Local filmmaker releases movie on Amazon
By Christina Stock
In light of the order issued by New Mexico Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel temporarily prohibiting mass gatherings in New Mexico in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, most theaters and event venues statewide are postponing productions, including those in Roswell.
In place of the preview for Way Way Off-Broadway’s production of the musical “Matilda” — whose premiere has been postponed — we are featuring, as a spotlight story, the film “Chasing Jeffrey,” which was released on Amazon.
The Christian movie “Chasing Jeffrey” is a haunting story of a man fighting against his own demons and maybe evil itself. The movie was shot in its entirety in Roswell and is based on a true story. The lead character is Jeffrey C. Lennan who tells his story. Lennan lives in Roswell and wears several hats during the making of the film. He performs, is the director, executive producer, cinematographer, editor and post mixer of “Chasing Jeffrey.”
The film tells a disturbing story of a boy’s abusive upbringing that causes him to resent his father’s absence. The child grows into a wild teenager with drugs, alcohol and crime that spirals out of control while he tries to find his elusive father. There is a paranoid horror element that was the result of Lennan’s intake in drugs or had a supernatural cause.
The film is fast-paced and keeps the viewer’s attention with its believable characters, creative use of camera and pace of scenes. Amazon asked it to be PG-16, which is recommended because of the content and some cursing. There is, however, an underlying, uplifting thread throughout the film, that there is hope and some comedic moments that breach into the drama unfolding.
In an interview, Lennan talks about the background and the making of the film.
“I am originally from Newburyport, Massachusetts. Moved out here in 1990ish. I wanted to just see different parts of the country, and I was kind of just stuck in this one little town in New England, so I said, ‘Mom, I’m going to get away and go travel,’ and being an only child, she didn’t like that very much. So I got on a Greyhound bus and off I went and lived in Las Cruces for a little while, and then I kind of bounced up to Chicago for a couple of years with my now-brother-in-law. His sister was writing me letters. I didn’t think anything of it because I am 11 years older than her. Long story short, he ended up paying for my plane ticket to come out here (Roswell) to play in a musical with her. We ended up being in ‘Roswell, the musical.’ I can’t remember the year (1997). But it was for a big production. Her and I had the lead roles. We were supposed to fall in love on stage — well, it actually happened in real life. I ended up moving and staying in Roswell. We dated for five years, we got married, and three kids later, a mortgage, and the rest is history.”
Lennan’s early life was troubled, his move to Roswell and him marrying turned his life around. Asking him why he got interested in making a movie, he said, “I started off in music. I went to sound school in South Plains College in Levelland, Texas. I got my sound degree and I was recording music — it was a hobby — I am a singer also. I play my guitar and record stuff, but I wanted to get better at it. I got my degree but then when I started, I had a business recording music, but it just didn’t really do well.
“I got bored with it a little bit, and I thought maybe I’d try something else, but first I went to KOBR-TV where I didn’t know what to expect because I never ran a camera before,” Lennan said. “I was mainly a sound guy. I worked there for a couple of years, but ended up getting laid off.”
Lennan said that he gained priceless experience at the TV station shooting commercials and booming on sound (the technical wording for those who work on sound for film or TV.)
“I actually already started a short called ‘Alien Inception’ with my little boy,” Lennan said. “We had a treehouse in the backyard, and I was like this ‘Men in Black’ alien government guy with these crazy glasses and I was after him with a gun and he’s up in the treehouse. We don’t know where his parents are and I am after him. There are helicopters flying above, which I was able to edit. But for a first little short, I was really happy with it and I thought maybe I got the knack for this. Maybe I can do this.
“What got me into filmmaking was that I was always thinking how to put music to visuals. I did another one, ‘Graves Farm,’ which is at Graves Farm and I got paid for this one because he (Andrew Graves) was looking for something for the Halloween thing that they do every year. It came out really well and they paid me for it.”
The local 700 Club learned about Lennan’s troublesome story and on July 29, 2010, it was aired on CBN. This inspired Lennan to make a movie himself. “I shouldn’t do something about myself, but I thought I had a pretty good story of a dramatic life change,” he said. “I thought, maybe it would be good to show and share with other people. I thought, telling my story would be very meaningful and a lot of directors do that — do their own story. It was easy to tell the story because I knew it better than anybody. If I was only to take somebody else’s script, I would have had a bit more time getting it, unless I’d interview them often. I went way off-script on this. I had a script but it was old. And dealing with my 6-year-old and 13-year-old — who are not seasoned actors — I had to really work with them, while I am shooting, giving them lines. A lot of things just took different directions because they weren’t able to memorize the lines very well and of course, I would get ideas while I am shooting, and they would do that and they would just catch on and do improv. The improvisation was very natural, if they had to say the line, I wonder if it would have come across more stilted.
“I basically shot, directed and edited it by myself with one guy who was helping me with the sound, and occasionally my 13-year-old son. He ran sound for me and I showed him how to do it. He is a little too short, so he couldn’t hold the pole, but he was able to hold the gun part of it and just point it at you (the actor). So, he did a lot of it. I ended up with ADR — automated dialog replacement, the technical term when the soundtrack of a film gets replaced with re-recordings, usually of an actor’s dialog — a lot of the movie just because he couldn’t reach close enough. You would hear the sound and I wanted to make it just a bit better.”
Asked how long it took Lennan to make the film including postproduction, he said, “It took me almost a year to do the movie. I shot it pretty quick, probably only a month or two, but in post-production — because we didn’t have sound synced up with video — I had to go and do everything manually. It is finally done and up and I am really excited about it, I am really happy the way it came out.”
The film already had a showing in town, “We had it at the Job Corps, for troubled teens. I brought it out to Johnnie Lujan who is a teacher there. He played it for them and they loved it. They were asking me questions for over an hour — I couldn’t leave the room. They said, ‘I can relate to that. I can relate to this.’ I think they were about 17ish and I couldn’t believe the response. I thought they would be so bored with it, but they really liked it. I couldn’t believe how much they identified, even though I grew up in New England and they are here. The situations are similar. That encouraged me to want to go and put it up on Amazon. I am starting to get some views now in Europe, it’s starting to catch up with the views I’ve got in the U.S. on Amazon. It’s interesting how it’s getting viewership there as well,” Lennan said.
The viewers will identify some of the actors in the film. The narrator at the beginning is local thespian Boyd Barret. “He is perfect. I tried different voices; I tried mine, but that didn’t work either. Boyd had that fatherly tone, which I liked, that gravitas kind of voice,” Lennan said.
Another known local actor is Robin Haynes, who is featured in several film productions and advertisements.
While the movie is based on Lennan’s youth, there are some things that he had to change. “Some elements are fictional. My son, I couldn’t take his hearing aids out because he can’t hear. It’s enough keeping him in line when he had them in, ‘cause he’s all over the place,” he said.
Asked what the biggest challenge in making the film was, Lennan said, “Making sure that there was continuity from shot-to-shot and scene-to-scene. The production quality wasn’t that hard, the sound, but the camera shots were tricky. I had to make sure I got the right angles and that it was cut together when I edited and it had to flow. I think I got it, not jarring and probably working with my 6-year-old. Because he was all over the place and working with non-seasoned actors except for Robin. He has experience and is an actor. My wife Tiffany was in theater 15 years ago and that was it, she’s never been on screen or in front of the camera. Basically doing it by myself was probably the most challenging of it all.
“If you would think about what I paid, it probably only cost me about $1,000 to make this, but if you add time, maybe $15,000 to $20,000. I was out of work so I had days on end to put into this while my lovely wife was substitute teaching and bringing in our income. She was very supportive and helpful. She knew, when I got tunnel vision I was working all the time. Luckily I was at home, so I got to be with the family, but my mind wasn’t always there ‘cause I was working. I was putting in 10- or 12-hour days, five days a week. That was very challenging. I will never do a film by myself again. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.”
Asked what his next plans are, Lennan said, “I am about to work on a major movie coming here from L.A. (Los Angeles, California). I finally get the opportunity to work with a professional sound mixer in Albuquerque — he is one of the best — his name is Eddy (Eduardo) Santiago.”
Santiago has worked on TV series and movies such as “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” (TV series), “Breaking Bad” (TV series), “Cowboys & Aliens” (feature movie), “A Million Ways to Die in the West” (feature movie) and “Only the Brave” (feature movie) to name a few.
“I have heard so many good things about him,” Lennan said. “So him and I were talking this morning and messaging him on Facebook with questions because I’m nervous because it’s a big set and you really have to memorize lines and know the script, so I am reading the heck out of the script right now. Because when you boom back and forth to two people, you have to know when the lines change. Some of the microphones have a very narrow pattern and you have to be right on. I am excited about it, that’s my future thing.”
Viewers have several opportunities to see the film. “Chasing Jeffrey” is available on Amazon Prime and it is sent in to the Roswell SciFi Film Fest that takes place during the UFO Festival. While “Chasing Jeffrey” is not science-fiction, it does have supernatural elements, which fits the criteria for the film fest.
There are other plans for showings in town in the making.
Starring in the film: Caleb Lennan, 6-year-old Jeffrey; Kyler Lennan, 12-year-old Jeffrey; Joseph Roman, 19-year-old Jeffrey; Jeffrey Lennan, stepdad; Tiffany Lennan, mother; Breanna Lennan, Breanna; Jocelyn Roman, teen witch; Lawrence Sanchez, pastor; Ross Goetz, tenant owner; Andrew Graves, farmer; Ellie Graves, as herself; Ron Tidmore, principal; Josiah Thompson, Josh; Adian Donahue, bully; Natasha Mackey, store clerk; Jeff Hill, Butch; Robin Haynes, dad; Julie Waltmire, Nannie; Gene Frazier, grandpa; McKenna Van Tal, Graves Farm cashier; David Ortiz, fisherman; and Matthew Pacheco, hairdresser.
Party People: Alexander Chaidez, Alexander Contreas, Chris Lopez, Lucas Martin and Keanen Shaw.
Crew: Boom operators: Andrew Graves, Kyler Lennan, Tiffany Lennan, Jocelyn Martinez and Keanen Shaw.
On set mixers: Andrew Graves, Kyler Lennan and Keanen Shaw.
Grip: Kyler Lennan and Keanen Shaw.
Special thanks goes to Jacob Roebuck, Fesliyan Studios, Gleewood music, Secret Circus music, Johnnie Lujan, Boyd Barrett, Tarra Morgan-Masias, Toby Busch and Johnathan Slater.
Lennan welcomes viewers to his public Facebook page.