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Keepin' It Reel
by Kenya Yarbrough

‘Welcome to the Hotel Honda’

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What would drive a young actress to spend eight months living in her car while holding down four jobs, then travel across country to take on a task for which she had no formal training? I mean, becoming inspired by a project is one thing, but we all know how life's little distractions can make following through and completing said task something altogether different. That's what makes the story of actress/writer/director/producer Katherine Griffin so amazing.

An aspiring actress who has dedicated 15 years to her craft, Griffin never imagined she would actually make a movie. Like most novice thespians, she figured her first job would be acting in someone else's film. And she certainly never took a filmmaking class or any type of production workshop. And yet, this 26-year-old wunderkind wrote, directed, produced, and starred in the independent film The Innocents--winner of the best picture award at both the Atlantic City and Magnolia independent film festivals. "It's just fulfilling and special to see a small goal and watch it be realized," says Griffin. "It gives you a lot of pride in your life."
The Innocents is that old Hollywood standard--the Coming Of Age Story. Griffin's take is about two friends in a Midwestern town who, after graduating from high school in 1961, take a journey to learn about their past. But what distinguishes The Innocents is its quiet tone--Griffin not only set the movie in the past, but she also constructed the movie in a manner that is decidedly out of step with today's special effects and camera tricks.

"I started writing this story, which was essentially about friendship; about that point in childhood when you have a friend whom you keep up with on a daily basis," says Griffin. "At that time in my life I was really missing that, so I started writing a story about what it was like back when we so easily invested so much of ourselves into that one person."
Griffin wrote the story in the summer of 1996 after graduating from the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts in Santa Maria, California. She had a lot of free time while doing summer rep, and became haunted by the story, spending free hours developing the plot, working on the dialogue, and tying it all together. In a case of life imitating art, as Griffin developed the characters of two brave young women who venture into the Indiana countryside completely unencumbered by guilt or responsibility--or any of the other trappings of "adulthood"--she herself would soon be doing the same, with just as strong a sense of purpose.

By the end of that year, after hiking through Europe, Griffin finished writing The Innocents and returned to her home in the Bay Area with no place to stay and no job prospects. By the time New Year's Day rolled around, she had made a fateful resolution--she was not only going to make the movie but she was going to film, direct, produce, and star in The Innocents.

The first step was building the capital. This is where the story gets a little unbelievable. Upon hearing the following details, I reminded Griffin of the unfortunate fact that crack kills. She replied that no drugs were involved in her decision. You be the judge.
Katherine worked three, sometimes four waitressing jobs while raising the money to fund her film. Her daily schedule consisted of waking at 5 a.m., heading out for her first job, working eight hours, heading to her second job, and returning home at about 11 p.m., only to do it again the next day. With all the time she spent working, you might figure that the only time Griffin spent at home would be to sleep. Well you'd be right. Soon, Griffin figured that that didn't make a whole lot of sense. "I didn't need to be home most of the time because I was at work," she recalls. "I was working three jobs. It was pointless to be paying rent."

And so the young filmmaker frugally decided it would make the most sense to cut her expenses and move into her car. Yes, her car. She lived in it. Stick-shift-under-her-knee, seatbelt-across-her-forehead, right-foot-in-the-glove-compartment lived in it.
After customizing her mom's '82 Honda Prelude, Griffin easily found relatively safe places to park on the bucolic streets of San Jose. Unfortunately, she soon realized it was very awkward to talk about where she lived. "It surprised me how often people ask you where you live," she says. "I never noticed it before. When you meet a person, one of their first questions is 'Where do you live?' So I would be very vague."

Griffin's family was very supportive, though concerned about her plan. Her mother inquired often about any apartment prospects during her stay at Hotel Honda. But for Griffin, being self-sufficient and purposed was exciting and exhilarating. And after awhile, it was old hat. "There were definitely days that it took a toll on me, but I was loving it," she says. "I remember one day on my break, I was beat. I put my head down and I was thinking, What am I doing? And then I realized that I had made half of the budget I'd planned. That motivated me. The whole experience was definitely a one-day-at-a-time type of thing."

Life and Death With no help and no instruction, Griffin had set her mind on reaching a goal and was doing whatever it took to achieve it. She felt an exhilarating sense of freedom. "The realization that no one was asking me to do this at all really motivated me," she says. "I'd remind myself that I was doing this because I loved it. That would inspire me at times--especially when I was feeling low."

Once Griffin accomplished her first objective, she moved on with her plan. She hooked up with a young producer friend by the name of Jon Bachmann, and--with a polished script, a handful of cast and crew members, all the equipment they could carry, a total budget under $100,000, and a three-week shooting window--the two headed across country (in the faithful Honda Prelude, of course) to Bloomington, Indiana, to shoot.

Along the way, the crew had to deal with undependable extras, film problems, and tornado warnings, but fortunately for Katherine, she had a very positive support system nearby. Her mother and two of her sisters resided near Bloomington and chipped in to make Griffin's dream a reality. Her sister Lisa catered for the crew and did location scouting. Her younger sister Suzie came in from California to help for a couple of days. But it was her mother who became an integral part of the entire process. "She helped me to adapt the script to the period," Griffin explains. "She was pretty much the age of those girls in 1961. She played a part in helping me edit the script, she helped design the clothes. She really, on a daily basis, was helping me make the movie."

But while in post-production, Griffin was dealt a blow that could've derailed her and all of her plans. Her mother fell ill and died of cancer. But Griffin wasn't discouraged from stopping the project; she became even more dedicated to completing it.

"My mother passing away really gave me a new outlook on the project and finishing it," says Griffin. "It's the last thing we worked on together, so it's very special to me. It's something I'll always be thankful for and always cherish. I think about it every time I watch it."

With the support of Griffin's family, Bachmann, her best friend Kama Lee (who costars in the film), and the very cordial citizens of Bloomington, Indiana, the crew shot The Innocents in three weeks and just a couple of pick-up days in L.A. Griffin returned home to San Jose, this time got an apartment, and began putting the final touches on the film. She and Bachmann are now traveling the film-festival circuit looking for the ever-elusive distribution deal. Griffin still watches The Innocents with the same excitement and vigor she experienced when she first saw it. "I really like the film," she says with pride. "That's probably due to how much my mother helped me with it."

And Griffin is hardly finished. She has set a number of goals for the future and should have no problem achieving them. She is working on a second film inspired by memories of her mother. "Writing it has been very therapeutic for me. [This film is] about death and about life and about living to your fullest, appreciating each moment for what it gives you."

Though she enjoys filmmaking and is very proud of The Innocents, Griffin eventually would like to hang up her director and producer hats and concentrate on acting, her first love. Either way, it seems her tenacious spirit will lead her on a successful path in the film industry. Which should give a lot of folks hope. Hope that perhaps the secret to success does not come down to some unbreakable code, or the right figures to a magic formula. Perhaps it has nothing to do with a power diet or with strategic industry alliances. Perhaps it is simply about life; perhaps it is simply about death. Perhaps it is simply about appreciating each moment. Griffin doesn't consider herself anything particularly special. She believes anyone who really wants a dream to come true will work just as hard as she did to make sure it does. "I think whenever a person finds something they love that much and that expresses a particular side of them that they feel they need to express, I think anyone would stick to it." Perhaps that makes Griffin a bit of an innocent herself, but it's her attitude that has made her an unequivocal success.

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• • • ROSE COLORED WORLD, a 4 minute short film written & directed by Katherine Griffin and produced by Jon Bachmann and Emilia Arau is screening in NewFilmmakers Los Angeles 2015.

• • • BUTTERFLIES & LIGHTNING is a Semi-Finalist in the Zoetrope Screenwriting Competition 2015.

• • • For the third year in a row, our screenplays have placed in UCLA's Professional Program in Screenwriting competition.

• • • Our screenplay for THE REVENGE is a Semi-Finalist in the NICHOLL SCREENWRITING FELLOWSHIP.

• • Our screenplay for ALL THE DEVILS ARE HERE has advanced to the semi-finals of the Final Draft screenwriting competition, and has been listed among the TOP 25 thriller screenplays in the Tracking Board screenplay competition 2014.

• • We are happy to announce that we have sold our latest award winning short film USE AS DIRECTED to SHORTS INTERNATIONAL.

• • We are developing several exciting projects and will keep you informed as they come to fruition.