, a really nice guy, is also hard at work learning the biz first hand. He seemed to be everywhere all at once.
“The Girl” is a seven-day shoot. They’re trying to stick to the budget and shooting schedule. “The Night Visitor” – still in post – already has four offers. Their first project, 2011’s “The Victim,” directed by Michael, is still picking up traffic, receiving 20 to 30 tweets per day and Jen is still receiving residuals.
Jen has projects scheduled for the foreseeable future, check her IMDb page if you want to feel like a slacker. As if she doesn’t have enough going on, she also hosts her own web series on thestream.tv, aptly named “Scared Stiff,” where she’ll interview some fascinating characters from the horror genre, including Alyssa Lobit and the Soska Sisters, a.k.a The Twisted Twins. You’ll find out what scares them stiff.
If you want to see Jen now, get over to Shriekfest this weekend in Hollywood and catch her with Brad Dourif in “Malignant.” ‘Nuff said.