By ESTHER AVILA

Porterville Recorder

01/25/2012 2:39 PM

     A handful of Chapman University Dodge School of Media students working on a film project have been transforming the rolling hills above Porterville into a small English village.

     The film, "The Devout" — written and directed by Mairin Hart — takes place in the 1400’s in England and follows a woman who must risk everything to save her friends and family from a mysterious death.

     "It is the story about a woman and her bother — leaders of the village. He is the religious head and she is the doctor," said film producer Andrew Vallentine.

     "The Devout" tells a complicated story, with a lot of emotion and philosophical challenges at play — religion versus science, man versus woman, and life versus death, Hart said when she was in town to arrange a casting call for acting roles and to help get the film sets into shape last weekend.

     Vallentine, Hart, and a crew of film professionals have been working all week to build a medieval village on the ranch.

     The village consists of three enclosed structures — a church, a blacksmith shop and the home of the leading characters. In addition, an open-air market area is also getting built.

     Vallentine praised several local people for helping in making everything possible, including Chris Hildreth and his crew for building the enclosed structures in three days.

     The crew then worked on adding all the details to make the buildings look authentic, said Brendan O’Connor, production designer.

     "We’ve been organizing and researching since September, concentrating on drawings of the time period, how buildings were built," O’Connor said. "We added our own design details but it’s pretty authentic looking. I’m pretty happy with the outcome."

     The land, Vallentine said, is being lent for the production by the grandfather of a student at Chapman.

     "We’re very fortunate to have this. Going on location is rare," Vallentine said. "Once we finalize the project, our goal is to take this to independent film festivals in the country and worldwide."

     And by showing the piece, they are hoping to get the attention to be able to create a feature-length film that will be shown in theaters around the country. A premier will also be planned locally.

     "It’s a higher-level production film. The school gave us $10,000 towards this — the rest we have to fund raise and get donations, Vallentine said. "This area has been great. We are getting a lot of support locally."

     Among the supporters is the Tulare County Film Commission, the Porterville Unified School District and the Porterville Chamber of Commerce.

     "We were interested in this production for several reasons," said Eric Coyne, Tulare County Film Commissioner. "While considered a low-budget production at approximately $50,000, a significant amount of that money will be spent here locally in the Porterville area for construction materials, lodging and other supplies. That’s why we put Andrew and Mairin in touch with Donnette Carter at the Porterville Chamber right away, so she could help them with some of their local needs."

     But the real local value, Coyne said, is the partnership with the Porterville Unified School District.

     "We are very excited this movie chose the Porterville area to film," said Mimi Schuler. "It has opened the door for so many opportunities for our students to see what it looks like to film a movie and participate."

     Several PUSD Pathway programs are involved, Schuler said, including the Monache High School’s multimedia program that is making a behind-the-scenes type of documentary film to show at the school; the Porterville High School Health Academy and RN Pam Avila will partner with Imperial Ambulance to run the first-aid tent, and 10 students from Granite Hills High School’s digital designing class have been chosen to follow the progress of the film with interview spots on local KTIP Radio. In addition, Rachelle Arias of Monache High, created the film’s Facebook social page to facilitate getting information to the public about the progress of the project and regarding any needs.

     "The Tulare County Film Commission put us in touch with school administrators and teachers so we could integrate students from several disciplines into the pre-production and actual filming stages," Vallentine said. "We may all be graduate students now, but not long ago we were all sitting right where these high school students are right now — with a desire to be involved professionally in the film business but lacking experience and wondering how to get started."

     The crew will share some of the knowledge they all learned the hard way on film sets, including teaching them about professional lighting techniques, set building, budgeting and planning for major projects, Vallentine said.

     Filming is scheduled to begin Monday with several 12-hour shoot days and two 12-hour night shoots scheduled.

     "Sixty percent of the filming will be in the village but we will also have a couple of wilderness shoots out in the local woods," Vallentine said. "Working with students from several local high schools is a win-win. They can help us keep a $50,000 film within budget and yet have the look and feel of a much more expensive production. I think most of us are looking forward to that part of this partnership just as much as we are looking forward to producing one of our own projects from start to finish."

    Most of the funding for the $50,000 project is already in hand, but the Chapman students are also currently looking for donations to complete their funding goal. Interested parties can donate at www.indiegogo.com/TheDevoutfilm. For more information, visit the film’s official website — www.thedevoutfilm.com.

     Contact Esther Avila at 784-5000, Ext. 1045 or eavila@portervillerecorder.com. Follow her on Twitter @Avila_recorder.