Kathryn Parks has been involved in the Southwest Florida theater scene since college, but with her latest project, a new short film titled 50 Words, she's starting a new career in on-camera acting. Parks is the star, writer and producer of the film, which tells the story of the star of a new musical who is cheated on by her boyfriend and co-star right around the premiere of the play. In an effort to find love after the breakup, she uses her 50-word biography in the show’s playbill as a personal ad.
Parks grew up in Sarasota, attended Booker High School’s Visual and Performing Arts program and studied musical theater at the University of Miami. Her parents, Sharon (a singer-actress) and David (a pianist) Ohrenstein were always involved in the performing arts as Parks grew up, and she gained exposure to the community through that. Sharon and David, who write musicals themselves, even helped their daughter in writing a musical number for Words Won’t Do, the show within the film.
Parks returned to Sarasota after college, but planned to move to Los Angeles or New York. But after meeting her husband, she began to recognize how significant Sarasota is as an arts community. “I realized what a special place Sarasota is for the arts. You grow up somewhere and just become used to it, but there really is a lot going on here,” she says. In Sarasota, she's spent 15 years performing in professional and community theater, and recently she has been working for Michael Saunders & Company, where she films "Saunders in 60," quick video clips about local real estate.
Through the web series, Parks began working with Mark Palmer, director and videographer, and the director of 50 Words. Inspired by Palmer’s talent and the Sarasota cultural scene, Parks decided to make a movie. “There are so many talented people in this community, and people I’ve had the opportunity to work with, and I’ve been really inspired by local filmmakers,” says Parks. “I thought, ‘What if I could do something like that?’”
Parks had inspiration and a partner, but she still needed a story to tell. The idea came when she was asked to speak at her friend’s wedding and interviewed the bride and groom about their relationship. “It was a beautiful story, and after that I went home and was thinking about how difficult it would be to meet a man in Sarasota, and I thought to myself, ‘What would I do? What’s a crazy thing that I would do, if I were single and not happily married? How would I do it? Where would I go?'” says Parks. “And then I thought, 'Well, if I was at a show, then I could use the bio in the program as a personal ad to meet someone from the audience each night.’ I laughed about it, but then thought, ‘Wow, that could make a great story.’”
The film stars Parks and local actors Charlie Logan and Craig Weiskerger and 22 other principal characters, as well as 50 extras. It is co-produced by Parks and Jamie Lee Butram, and was shot over a span of 11 days. 50 Words was filmed at various locations around Sarasota, like The Players, The Clever Cup coffee shop and The Starlite Room.
I joined the cast and crew one evening to check out what it's like to produce a film. Viewers often fail to realize the time-consuming and painstaking work that goes into the creation of any film, no matter its length. The 50 Words cast arrives at 6 p.m. on Sunday nights and often wraps after midnight.
I'm on hand for the filming of one short scene, no longer than a minute, involving an interaction between two characters in a hallway, and their brief conversation. Simple as it may seem, the actors, director, camera and lighting crew and extras did over a dozen takes of the short scene.
The first take is a practice run. So is the second. On the third, a cell phone begins to ring mid-shot and the cast and crew must begin again. On the fourth, a character doesn’t speak his lines loudly enough and on the fifth an actress forgets her lines. On the sixth, the camera man makes a mistake and they must restart. On the seventh take, a microphone appears in the shot, on the eighth an actress says the wrong line and on the ninth a character pauses to say, “Uh.” The 10th take is good, but not perfect. The 11th is deemed successful, but a 12th is taken “just to have it.” And, finally, with the 13th take, after 35 minutes, the short 45-second scene is complete and the cast gets a quick break before getting back to work.
50 Words will be about half an hour when complete, and the crew hopes to have a finished product by spring. There will be a screening of the film at a local theater for everyone involved with the project, and there are plans to submit the film to festivals upon its completion. Right now, the production team is running a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for props, equipment, festival submission fees and other production costs.
“My favorite thing is how supportive everyone in the community has been," Parks says. "You go into life thinking, ‘What if someone says no?’ But I feel like everyone I’ve worked with on this project has said, ‘Yes, do it. You can do it. What do you need? I’d love to help. How can I be involved?’ It’s just been mind-blowing how much support I’ve gotten from my friends, family and people within the community.”