For two weeks out of every year, the Sundance Film Festival attracts independent filmmakers from around the world to the state of Utah. It’s a time to celebrate up-and-coming artists and recognize the creativity being produced outside of the mainstream Hollywood machine.
But when the curtains close on the Park City festival, Utah filmmakers keep the cameras rolling.
“Utah is a place where talent is rampant — although not always utilized by the mainstream,” said Brandon Haberman, writer and director of the award-winning film “Ryan Baxter: Reenactor.” “There's a certain sense of modesty in its performers that is nearly impossible to find in the larger markets of L.A. and New York, and it's a place I will continue to work and search for talent in.”
A veteran to reality TV, Haberman has worked on some of television’s hottest projects, including “Survivor,” “America’s Next Top Model” and “The Apprentice.” But when it came time to direct his first feature film, he chose to set up production exclusively in Utah and recruit from a growing pool of local talent.
“Is Utah a creative place?” asked Matt Whittaker, star of the “Ryan Baxter” film. “Absolutely! We certainly provide the entertainment industry with plenty of amazing, creative people in film, music and art. Only time will tell how big/influential our art community can become.”
Presented as a comedic mockumentary, “Ryan Baxter: Reenactor” follows the lives of a lowly group of cable reenactor actors as word of a possible network television deal leaks among the crew. Unfortunately, because of Ryan Baxter's sometimes misguided hijinks, the crew's director is often forced to spend his energy keeping Baxter in check, as opposed to working on the possible project of his dreams.
"With a character like Ryan Baxter, he's not so much a bad actor as an uninformed one," Whittaker said while describing how he prepared for the role. "I think because of this, the majority of the prep work comes in primarily convincing yourself that Ryan's inaccurate spin on history is, in fact, accurate."
If the film is well received, both Whittaker and Haberman have big plans not only for the Ryan Baxter character, but also for the entertainment community in Utah.
"Ryan Baxter is insanely important to my future career," said Haberman. "At present, we are conceptualizing a TV series adapted directly from 'Ryan Baxter: Reenactor,' and I'm pushing to shoot the series here in Utah, which would employ many local actors and crew as well as local proprietors."
So far, things are going according to plan. While submitting "Baxter" to film festivals around the country, Haberman and Whittaker were invited by the Utah film commissioner to participate in a "Low Budget Utah Filmmakers Panel" on Jan. 25 at this year's Sundance Film Festival.
Haberman told the Deseret News how important this is for the project. "This is really big for us because it's an opportunity to have 'Ryan Baxter: Reenactor' be a small part of the Sundance Festival."