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Filmmaker has shot in London, Hong Kong, brings next film back to his hometown

By Katherine Wartell

For the past week, Steve Balderson has waited in his Wamego home for more than 120 hours of film footage to transfer from 16-gig cards onto a computer. The footage is the raw product of his latest movie; he’ll use the computer to edit it to a finished product.

Filming for “Occupying Ed,” Balderson’s 13th film, finished at the end of January after about a month of shooting on location in Wamego and Manhattan.

Although Balderson has shot movies in London, Hong Kong and throughout the United States, he brought this one back home to Wamego because, he said, he was able to exercise more control over the environment. That was not the situation in Hong Kong and London, he said, where they filmed without permits. It was, “guerrilla, run and gun,” Balderson said.

For scenes in the London Underground, they’d run in and run out. In Hong Kong, Balderson’s assistant would fit a boom pole and camera in his backpack, disguising himself as an unassuming tourist when necessary.

But in Wamego, Balderson and his crew had plenty of free rein, filming at locations including St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, the Masonic Lodge, Lincoln Street Station and Gene’s Heartland Foods.

They also filmed at Celebrations of the Heart, the Strecker-Nelson Gallery and Bluestem Bistro in Manhattan.

“Occupying Ed” is a new genre for Balderson—his first romantic comedy. It’s about a man, Ed, played by Christopher Sams, who learns following a series of blackouts that he has a split-personality disorder.

One of those personalities has a girlfriend, a British woman named Nicole, played by Holly Hinton. To make it a true romantic comedy, his other personality, and the only side of him the viewer meets, can’t stand her. Of course, eventually the pair fall in love.

The main cast hailed primarily from Los Angeles, although Hinton flew in from London.

In the movie, Hinton works at a restaurant called the June Bug, named for its owner June, played by Pleasant Gehman. Gehman has appeared in nearly all of Balderson’s movies. He describes her as a celebrity’s celebrity—not particularly well-known amongst average movie-goers but a fixture for many famous fans, including Michael Stipe, of R.E.M., who approached Gehman, with Balderson, in France to express his admiration.

Gehman also began belly-dancing in her 40s and now travels the world as Princess Farhana, teaching and dancing. Balderson has filmed her on several occasions, including for a documentary called “Underbelly.”

Balderson had also previously worked with Hinton on his film Culture Shock, a movie about four American college grads who get caught up in an international crime ring on their first trip overseas. Hinton, Balderson said, had auditioned for the villain, but the role was filled, so he cast her as one of the Americans, saying she could speak with a perfect accent.

Balderson mined local talent for supporting roles and extras in “Occupying Ed,” holding a casting call at the Manhattan Arts Center.

He said he likes to help local actors because he knows what it’s like to “have the ability to do something outside of here.” Balderson, who was born in Manhattan, attended Manhattan High School and said he was told that life would be easier if he just quit the acting stuff and joined the football team.

One of those actors is Ben Windholz, cast as Lonnie, the assistant to Ed’s psychiatrist. Ed’s brother used to beat him up and now that Ed is down-and-out, Lonnie gets his revenge.

Balderson said “Occupying Ed” should be finished by the end of the summer. The movie still needs to be edited, scored and sent to the sound mixer.

Rob Kleiner, a Grammy-nominated composer, will score the movie. He also scored Balderson’s films, “The Casserole Club,” and “Far Flung Star,” which has not been released yet.

Once the movie is ready, Balderson said, he will show it at several festivals, including the Raindance Festival in London, his personal favorite, before it makes its way to DVD in the summer of 2014.

Balderson said the film, like most of his, cost about $50,000 to make, with a crew of about a dozen people.

Balderson has already gained exposure with his past works including “Firecracker,” his second film, and “The Casserole Club,” both of which were shot, at least partially, in Wamego.

In 2005, Roger Ebert gave “Firecracker” a Special Jury Award in his annual best in films write-up, calling the movie a “brilliant indie” about a murder in small-town Kansas. “That was like winning the lottery,” Balderson said. The movie starred Oscar-nominated actress Karen Black.

But, Balderson said, it was the “The Casserole Club,” filmed in 2010,  that gave him the most exposure. It was recently added to the Library of Congress.

The movie, a drama about suburban housewives and their husbands in the 60s, starred, among others, Jane Wiedlin, of The Go-Go’s fame, and Kevin Richardson, of Backstreet Boys fame.

It won five Independent Vision Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Production Design.

Though Balderson could easily relocate to Los Angeles, he has no plans to move from the area. “I just like the quiet of living here,” he said.

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