Hermosa Beach’s Heidi Swan published a young adult novella last year and hosted a staged reading in January at Mira Costa High School about her brother’s drug addiction, schizophrenia and years of homelessness.
She has now teamed with Mira Costa student Ethan Nahlinder on a short film that wrapped shooting last week.
“He believed he was being followed by the CIA and he also thought he was John the Baptist,” said Swan last week while filming of “A Night in Jail” in the garage of her Hermosa Beach condo. “So if you'd say, 'Do you need help? He'd be like, 'No, you're the one who needs help. I'm fine.' Then the drugs made it worse.”
Swan’s son and Nahlinder use to play together in the first grade and she had kept in contact with Nahlinder’s mother at their gym. Swan learned that Nahlinder was a successful filmmaker when he won the “Best Visual FX” award last fall at the All American High School Film Festival, which took place in New York City, when he was a sophomore. Nahlinder’s family came to a staged reading of the novella in January.
After the reading, they came up with the idea of developing a short film. Swan wrote the script and Nahlinder took on directing. They started filming when Nahlinder finished his sophomore year at Mira Costa.
Nahlinder said he was intrigued by the story.
“The development of the characters throughout… it was something to explore,” Nahlinder said.
In and out of jail
Swan said the story focuses on the decade her brother, Kirk Anderson, was living under a freeway and in and out of jail and “what was going through his mind at the time when he was homeless and living on the streets.” The short was filmed at the Redondo Beach Police Station, as well as Swan’s home, which the garage doubled for a prison cell, and features a cast and crew of local students and actors.
Travers Tobis, who will also be a junior at Mira Costa, first met Nahlinder in a drama class at the high school. He had been acting on stage, but never before a camera until he took on the role of Swan’s brother.
Tobis said the challenge was playing a chapter “very opposite to me.”
“Being told you have five seconds and just react like he just said something crazy... you have to formulate what the crazy thing is and how you would react and you have to do it very quickly,” Tobis said.
Will Dobak, who will be a senior at Mira Costa, met Nahlinder at an advanced film class this year, and was asked to be the short's director of photography.
“We worked on a podcast in October about two kids who were politically active, which is kind of rare,” Dobak said. “We've been friends throughout the entire class and he told me about this project and he might need some help with it. I read the script and I thought, 'Wow, this is pretty relevant.' I feel the message is pretty important that people understand their actions have consequences even if they're just in high school.”
Caroline Alley, a Redondo Union High School junior, jumped on board to be the film's production assistant.
“I loved her story, so we talked about me helping out,” said Alley, after seeing the staged reading. “I help with whatever they need.”
Redondo Beach actor Charlie Scola plays a schizophrenic the protagonist meets in jail. Helping feed the homeless every Wednesday at St. James Church in Redondo Beach has given the semi-retired event producer an up close and personal perspective. “When I got this role I started looking at them a little different.”
“It's so timely now, especially what's going on with the homeless crises and now we're finding out through the homeless crises there is a lot of mental illness going on,” Scola said. “You just can't house these people, there has to be some support mechanism put in place in order to get these people living a normal life or best normalcy as they possible can.”
Scola praised Nahlinder's direction.
“Ethan is very specific how he wants everything done and he's not afraid to say, 'Let's do it again, let's do it again until we get it exact,'” Scola said. “I'm all for that.”
Redondo Beach actor, motivational speaker and personal trainer Breyon Burke, said he knew how passionate Swan was about her projects when she talked about them while working out at their gym. One day she asked him to read for a part of a cop and he said yes without hesitation.
“Her passion for change, her passion for arts and creativity is something that must be expressed,” Burke said. “As a motivational speaker, I believe it's important for the best of us to help the rest of us. She's one of the best of us.”
Burke also praised the students for their “brilliant, sharp and diligent” work.
“It's great to see young minds using their creativity and making decisions when society encourages you to stay in line, do what your told and raise your hand,” Burke said. “The creativity is the answer to our future.”
Swan said she attended a Redondo Beach City Council meeting to thank the police and the council for their support in bringing awareness to marijuana induced traffic accidents and fatalities. She talked to Redondo Beach Sgt. Mike Snakenborg and he helped set up the shoot.
“He said, “If you ever want anything let me know,' and I said, 'Actually, we're doing a short film and we could use the police station as a location.,” said Swan, adding that their generous help probably saved the production thousands.
“Location wise it was perfect,” Nahlinder added.
An engineer by trade, Nahlinder's father Anders, helped transform part of Swan's garage into a prison cell.
“ I did some YouTube searches to try figure out how to do this,” Anders said.
Anders said his son has been fascinated with filmmaking, beginning with stop-motion films, since he was very young.
“It's great to see him bloom really,” Anders said.
Swan has been busy recently, traveling last month to Washington D.C. with advocates from Moms Strong, a “support group partnering to inform and educate those harmed by marijuana,” according to its website.
“We met with aides to Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein and two from Maryland,” Swan said. “We told them about the mental health consequences of marijuana use. It was really a worthwhile trip because one staffer told us we were the first people to come to talk about the the negative effects. Everyone else talks about the benefits of marijuana use.”
Of her brother, Swan said “We believe that his schizophrenia was induced by his decade long use of marijuana starting at a young age because that's the time where the brain is most vulnerable due to the effects of marijuana.”
Also taking part in “A Night in Jail” was El Segundo High School student and actor Evan McMahan and Jess Moss, actress and employee of Clear Recovery, who also took part in the staged reading.
The end credit song was written and sung by 20-year-old Connor Swan Smith, Swan's stepson. The song was recorded at Westlake Studios, which is owned by Redondo Beach resident Al Machera.
Nahlinder said they will attempt to get the short accepted to film festivals this year.