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'The River Within': Young writer, actors take opportunity to encourage others to pursue passion
Lyndsey Luxford
Antelope Staff
Photo by Lyndsey Luxford
(from left) Maurice Mejia, Craig Luttrell and Zac Heath pose Sunday at Cinema 8 after a showing of their movie, "The River Within."
Photo by Lyndsey Luxford
Zac Heath gives direction during the theater scene with "Paul" during production of "The River Within."

No way! A red carpet event right here in Kearney?

Writer Zac Heath and actors Craig Luttrell and Maurice Mejia were at the Kearney Cinema 8 this past weekend hosing media and premiering Heath’s film, “The River Within,” now showing at the Kearney Cinema 8.

In this movie based upon Heath's own experiences, Jason, played by Josh Odor, returns home to have a summer to concentrate on studying for his upcoming bar exam. No surprise, coming home wasn’t as relaxing as he planned. After Jason was talked into being a youth group leader, the task gave him headaches. But by the end, Jason realized the question that bothered him, “What am I doing here?” was easy to answer. He was doing what he felt passionate about.

The three men took time out to talk and answer a few questions about their experiences and the production of the movie hoping to get viewers into the theater.
Q & A

Q: Where are each of you from and can you add a little info about how you ended up making this movie?

Mejia: Well, I was studying pre-med at Texas A&M, and I was really considering acting, but I was always kind of afraid. So I switched my major after four years to theater arts without telling anybody. Within the first weekend, I attended an audition workshop and met a girl there who knew someone who was going to make a spoof video. So I auditioned for it. I got it, and the lady I worked with in the video knew Zac... I auditioned for Zac’s film and he cast me in it. Then a year later, he told me about “The River Within.” So a lot of stuff has changed in the course of two years.

Heath: I was born and raised in Arkansas, graduated from college at Arkansas State University and moved to Pennsylvania to work as an actor at a theater for a year. Then I ended up going to seminary at Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky. I was a youth pastor for a year and a half. Then I moved to Los Angeles and worked on about seven feature films.
I started pre-production about a year and a half ago for this film, but then there was the writers’ strike so it was put on hold. All I could do was sit down and start writing it. Once I got the script done, I immediately started re-writing and sent copies to Craig and a few other friends just to get some feedback. After about five re-writes and all the money that we could raise, we started. We shot in locations that I grew up in.

Q: Since you worked as a youth pastor, how did that influence the plot?


Heath: Yeah, it kind of came out that way. I wrote about some of my own experiences, but everything is fictional. I related my own experiences as a youth pastor.

Luttrell:   I have done theater since I was a kid, and I was a theater major at Iowa State University.  I switched my major to speech communications once I decided to go into seminary. I met Zac several years ago at seminary. I acted in a few of the shows he directed. Then a couple years later I ended up in Los Angeles doing some writing and acting. Zac and I re-connected out there.

Q: This production was shot in a total of 17 days, how was that?

Heath:  It wasn’t bad our average day was 12 hours, six days out of the week. I feel that for the most part, since we had a low budget, we had to work quickly with what we had. We planned out almost everything in advance, so we were pretty well organized when the time came to shoot. But of course there are always things you can never plan for.  We have had some major headaches along the way.

Q: The way the characters were created, was that already planned or is it something that the actors create?

Heath:  It really is a combination of things. The script is really like a blueprint of what you start with, and then you bring in all types of people who bring their own creativity. Like with Craig, he brought more of his creative humor into his character. That is what Craig does as an actor; he creates a slightly different interpretation of my idea. So in other words, it is my job to cast good people and just let them do their thing and run with it.

Q: Do you have any tips for college students?

Heath:  I would say take what you got and do it.  If you only have a camcorder, that’s enough. Just get friends together to write scripts and learn all that you can. You can learn just as much by just using a camcorder about composition, angles, lighting and all that kind of stuff.

Luttrell: I just want to say, if you know you want to do it, just don’t be afraid to take the risk; because me meeting Zac and doing this movie is like a complete coincidence falling upon another.

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