Two longtime friends with aspirations of launching their own production company will be shooting a short film in Jasper this October.
Jasper natives Asya Hildenbrand and Shalyn Grow are the writers, directors and producers of “Me and My Shadow,” the first film from their new production company, Va Bene Pictures.
Reflecting their own love for community theatre and exploring the impact of passion for craft, “Me and My Shadow” is a film about a young woman, Ciaran, dedicated to her role in a community theatre production of “Hamlet.” Ciaran has decided to method act the role and is determined to stay in character throughout the day as she works at the local grocery store and interacts with her friends and family over the course of a day.
The film is a culmination of the pair’s love for the town they grew up in, their passion for film and acting and their roots in community theater.
Asya and Shalyn met in a middle school production of “Seussical: The Musical.” Asya was in sixth grade and Shalyn was in seventh.
“She was the Sour Kangaroo, and I was Mayzie La Bird,” Shalyn remembered.
They had both had an interest in theatre and performing up to that point, but the musical production really cemented their love for the art as well as created a friendship that has continued since. Both graduated Jasper High School and headed to Western Kentucky University, where they each received a bachelor’s in fine arts in musical theatre.
The friendship endured even when they separated. Since graduating from college, Asya has ended up in Nashville and Shalyn in New York, where both have been seeking work in the film and theatre industry while supporting themselves with other jobs.
Then in 2021, the pair took a handheld camera and, using New York City as the backdrop, shot a short film, “An Afternoon Affair.” The project helped clarify their vision moving forward.
“It just kind of made us realize like what we actually want to be doing, what that looks like for us,” Asya said. “And what our own personal voice and vision are when it comes to making film projects ourselves.”
Talk continued between the best friends, and the idea developed for “Me and My Shadow.” An idea that took on life when Shalyn sent her Asya an imperative stream-of-thought email. “Okay, we have an idea. We have a really great idea we’re excited about. We’re excited about someone method acting Hamlet in the community theater scene. But what are we trying to say? Are these just find exciting ideas or stories that need to be told,” she wrote to her friend. “We need to figure this out.”
Through hundreds of emails back and forth, they developed the story and script together. And it was during this process they realized their creation was an ode to their love for Jasper and their roots with the local community theatre.
“We really noticed that the more we talked to each other about it and kind of expanded on each other’s ideas, the more it kind of became fully fleshed out,” Asya said. “And we really wanted to write something based on our time in community theater.”
As they were writing the script, it didn’t exist in Jasper. It simply existed in community theatre. But as the writing continued, the background for their film emerged.
“We realized that we were picturing these spaces that we both know,” Shalyn said. “Specifically, there is a scene that takes place in a dressing room, and we both realized we were visualizing the same dressing room at the Jasper Arts Center. So we thought maybe that is where it (the film) should happen.”
To a certain extent, Jasper becomes a character in the story.
“The story is kind of about Midwestern folk. You know, there’s nothing like glamorous about it. It’s very true to life; kind of a slice of life piece, and it was just really important that Jasper be a huge part of that,” Asya said.
They have launched a website and are seeking submissions for cast and crew. If you are interested, details are available here.
For the friends, the production has taken on special meaning. “The main thing is I’m doing this with my best friend. She’s basically my sister at this point,” Shalyn said. “We’ve been through a lot together. And this industry is really, really tough. And we are evolving.”
Va Bene Pictures is a way for them to take charge of their own futures as well as use their personal experiences to be the project leaders they would want to work with.
“You know, we’re we’re changing our method of getting our foot in the door,” Shalyn said. “We’re not going to casting calls anymore, sitting there waiting for someone to call our name. We’re making our own work.”
Being friends and partners in the production company and film helps.
“There’s been a lot of joy working on this project together. Indie filmmaking in any capacity is hard,” Asya said. “Having someone you trust, who’s completely throwing themselves into it with you, is a gift.”
“And we’re using our voices,” said Shalyn. “So I think I think in a sense, even though it’s scary and a lot of work, it’s empowering.”
Filming will take place around Jasper in Holiday Foods, Jasper Community Arts and the black box theatre in the Thyen-Clark Cultural Center on October 15 and 16. After post-production is complete and the film is finalized, they plan to have a special premiere at the Astra Theatre — likely sometime next spring. Then the film will begin making rounds of film festivals.