A Style article Tuesday about the film "Avalon" misidentified three unnamed actors as Source Theatre performers. They are from The Studio Theatre.
Where there's a will, a way and ineffable determination, a non-Hollywood-produced movie can be made. With the desire to make a full-length film but with a meager budget, this summer two Washington women, Merrick Murdock, 27, and Andrea Borden, 24, shot a 30-minute feature called "Avalon," an exploration of the dynamics of friendship among four people in their late twenties.
The codirectors met in 1981 while working at National Geographic. Their tasks included poring over hundreds of slides a day, yet they longed to work with the moving image. "That experience," says Borden, "created a special bond that lead to our working together."
Murdock began the master's program in film at American University, and Borden contributed to her films as an actress, editor and producer. "Meanwhile, there was an ongoing discussion between us about the nature of friendship," says Murdock, "treating it as a seed for a story."
Then one night they watched a television review of some short films Murdock had made, in which Davey Marlin-Jones called her a "master of the medium." Taking energy from the praise, they began to write "Avalon."
At first the script was intended as Murdock's thesis, but the project soon mushroomed into a commercial venture. Murdock wrote to South African cinematographer Peter Belcher and asked him to shoot the film, but explained that she would not be able to pay him. To her surprise, he agreed.
"My heart jumped out of my mouth when I got his phone call," Murdock recalls. "When an experienced and talented cinematographer is willing to fly halfway around the world to shoot your film for free, it tends to make you want to work even harder."
The next six weeks involved intense preproduction -- putting the crew together, finding shooting locations, securing permission from the D.C. Film Commission to shoot on the streets, holding auditions. Many of the production tasks were new to Murdock and Borden. In fact, they had never held a formal audition before.
"Most of the people that auditioned were local theater players trying to make a break in their acting careers," says Murdock. "Three out of the four selected came from the Source Theatre, and the fourth was a recent American University graduate."
Unlike a Hollywood production, which can afford the luxury of reshooting and/or postdubbing, they had to run through many rehearsals. "In movies people learn their lines and then are expected to come on the set and go," says Murdock. "But we knew we were dealing with theater actors, and that they were going to need some retraining in film acting. That is, how to tone things down, how to bring things in."
The meager budget also affected the way the script was written -- obviously, there are no car chases or special effects. "Since every penny-minute counted so much, there was an incredible amount of planning and anticipating of what could go wrong and how potential problems would be dealt with," says Murdock.
There are some things, however, that no amount of organization can predict. After securing the Lansburgh Building to shoot a film sequence, for example, they arrived to find a fashion show in progress, complete with large speakers blaring disco music. Other problems were the unexpected June heat wave and the noise from jet traffic at National Airport. One of the producers, John Gillespie, said that "the experience turned me into an advocate of the scatter plan."
The next step is securing funding to edit and polish the film. After that it will be entered in competitions and, eventually, marketed to cable and public networks. But the Murdock-Borden team does not relish the idea of moving to New York or Los Angeles, preferring to remain in the Washington area to pursue careers in filmmaking.
The theme of "Avalon" is "un-neurotic" friendship. "The feeling we wanted to get on the screen was how friendship mattered above passion, above all else," Murdock says. "It is a modern, upbeat fable in which one person breaches the trust of the friendship and the question becomes, can the friendship endure?"
How the film ends is obvious -- the directors have faith written all over their faces.