How I Met America
By Kelly EichenholzLast year during the Dallas International Film Festival, my family and I signed up to be chaperones for various directors, actors, and producers who were coming to town to showcase their films. I was thrilled to be a part of this film festival because I knew that it would be a great opportunity to meet creative people who are fully involved in the business. Film acting has been a passion of mine since I was about five years old--I signed with the Kim Dawson Agency after one of my preschool recitals, which happened to be the same school that Lisa Dawson's son attended. Although my parents were hesitant to get involved in a risky and high-pressure business, I insisted that they let me give it a try; I haven't stopped since. So naturally, I was interested in any advice that the professionals visiting my hometown were willing to share. And fortunately, that's when we met America Young. America came into town for a film that she directed called "GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS.” On a personal level, I was very interested in this project because it was fully directed and produced by women.
When we picked America up at the airport, we found out that her housing arrangement had been cancelled and that she had hastily booked a hotel room in East Dallas. So through a stroke of luck, my family decided to invite America to stay in the guest room at our house. And throughout the weekend, America and I really hit it off. She was open to answering all of my questions about the business as well as telling me all about her life in Los Angeles, which I found thrilling. The Sunday night before America left, my parents went to a business dinner, so I took America to one of my favorite places to grab a quick bite. During the meal, America asked all about my passion for acting, and why the business is so important to me. Surprisingly enough, I had rarely been asked such basic but important questions, and it was refreshing to be with someone that seemed to genuinely care about my passion. Subsequently, America proceeded to tell me why she chose her career path, as well as all of the possibilities for creativity that come along with it. And toward the end of dinner, America's eyes lit up as she said, "You're coming to LA this summer, right? I think I have the perfect role for you in one of my upcoming projects." I'm not kidding when I say that my heart leapt out of my chest. I was ecstatic, and couldn't wait to get to LA in July.
Originally, I was given the opportunity to go to LA to work for Amber Horn, a casting director. We had been longtime friends and she felt that it would be a great way for me to experience a different facet of the business. I was in LA for five weeks, and the timing was perfect because America's auditions for her newest film THE CONCESSIONAIRES MUST DIE were going on at the same time. The film is about a group of misfits who are trying to save a worn-out movie theater from a selfish developer who plans to destroy it. The really unique part of this story is that the whole process is live-streamed to the Internet, so fans and viewers can see what it's like to make an indie film. I auditioned for the role of Heather, a cute nerdy girl who is the love interest of one of the employees in the movie theatre. I remember being especially nervous for this audition given the fact that I needed to impress an online audience. Also, at the same time, I felt an added pressure to perform well for America given that she had gone out on a limb to procure this opportunity for me. However, I was relieved to find that the people were not only welcoming but also patient and understanding throughout the process. Looking back, I think the best part of the audition was seeing the light in America’s eyes and knowing that I had an opportunity to bring her vision to life.
A few weeks later, America gave me a call and told me that they wanted me to come back and read with the boys auditioning for my love interest. I was pumped! I was one step closer to being able to work with America, as well as everyone else involved in the project. (All really cool people, might I add). I went to the audition with my Mom and met all of the guys I was going to be auditioning with. Cosby, the guy who actually ended up booking the role, and I hit it off because he happened to be from Houston. It was a huge relief to have a fellow Texan in my midst. I was ready to nail this audition! We switched around roles, and the whole process went very smoothly. I think the best part of the call back was that everyone, even the girl I was competing with for the role, was so gracious and happy to be there. The environment was very different from the high-pressure auditions that I’ve been to in the past because it felt like a team effort where everyone wanted the project to succeed. So as I walked out of the audition, I turned to my Mom who said, “Well, that was a really cool experience. And we made several new friends out of it! So even if you don’t get it, we have an awesome story to tell.” My Mom was definitely right--the odds of this opportunity even happening a few months before would have been almost impossible. I was just glad that I got a chance to be involved, even if it was just for the audition process.
A few months went by as America tried to fund the project, but we always got little check-in texts from her, and we were sure to browse the blog for updates on anything. And finally, while on a train in New York City (where I was studying for the semester), my phone started ringing. Popping up from my quick nap, I looked at my phone and saw America’s name. My first thought was, “I wonder why she’s calling?” And my next was, “It’ll be so good to catch up and hear how the project’s doing!” I answered the phone, and could instantly hear America’s elation beaming on the other line. “Kelly, I wanted to call you personally and tell you that you are going to play Heather!” My mouth dropped and my cheeks became completely flushed, I was so excited. It took me a few seconds to understand that she was being serious and I finally burst out: “I AM SO EXCITED! THIS IS THE BEST NEWS I HAVE GOTTEN THIS YEAR!!!” We chatted for a minute until America had to go back to set. I hung up and immediately called my Mom. “Mom, I got it!” “I know, America told me to keep it a secret! I’ve known since yesterday, but she wanted to tell you herself.”
The next Thursday I had my first table read with the whole cast. But since I was in New York, we had to do it over Skype. I was ecstatic when I saw Cosby’s face in the room; the Texans were a pair! The pattern of graciousness continued, and all of the cast members were extremely welcoming and polite-- I couldn’t ask for a better group of people to be working with. As I looked at my computer screen at all these friendly people I kept thinking, “Thank God we love the Dallas International Film Festival.”
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The 10th annual Dallas International Film Festival runs April 14-24, 2016.
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