Inside the actors’ studio
H & A Productions is a video production company that now offers classes on everything from acting to make-up
Aside from oh-so-glamorous appearances as a crime scene in CSI or as a glorified trailer park in Reno 911, Reno may not seem like a haven for TV and film production. And compared to Los Angeles, it isn’t. But compared to, say, North Dakota, Reno is a virtual Bollywood. So why on earth did Temma Keatan Hammond, a 40-year studio veteran from Hollywood, and her partner, Sheldon Altfeld, a four-time Emmy Award-winner, come here to launch H & A Productions? Enormous potential, says Hammond. That’s why they invested in a full-service studio here, complete with a 3,000-square-foot soundstage, which opened last fall.
“There’s no better place in the U.S., that I can see, for a production studio,” Hammond says. “We have every atmosphere you might need here—all four seasons, every kind of housing development, every business, big hotels, casinos … everything. And this area is wonderfully filled with talented folks, so we’re hoping that we can become their home, a place to find work in this business.”Seizing opportunities
Hammond ought to know. Born and raised in a family that built and ran Hollywood studios, she’s worked in this business all her life. Six years ago, she was asked to produce a feature film about Storey County’s wild horses for Lacy J. Dalton’s Let ’Em Run Foundation. The commute between Hollywood and Reno grew tiresome quickly. Hammond has loved Northern Nevada ever since vacationing here as a child, so the decision to relocate here came easily to her.
She partnered with Altfeld, who started in the movie business at age 8 and has worked as an actor, writer, producer and director for nearly 60 years, with his name having appeared in credits for nearly 4,000 television shows. The two set up shop as H & A Productions and immediately began taking on film and TV projects here as independent contractors.
With their knack for spotting potential, it’s no surprise that Hammond and Altfeld were instantly taken with young Tyler Bourns, a Carson High senior who became their intern shortly after H & A took off—and while he was in production on his own film.
“I’d always loved to tell stories, and as soon as I saw that I could tell them with a camera, I knew right away that this is what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” says Bourns. His 72-minute feature film titled Ashlands tells the story of the day leading up to a teen’s suicide and was made with just a couple hundred bucks of Bourns’ own money. The film won him a second prize for drama at the Indie Gathering—the first place winner had a budget of $1 million—as well as the Best Student Film award at the WorldFest film festival in Houston.
Meanwhile, his internship with H & A involved him in editing three TV pilots alongside Altfeld. His fate, it seemed, was sealed. After graduating from high school, Bourns moved to L.A. to begin film school and start working in the film business for real. His willingness to be the go-to guy, taking on any position from cue card holder to director, earned Bourns work on roughly 100 projects that year—he dropped film school, feeling too busy to need it.
But H & A never forgot him, and when they began talking about setting up a permanent studio in Reno, they asked Bourns to become their partner. He jumped at the opportunity. Now, at age 20, Bourns may well be the youngest studio owner in the United States.
“From the moment Tyler came to work with us, it was obvious that he was extremely talented, smart and a piece of cake to work with,” says Hammond. “There was no way I was letting him get away.”Filling a niche
H & A’s brand new studio space, which opened in November, boasts that huge soundstage, office space, an editing suite and a bonus room that doubles as both an insert stage with a green screen for small shoots as well as a classroom for the company’s many extended studies programs. All productions are now completely digital and shot in high-def.
Business seems to be booming. They’ve completed several commercials and PSAs, including one for the Children’s Heart Foundation of Nevada, which features Super Bowl MVP Mark Rypien along with local TV’s “Those Golf Guys.” Other projects have included employee training videos for the state of Nevada, numerous documentary films and several TV shows, many of which are still in development. And they’ve recently established a partnership with the Reno Film Festival for the production of promotional spots.
H & A offers a multi-generational perspective from its three owners, enabling them to identify with nearly any audience. They’re also a full service firm, offering professional make-up services, original musical composition and an in-house troupe of actors of all ages to serve as talent, should a production require any of these.
Plus, their extended studies program is a draw for the entire region. Their roster of courses includes acting for camera or radio, directing, television production, musical theater, timing for public speakers or performers, make-up, screenplay writing and more. All are taught year-round by working professionals in those fields. Hammond, an acting instructor at Western Nevada College and Truckee Meadows Community College, teaches the acting courses, from which she has culled H & A’s 16-person acting troupe, Cutting Edge.
Courses are available for all ages and range in length from a few hours to a few weeks. “The courses help people to actually get hands-on experience working in a studio,” says Hammond. “It works well for people in this community and from out of state, as well, because these courses aren’t really available anywhere else.”
It’s not always aspiring media professionals who benefit from the classes. Art Club workshops enable both new and experienced visual artists to explore new mediums, and courses in acting or timing can enhance anyone’s presentation skills.
“In the years I’ve taught acting classes, a lot of my clients have been people going for their bar exam who need to know how to present themselves to a jury,” says Hammond. “I’ve had a lot of students headed for business, too, who want to work on their public speaking. So it’s not just for actors—it’s for anyone who wants to feel more comfortable presenting themselves professionally.”
Cutting Edge, which is primarily an improv group, performs live theater in the community, too. In May, the troupe will perform three nights of The Big Game, a play about a family playing poker to win a dead relative’s inheritance, at the McKinley Arts & Culture Center.An eye toward the future
With technology dictating enormous changes in TV and film production, Bourns is excited to be where he is now. “The Internet and TV are connecting now, so you’re going to see exciting new kinds of content,” he says. “And 3-D is coming back in a big way. Plus, animation is getting so real now that you can’t tell the difference between actors and animation. So there’s lots of potential for growth.”
Striving to stay on the cutting edge, H & A has also developed an Internet Network Start-up division, which assists people with the creation of Internet television networks, similar to Hulu.com.
“Basically, we do it all here,” says Bourns. “There’s nothing we won’t try.”