Buhler, a 25-year-old Mitchell native, is directing a short film, “Aegis,” a movie with strong themes of protection. The movie is about a young woman named Charlene, working as a stripper while on the run among the oil fields of North Dakota.“There’s a good, hearty Midwest vibe, and I like it,” said the lead actress, Jenna Lyng, referring to filming in South Dakota. She plays Charlene, who escapes Chicago after committing a crime to protect someone she loves.
Filming began Thursday, and will conclude Sunday. When completed, the movie will last 20 minutes. There will be a November screening of the film in Mitchell, and Buhler hopes to submit the movie to several film festivals, including Sundance and Tribeca.
Filming took place at the Depot Pub & Grille on Thursday, then moved to a farmhouse in rural Delmont and will conclude at a Mitchell bar Sunday evening.
Buhler hopes the short film will give her a name for herself as a director. If a short film is successful at festivals, it becomes a calling card for the director and crew, proving she can make a high-quality film with limited resources.
“A really good short shows you have the chops,” Buhler said.
Although the plot is based in North Dakota, she chose to film in her hometown because of the available resources. The farmhouse in Delmont is her grandfather’s, and her family makes up a large portion of the 25-person crew. The house didn’t have running water and electricity until shortly before filming. It also has been uninhabited for 15 years.
“People have been so eager to help out,” Buhler said.
The landscape of South Dakota also made Mitchell an attractive option.
“South Dakota looks a lot more like North Dakota than (Los Angeles) does,” Buhler said.
The film was funded through Kickstarter, a website that utilizes crowdsourcing to fund projects. Through 192 backers, the film raised $26,090, more than its goal of $25,000. She’s producing the film with Walczak, who also serves as a writers’ assistant on the show “Arrow.” The two met when they were roommates for three months in New York City. They formed Vaffanculo Productions this year, with “Aegis” serving as their first collaboration.
Locals have donated food and housing for the film.
Buhler, also a photographer and an actor, hopes to return to South Dakota to shoot future movies. She has previously shot a documentary, along with a music video for Katie Stevens, of “American Idol” fame.
The majority of the crew is in their early 20s and from Los Angeles.
David Cade, who plays the lead male character, an oil rigger who spots Charlene at the strip club, has connected with the premise of the movie. His character, Mason, a blue-collared man who has gained financial freedom, and with it, a sense of entitlement, recognizes Charlene from high school. The run-in with Mason spells trouble for Charlene, who has been living a nomadic lifestyle.
“Mason is a good guy who does a bad thing,” Cade said. “Most people’s reaction is that he’s a bad guy, but I don’t think he came out of the womb evil.”
Cade has friends who work in the oilfields of North Dakota and found out about the part through a mutual friend of Katherine Walczak, the film’s writer.
“I sat down and I said, ‘I know this guy,’ “ Cade said of the character.
Cade has seen why the choice was made to film the movie in South Dakota, opposed to L.A.
“In L.A., you could go to a house, pretend it’s South Dakota, but it’s not the same,” Cade said. “There’s a landscape, a fear and a sweltering here that the camera will pick up.”
The Delmont farmhouse is doubling as several locations, including a flashback scene. Equipment has been set up outside windows to give the appearance of nighttime inside.
If the short film is successful, it could become a full-length feature film. Alisa Allapach, a 29-year-old actress from Los Angeles who plays the stripper Jasmine, said the script is strong enough to be expanded to feature length.
Allapach said she’s heard of strippers flying to North Dakota oil towns, where women are scarce, crimes against them are high and strippers are high entertainment.
“For me, there’s this awareness of a part of the world that’s a three-hour flight away,” Allapach said. “I didn’t know it existed.”