Reaching Out to Producer/Actress Charlene Blaine-Schulenburg

Published On July 18, 2010 | By admin | film, Film Festival, film production, Filmmaker, filmmaking, Independent Film, Screenwriting

Charlene Blaine-Schulenburg

One independent film that has caught the attention of fans and film festivals alike is the drama “Reach for Me”.  The heartwarming story about the inhabitants of a hospice featured a stellar cast including Seymour Cassel, Alfree Woodard, Lacey Chabert, Johnny Whitworth, Adrienne Barbeau and actress Charlene Blaine-Schulenburg, who also produced the film, and was directed by LeVar Burton.   Recently I had the pleasure of doing a Q&A with Charlene and finding out more about her and the film.  Since there is so much interesting information I’ve broken the interview into two parts.  Today’s piece centers on her award winning movie, which received the Breakthrough Accomplishment at AARP’s Movies for Grownups Awards 2010.

Q. What drew you to “Reach for Me?”

A. I love the fact that I developed ‘Reach for Me’ from the very beginning.  I had met screenwriter, Michael Bruce Adams and we committed to do something together.  I had several scripts that I’d not only written but optioned, and so did he.  We knocked around which project we could do the most effectively with a criteria of time limit, cost limits and appeal to audience.  Mike pitched me the ‘Reach for Me’ concept and I asked where the script was.  He pointed to his head.  I thought ‘Oh my gosh, this won’t fit the time criteria we had set for ourselves’, but three weeks later he delivered one of the most brilliant scripts I’d ever read and we were off running!

Q. To what do you attribute the way in which “Reach for Me” has caught on with people?  What do you think its appeal is with audiences?  

A. The catch and the appeal is that life, living, and attitudes toward illness, disease, cancer, death and dying are what we are all going to face or are currently facing.  It’s universal, not dictated by race, creed, age, or religion.  It’s everyone’s plight.

Q. Was it difficult to both act in and produce “Reach for Me”?

Charlene with Seymour Cassel

A. I hope this doesn’t seem boastful, but no, it was easy.   I seemed to ‘grock’ who Nell was from the moment I read her on the page.  It wasn’t my grand scheme to act in this film (like it has been in others), but I had a wonderful vintage outfit I inherited from my grandmother hanging in the closet, in fact it’s the one I wore in the last scene I have with Seymour Cassel (Alvin) when Nell slaps him.  I put on my grandmother’s outfit and Nell just came pouring through.  I have been acting for years and frankly I was too busy with production to fret about the acting.  I thought if I don’t know what I’m doing by now, I should just drop the whole thing.   But really, somehow, deep inside, I trusted myself along with the years of studying acting and just knew it would flow and come together.  Also, by the time I shot my scenes, it was toward the end of the entire production and Seymour and I had created a close and personal working ‘relationship’ by then, spending 10 hours a day together on set.  I trusted him too and listened well to what he was saying, and from what everyone says, I think that relationship has showed up on screen. 

Seymour has become one of my best friends.  For the last year, Seymour and I have traveled Europe and the U.S. promoting RFM, at 75, he’s got more energy than I do.  How lucky am I??!!  Let me tell you, there would not have been many lead actors who would have had the time nor the interest to promote an independent film hard and long like that, but Seymour loves this story so much, and he is brilliant in it.  It helps that we both truly believe in the film’s message that “It’s never too late…to live, to laugh, to love”. 

Q. As a producer what interests you in producing a project?

A. I’ve focused on things I enjoy doing and as a result, I’ve had the knack or luck of doing a lot of things pretty well.  I guess by one definition, a producer is a multi-tasker, but it is impossible to ‘produce’ by oneself.  The concept of collaboration with others in a creative setting is what is ultimately most appealing to me.  My goal was and is to have fun.  I did have fun collaborating on ‘Reach for Me’, especially at the beginning, unfortunately though, not all collaborations work, or are enjoyable.  If I have any advice for anyone thinking of producing, please realize that it’s not only important to pick good projects/scripts, but it’s as important to pick good, honest, talented and happy, self-assured people who have the same work ethics and goals you do and it will keep the fun in the process.

Q. Since the January Las Vegas premiere, the film has screened in different cities and received numerous accolades including winning the award from the AARP.  Now that it’s going into a wider release including overseas markets, do you think it will continue to develop more of an audience?

A. Thank you, yes, we’ve been so thankful to have won all sorts of film festival awards over the last year.  We sure hope that RFM will continue developing a theatrical audience, that’s the plan… Keep getting it out there, city by city, until everyone knows or has heard about it.  My hope is that it becomes a classic, a timeless piece.  RFM does not have a theme that is going to lose its punch with age, like most films do.  This is a relationship piece with a universal message that just might hold up to the test of time.

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