TentSquare provides possibilities to local actors

Andrea E. Acosta, Entertainment Editor

Three El Paso natives were cast to appear in a comedic L.A. short film called “While You Were in a Coma,” set to premiere on March 9, 2015. This will be the first project by the TentSquare community, a crowdsourcing-based production studio that allows aspiring actors the opportunity to take their talent to the next level.

Created by CEO and filmmaker Andrew van den Houten along with Modernciné and Modern Distributors, TentSquare, is a web platform that integrates social networking and crowdsourcing in order to produce films with other collaborative artists interested in the industry.

Austin Savage, Brian Ceely and Jacqueline Barragan worked alongside Brooklyn-based filmmaker van den Houten and El Paso director, animator and co-producer Zack Passero to tell the story of Otis, a man who wakes up from a coma only to find out that his world has been invaded by aliens.

Savage, a UTEP alumni and co-founder of The Border Theatre, has been acting for the past 14 years. He competed for the lead role, advanced to the final stage of the competition, and although he was not chosen as the lead actor, he was offered a part in the film.

“My character’s name is ‘Savage,’ which was coincidental,” Savage said. “He is literally starving and hidden away and I think everyone in the arts is familiar with that on some level.”

According to Savage, when van den Houten came along he was ready to audition for him, believing he could help his project. This was Savage’s first time auditioning for a film in Los Angeles and it required him to travel back and forth constantly.

“I didn’t have immediate plans to move there—I am not ready to leave the city,” he said. “I believe that this film is set to hit the festival circuit first. Everything about this film is experimental, from the crowdsourced cast and crew to the writing process.”

The McManus Brothers were hired by TentSquare to write the script. The screenplay development began in May and allowed voters to choose from the genre of the film to the types of characters of the film.

After several stages in the competition, voters chose director JP Labbe, lead actor James St. Vincent, cinematographer David Klassen and songwriter Nathan Stell, who is a music teacher at St. Pius Catholic School in El Paso.

Ceely, sophomore theater arts major, who has worked in the El Paso film community since 2012, said this was a stellar opportunity.

“My part was small, so preparation was minimal, but the audition process was a little daunting because I had never auditioned via online,” Ceely said. “I was so psyched to be part of this film and valued every advice that I got from many of the other actors on set.”

Ceely, who contributed as a writer and actor in the movie “El Fuego Detrás,” which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, said TentSquare will be featuring many more projects for people who are interested in the business to play a bigger part in the process.

“The fact that El Paso actors are featured in a nationally produced film and worked with cast crew members from LA and New York City is an immense source of pride,” Ceely said.

Jacqueline Barragan, UTEP alumni who is an artist locally known for her performance specializing in belly dance, said that TentSquare serves as a great networking opportunity for filmmakers and actors.

“It was incredible to witness such an eclectic group of visionaries and artists from all around the country,” Barragan said. “It was a hectic three nights of filming until five in the morning, but it was a blast.”

Barragan, who was cast as the fierce leader of the Savage Cannibal Clan that kidnaps the protagonist, said she identified with her character.

“Mainly because I have so many reoccurring post-apocalyptic dreams that made my role feel so surreal,” Barragan said. “I was also able to use a little bit of martial arts. It was fun.”

Ceely is excited to see what new opportunities are in store for future and aspiring actors that are currently involved in the TentSquare community.

“The arts and film community is expanding and to see something like this only shows how quickly things are moving,” he said.

TentSquare is a promising way to open doors to many people who are looking to get into the industry, with the mission to provide a hands-on experience. For students who are interested in acting, Savage said the industry is hard to get into, but that learning should never stop in this type of craft.

“In the Internet era, the means to make art and distribute yourself are far greater than they have ever been,” Savage said. “If you can’t find opportunities, then make your own. Read, listen, study.”

TentSquare will be used in the creation of animated web series, short-form web series and feature films. It has launched a new Monologue Challenge for the holidays that involves writing and acting a monologue for a cash prize, badges for the TentSquare Fest and an entry to the TentSquare Awards in New York City 2016. For more information about TentSquare and the release of “While You Were in a Coma,” please visit www.tentsquare.com.

Andrea Acosta may be reached at theprospectordaily.ent.com.