Two years ago, when Wade Vanover wrote Repeater, a film adaptation of Chris Offutt’s short story “Target Practice,” he probably never imagined that it would amount to anything more than a simple writing exercise. He certainly didn’t expect his script to be brought to production, nor that the project would attract the attention of Academy Award-nominated actor David Strathairn. A screening at the Mississippi-based Oxford Film Festival was out of the question. But, as Vanover and co-producer Alex Kent have discovered for both Repeater and their production company, Lurid Pictures, humble beginnings often belie grand successes.
The history of Lurid Pictures can be traced back to 2010 when Vanover and Kent started making films together while studying at James Madison University. Following graduation, the two decided to found the production company, Vanover in the role of director and Kent as editor and director of photography. Eschewing thoughts of relocating to traditional filmmaking hotspots, they decided to stay in Harrisonburg and work with local clients. "Both of us are invested in the trajectory of this town; that's why we work with so many businesses, organizations, and other artists," said Vanover. In addition to creating promotional material for businesses, they also shot music videos for bands including Eternal Summers and Creepoid. "I don't know if there's anybody in the area approaching video in quite the same way as us. We like to keep our work diverse but always maintain the aesthetic we've established."
Vanover was an English major in college and first discovered “Target Practice” while reading Out of the Woods, a collection of short stories by Chris Offutt. He was drawn to the plot of an estranged father and son attempting to reconnect and communicate in their sparse surroundings of rural Kentucky. When Vanover showed his adaptation to Tim Estep, another local filmmaker, Tim immediately encouraged him to secure non-exclusive rights from Offutt, who granted them after reading the script.
Around that time, Vanover and Kent went to Death Valley, California to work on the set of As You Like It. It was there that they met Brian Lee Franklin, a Los Angeles-based actor in the film and, coincidentally, an old roommate of Estep. After the production wrapped, Estep sent the Repeater script to Franklin, who was immediately on board. “I loved that it was kind of spare and it had a grit to it,” said Franklin. “Most short films I see are, like, two people in a coffee shop. I loved the idea that this was going to be on location some place, and I thought that it was very well written. The father-son dynamic is compelling.”
Franklin, who plays the role of the son in Repeater, thought of his actor friend David Strathairn for the role of the father. A day after reading the script, Strathairn agreed to take on the project. With the principal actors secured, Lurid could begin planning their production schedule. “It’s a daunting task to tackle that level of production for us,” said Kent. “We had never produced anything of that height. I think the pressure made us more prepared, making sure we covered everything.” Franklin concurred, recalling that there was “zero anxiety, there were no arguments, there was no tension. They were so confident.”
Working on location in the Shenandoah Valley, the film’s crew was necessarily composed of local talent. Vanover’s girlfriend, Angela Albanese, worked as wardrobe director while Kent’s girlfriend, Erin Kling, was the on-set photographer. A myriad of Harrisonburg artists and friends helped crew as well, from sound, production design, to first and second assistant camera. “They’ve got a nice little community there,” said Franklin. “What David and I were so impressed with is that there’s a real community of artists in Harrisonburg. I live in LA, you just don’t get that out here.”
The film follows Franklin and Strathairn’s characters as they navigate both their relationship and their own masculinity in the bleakness of their harsh bucolic surroundings. Principal photography lasted three days. Some scenes were so tense that crew members cried on set, which Strathairn attempted to mitigate. “There are times when David seems like he’s in a really intense mental space preparing for a scene, but at the same time he has a really wry sense of humor,” said Vanover. “Angela would be adjusting his wardrobe for a really intense scene and he would push her over and make fun of her for not doing enough yoga.”
At the end of February, Repeater premiered at the Oxford Film Festival, an appropriate debut given Offutt’s position as a professor at the University of Mississippi. It was the first time Vanover or Kent had met Offutt in person. In fact, they skipped out on the highly anticipated premiere of James Franco’s The Sound and Fury just to spend time with the author. “He’s a really interesting person to be around,” said Kent. “I felt like he really put us out there. We got to meet some really cool people and they saw our film because of him.”
Reception at the festival was positive and extended question-and-answer sessions followed each of film’s screenings. “When you see an Oscar-nominated actor like David in the film, you assume the filmmakers have enough experience to develop contacts,” said Vanover. “Somebody said to us, ‘Obviously this isn’t your first film.’ And we were like, ‘Well, yeah. It is.’” Strathairn and Franklin received critical acclaim for their roles in Repeater, both winning the Lisa Blount Memorial Acting Award.
Lurid Pictures will continue to submit Repeater to festivals throughout the spring and summer, but despite the success of the film, the two have no plans of leaving home any time soon. “We know how to use our resources well and people have been really great to us here. The town definitely props creativity up,” said Kent.
For a film set in Kentucky, written by an author in Mississippi, and starring actors based in Los Angeles, Repeater is distinctly Harrisonburg; it was created, supported, and crewed by members of the town dedicated to moving the city and its artistic community forward. “We approach everything very professionally but at the same time we work on the things we want to work on with the people we want to work with,” said Vanover. “What we’re doing fits the ethos of Harrisonburg.”
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Photography by Brandy Somers