Lights, cross-country move, and … action

Sandra Brunell

Sandra Brunell moved from New York to Reno to make her film, Magda<i>. After an easy-going filmmaking experience, she says she’s going to stay.</i>

Sandra Brunell moved from New York to Reno to make her film, Magda. After an easy-going filmmaking experience, she says she’s going to stay.

Photo By David Robert

Ever felt like plankton in an enormous pond, wondering if those other little living organisms in smaller ponds get more oxygen? That’s how filmmaker Sandra Brunell felt writing screenplays in New York City.

Big-city art scenes can be energizing, to be sure. But the number of artists competing for resources and venues makes it hard to get things done.

So, what’s a filmmaker to do if she needs to find a way to get that movie in the can? For Brunell, the solution was simple—move to Reno and start shooting.

Looking casual in a knee-length denim skirt, black flip-flops and a faded-army-green T-shirt, Brunell recounts the surprisingly painless transition from the 24/7 frenzy to the bright lights of the small city.

Sometimes, she says, busy days in New York were more tiring than inspiring.

“You get home, and how much energy do you really have to write or paint or sketch? … You just want to sit down and watch the Golden Girls and drink a Heineken.”

Brunell, 30, who holds a degree in theater from the University of California, Riverside and an MFA from the Actors Studio in New York, had been living in Queens for six years, waiting tables and making short films. She was also writing the play that evolved into the screenplay for her 30-minute film, Magda.

Meanwhile, business partner and former UCR schoolmate Brian Barney had set up camp in Reno. Barney, a computer programmer, purchased some filmmaking equipment. He offered Brunell the use of his new cameras, lights, sound equipment and editing software, and the two joined forces as the fledgling Windsor Productions.

Brunell arrived in town in January without a cast or crew. But, here in Reno, where the usual six degrees of separation is condensed down to more like a daredevil two degrees, meeting the right people was easy.

“I went to see ‘Night Mother at Brüka [Theatre],” Brunell says. “I saw Jamie Plunkett in it, and I just knew she was the star of the movie.”

Then she met David J. Rector, an independent filmmaker who signed on as director of photography.

Then she met actor Scott Dundas and cast him in the film.

Then she met Mike Grimm, a Brüka regular (and RN&R cartoonist), who volunteered to design the posters.

“It was just weird how all the doors opened up,” Brunell marvels. “I had the script, and we had this equipment, and I had my business partner, and then all these other people.”

Brunell, Plunkett and the newly assembled crew went back to New York for a couple of weeks to shoot exterior scenes. They returned to Reno to shoot more footage inside the Zephyr Lounge and the Green Room. Now, she’s putting the finishing touches on the film, which premieres at the Green Room next week.

Brunell says it’s easy to get things done in Reno.

“People are more open,” she says. “They want to help you. They get excited about it. … I find that they’re really generous and really respectful.”

Turned out that swimming was simpler in Reno’s warm pond. With filmmaking, that’s not often the case.

“There’s always a glitch, isn’t there?” Brunell says. “There’s always something that goes wrong.”

Yet this film got off without a hitch, using an all-volunteer cast.

Brunell says of her adopted city: “I’m loving it.”