News Column

Homegrown film to premiere during Merced's Art Hop

October 19, 2013


Oct. 19--A short film shot in Merced and directed by residents is scheduled to premiere tonight at the Merced Multicultural Arts Center during downtown's Art Hop.

Titled "The Marquee Lights," the 20-minute film tells the story of two women from the perspective of two directors. The film tells the same story twice with the same actors, but the first half was directed by Jason Ryder and the second by Julie Strong.

"It was more just an opportunity to see it as an experiment," Ryder said. "It's not done very often."

Ryder, a Merced resident, teamed with Strong, from Atwater, to shoot the film in downtown alleys and near the Merced Theatre.

One of the two women in the film was played by Heather Strong, Julie's sister. Both are California State University at Stanislaus graduates.

Ashley Franklin played the other lead. Franklin is a UC Merced graduate, according to the Strong sisters.

Ryder, who is UC Merced's promotional video producer, met the Strong sisters in a filmmaking class he taught at Merced College in 2009.

Ryder wrote the script for "Marquee" after he and the Strong sisters brainstormed about what Merced assets they could use in order to save money. They decided to forgo expensive effects and keep it simple. "If you really want to get it made for a dime, then you need to write with what you have," Ryder said, adding that Merced has several locales for shooting.

The story centers around a seemingly homeless woman who lives near the theater. She runs into a high school classmate and the two have a conversation that illuminates how divergent their lives have become.

The dual directors did not share ideas. "We wanted our version to be so completely ours, we didn't want to influence each other," Strong said.

The film shot early this year cost about $200 to make, Ryder said. But he spent more than $2,000 for the rights to use music from Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw.

Ryder will be moving out of state, so "Marquee" is likely their last collaboration. Each has plans for future projects ? Strong is eyeing a horror flick, and Ryder is pondering a western.

The directors agree they want to make filmmaking their livelihood. Ryder said he's been making films since 1987, and Strong said she's made movies with her sister for years. "This is what we want to do," she said.

Strong said she looks forward to tonight's showing. "We felt like it should be screened in Merced, it's where we filmed it," she said.

"Marquee" will show at 6, 7 and 8 p.m. at the Merced Multicultural Arts Center, 645 W. Main St.

The film has shown in the Action on Film International Film Festival in Monrovia.

Sun-Star staff writer Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or


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