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Athena Poster.jpgAthena is a feature length movie from director Robert Filion that will be premiering this weekend in Shelby, North Carolina at the Don Gibson Theatre.

Many years in the making it is a story about a man, Carl,  who has lost his wife and has the emotional scars that situation has left him with.  Then there's Emily, who has everything going for her except Carl.  What they do share is a voice in their heads, the voice of Athena (Mahri Shelton).  Where will this voice lead them?

"It was so much fun having a part in bringing such a complex and intriguing character to life. Robert is always such a professional and a pleasure to work with." - Mahri Shelton - Actor

We had a conversation recently with Robert and some of the cast.  See the trailer for the movie and the conversation below,

Robert, tell me about Athena and what the audience is about to see.

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Robert Filion  Athena is the story of two people, both who lead very different lives, and both who are broken or incomplete.  Carl suffers from depression, and has for a few years since his wife died tragically.  Emily is a bit schizophrenic, but is really striving for normalcy.  We meet our protagonists in their most advanced states, and soon after they are both introduced to a disembodied voice in their heads.  The voice takes the form of what our protagonists need, and thereby begins to manipulate them.

This is a story of social interactions and consequences, of love, of loss, and ultimately death and dismemberment.

Kristin, What is Marion like?

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Kristin Jann  I don't want to give away anything. So, I'll just say she's a loving wife who leaves us too early.

How did you find working with this cast and crew?

Kristin Jann  Robert is one of my favorite people. He's got a great eye and really cares deeply about his craft. Matthew is brilliant and an absolute sweetheart. Vanelle is incredibly talented, gorgeous and terribly sweet. I love Patrick to pieces. It was so much fun to work with everyone!

Where was Athena filmed primarily?

Kristin Jann  In the Charlotte area. I only got a few days on set, sadly!  I only say sadly, because everyone was so great. I wish I'd gotten to spend more time with them.

Have you seen the completed film yet?

Kristin Jann  I haven't seen the completed film, per se. We got a preview a while back.

Is it set in present day?

Kristin Jann  Yes, present day.

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Photo Credit: Catherine Sikes

It sounds like there were some special effects used.  Was a green screen used during production?

Kristin Jann  There sure was! I have some pretty freakin' cool scenes. It was my first time against a green screen. Fascinating. That's the part I'm really excited to see. The completed SFX!

Who was in charge of makeup?

Kristin Jann  I know Bryan Reynolds did some in the first stages of filming. I believe Todd, the make-up artist for Worldy Posessions was also involved.

Dan Thornton  Todd A. Britt.  He does get around doesn't he?

Kristin Jann  As well he should!

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Photo Credit: Catherine Sikes

You've worked with Todd other than "Athena" and "Worldly Possessions"?

Kristin Jann  No, I haven't, but I've seen great work in both productions.

Robert Filion  In makeup, I had Starr Jones for the first stretch of principal photography on Carl's burns and some practical effects, then Bryan Reynolds carried the torch at the end of Carl's scenes on his burns.  

During the second round of principal photography, I had Todd Britt on day to day application, and some prosthetic and effects gags, and Gregory Hewett on some bigger hero prop gags.  Unfortunately nobody wanted to do the whole thing as the money was not great and it was too complex.  Ultimately, I had to drop a number of gags as a result, but the movie survived... I think.  The end result isn't quite as intense, but still effective.

Kristin, tell me about your background. What brought you to acting?

Kristin Jann  I'm a musical theatre girl originally. I got to do extra work on Lost, and caught the film bug. Since, I've done a few independent movies, regional commercials and industrial work. I'm still somewhat of a "newbie," but I am finally making a bit of a living.  I enjoy learning all aspects of the industry. It's still exciting.

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Photo Credit: Catherine Sikes

Where were you living at the time you did extra work on Lost?

Kristin Jann  Hawaii. My ex was a navy submariner.

How exotic.  How did you end up in the southeast?  Were you or he originally from this area?

Kristin Jann  He got a job down here. I'm orginially from New Jersey. I loved it here, so I stayed. I'm glad I did! I have built a great resume' and made wonderful friends!

Do you take acting lessons?  What's your style?

Kristin Jann  I went to school for theatre, took classes and workshops. I subscribe to the "just feel it" school of acting. Heh. I guess that's kind of [a] "method."  I never stop the learning process.

In working with Robert, do you find that you do one take and that's it.  Or do you do a few takes in a slightly different way to leave it up to the editor to choose?

Kristin Jann  Our work via the green screen was very physically specific. We did many takes in order to make the editor's (Robert) life easier. As for the other scenes, there were a few of us. It was never really about "line reading" as everyone had a pretty good grip on their characters. Often it's about getting the right flow.

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Patrick G. Keenan  I'm just gonna add that I play Colin, the fun gay friend. Now back to Robert. (laughs)  Honestly, Colin doesn't do anything overtly 'gay'. He's just very flamboyant. I'm not all that comfortable playing flamboyant characters as I play more villains and oddballs. It was definitely fun though. Violent scenes don't phase me. Some local film makers have been calling me the Sean Bean of indie film since I often die or am in very violent sequences.

Any interesting anecdotes form on the set of Athena, Patrick?

Patrick G. Keenan  I was in a particularly bloody scene where I was pretty much doused in blood. We were shooting downtown and it was passing the 2am mark. When we were wrapped for the day, everyone jetted out of there and there wasn't a wash station. I tried to clean myself up with what I had and covered my bloody t-shirt with a hoodie. On the way home I decided to stop for smokes at the 24 hour CVS. Not thinking I unzipped my hoodie inside because it was warm. The cashier's eyes popped out when he saw me blood soaked. I had a bit of explaining to do. I've since quit smoking. (laughs)

Robert Filion  Way to call my lack of wash stations out.

Patrick G. Keenan  Laugh it up Filion!

Also a learning lesson to always bring towels and a change of clothes.

Robert Filion  Or a body bag.

Patrick G. Keenan  (laughs) Been there. Fell asleep in it.

You fell asleep in a body bag?  Ever been in a coffin?

Patrick G. Keenan  Yes, I fell asleep in a body bag and I've been in a coffin before. Not spoiling anything, but if you go to the premiere you might see one of those things. (laughs)

It sounds like you've been just about everywhere Patrick.  What's left to do?

Patrick G. Keenan  Hey, as long as there's creative indie directors out there, the sky's the limit.

I recall from a previous interview with Robert that he has gotten in few situations before where the public, and/or police officers didn't understand what was going on for the scenes he was creating.

Robert Filion  I think that happens on all shoots to most folks.  I've had police called for us blacking windows out as neighboring households feared we were shooting porn ( I ask you, isn't hot sex better than horrible mutilations? )... I've had police, fire and medical called back in college as I had a guy running through the woods brandishing weapons, shouting and bloody while being pursued by shotgun wielding baddies.

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Michael, tell me about yur character in the movie.

Michael Melendez  Travis is a scientist so you can probably guess his involvement. But he also has a romantic interest in Emily, which turns out to be....well, interesting.

I enjoyed your performance in Robert's Lot 66.  Have you worked in any of Robert's other films?

Michael Melendez  Thank you! Lot 66 was a lot of fun. Robert and I have discussed a feature length version.

That would be nice. Suspenseful.

Michael Melendez  Yes, I think if we could get the right writer attached, it would be a lot of fun.  Robert hired me as a PA for a couple of films he worked on, The Rest of Your Life" and The Last Confederate: The Story of Robert Adams. After that, he let me have a few seconds in his award winning, See the Dead (starring Vanelle). Then there was Chekhov's Children another short. And now we're trying to get a feature I wrote of the ground called, Swimming with Dolphins.

I'd just like to add; the photography in Athena and the performances by Vanelle and Matthew are very impressive.

Matthew, tell me about your experience on Athena.

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Matthew Ewald  The amazing thing about Athena, was how it felt like everyone involved knew how special it was. Not just as a production, but on an emotional level, as well.

I don't mean that to sound like a cliche, it's's just honest...I remember reading the script (not attached to the film in any way, it was simply as a friend of Robert's) and I fell in love with it. With the role. And not to sound dramatic, but I mean head over heels in love with it.

These characters were broken, yet each one of them carried a desire know, even a type of innocence about them. Best intentions. And I greatly loved the idea that it wasn't just about the monsters that lurk within shadows, but also about the monsters that lurk within us. It was dark, emotional, it carried a dramatic weight to it. I wanted (desperetly so) to be a part of it. To fight tooth and nail for the chance to bring this character to life.

Robert has an astounding visual eye, he is the rare type of director that collaborates, that is still hungry to create and explore lives and moments, horrors and shadow -- no matter macabre or not, Robert has a passion that is a driving force. And when you're on set, shooting something like Athena, crave that level of intensity.

The other thing about a film like this, it has different faces to it. It bleeds in and out of genres, it feels like there is music in each scene, long before post.

Robert laughs, has fun, but the work gets done, as well. Each moment of every scene of every frame he makes into something meaningful. It matters. And that IS rare. He put together a talented cast and crew who wanted to contribute to that -- to (again) make this film something special. And I humbly believe that Robert succeeded.

What was your experience like Vanelle?  On the set and with Robert?

Vanelle  Athena was an amazing project. I have known Robert for close to 12 years and have worked with him quite a bit. So when he tapped me to be a part of Athena, there was no question in my mind I wanted to participate. Originally I was cast as Athena and a different actress as Emily. The original actress ended up not being available and so Robert asked me if I would take the role. Emily is an amazing character, unlike any I have played, so of course I jumped at it. 

The entire cast and crew were amazing to work with. I had never worked with Matthew Ewald but had seen his work. So it was wonderful working and playing opposite him. He is phenomenal as an actor and a human being. Michael, Kristin, Patrick....everyone, just great actors! 

What I really dug with this role was the physicality of it. I got to work with Matthew Sumner for the martial arts/sword choreography. It was a great work out training with him and a lot of fun. And I managed to get through all of my fight scenes without killing myself or anyone else. 

Robert Filion  You... all of you... with your awesome, sweet, mushy feelings and words.

After the premiere.  How do you plan to market and distribute Athena?

Robert Filion  I have a list of festivals distributors attend, so will be strategically placing it in those.  Also, I'm leveraging the knowledge and experience of some friends who have successfully attained distribution to help.  As for marketing, I have no real skill or time there, so I'll be marketing this poorly until I can find or afford someone to help.

This movie was a long  time in development wasn't it?  When did you first come up with the idea and the plot?  How did that come about.

Robert Filion  I created a synopsis for what would become Athena back in 2006 while working an IT job and suffering severe allergies.  Not really financially sound at the time, I saved it for a number of years, but decided later that I make a poor writer... not that I can't write, but that I don't care to... I'm more hands on.  

It was a great decision as I had a budding friendship with a novelist I had met on the west coast in 2008 named Michael Louis Calvillo.  I pitched him the idea, and was exceedingly specific about the beats of the story.  Michael, writing machine that he was, burned through 4 drafts of the script, and I was finally ecstatic.  It was a solid long form short at that time, and I simply couldn't contain my excitement for it, but again, life got in the way, and I felt it was just too much for me.

A short while and a number of short films later, I met Matthew Ewald through Mutantville Productions.  Knowing he was a writer, I asked him to read the short and give me feedback.  Obviously, he loved it, and pursued me tirelessly to make this project.  I felt good about the chemistry, but was beaten down by having done one too many shorts, and what had they really gotten me?  Training, to be sure... confidence, certainly... but professionally, not really much.

So with Matthew attached to the project, I approached Michael about adding on to the script.  At first, my concept was an anthology, and that's the path we went down.  I was far less structured in the remaining stories, but had certain points which needed to be met - otherwise, I gave him cart blanch .  He turned out 5 more stories surrounding the original, and at the end, I really didn't feel they gelled well enough.  At the time I was (actually still am) vigorously researching trends, techniques, and the business of "filmmaking, and I decided an anthology wasn't such a great idea based on the information I had dug up.  Thus, I nixed two of the stories, shortened another, and put the three together in a more or less seamless story which we now know as Athena.  It's during my reshuffling of Athena that Michael was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Sadly, Michael passed away before he could see his last bit of writing brilliance finalized.  He worked on Athena until he simply couldn't; the cancer had worn him out beyond words.  He was able to see the first half of the story come to pass thankfully.  As great as he thought it was, I feel he would have been far more pleased at the finished, polished project.  This is a testament to his words, his humor, and his charm, and I hope he would be proud.


Athena will be shown at the Don Gibson Theatre in Shelby on October 11th preceded by Worldly Possessions, a short also directed  by Robert  Filion.  Don't miss your chance to see these two movies made by a great ensemble of cast and crew right here from the Carolinas and the southeast.

Limited Seating
Buy tickets as soon as possible to guarantee that you have a seat!

There will be a raffle with prizes from the producers of both movies which will benefit The Cancer Research Institute
Click on the link below to see what you can win! 

Athena & Worldly Possessions
The Don Gibson Theatre
Saturday October 11th - 6:00 pm
318 South Washington Street
Shelby, North Carolina