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The Strange and Unusual

logo.jpgI can't wait to see this movie!   The Strange and Unusual is a comedy about a reality series gone awry.  Written and directed by Anil Dhokai and brought to us by VisionScape Media.

The Strange and Unusual has just begun filming.  What will we see when it's complete?  The cast and crew of a cancelled reality TV series with one last episode left to shoot.  What goes on behind the scenes and the personalities that one might encounter in a similar television production.  Anil, has worked in these situations and is bringing some of the strange and unusual things he's seen to this film.

One of the principals of Strawhouse Pictures, Anil always knows that his partners have his back and can help him put together the pieces of the puzzle for a great production just as he does for their films.

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Strawhouse Pictures consists of Anil, Micah Troublefield, Brian Oxendine, and Chris Gervais.  Anil and Micah are longtime friends from Rock Hill, SC who attended the University of South Carolina with both having a keen interest in films.  Then along came a feature called Neato Mosquito being produced by Brian.  Anil came on board as a cinematographer and the movie was edited by both him and Micah.   In addition to their work behind the scenes all three (Brian, Anil, and Micah) had a role in the movie as well.  Chris was there too as post-production assistant. 


The next feature they worked on together was Palmetto Haunting.  A movie about a paranormal investigator who becomes a wanted man in his present life, and in the next.  Written and directed by Anil, it was produced by Brian, scored by Chris, with Anil and Micah doing the cinematography and editing.  Several of the most talked about players in the Carolina film industry were involved such as Michael Sharpe, Logan Anderson, Vanessa Ore, Kerry Cashion, Kimberly Davis, Bonnie Johnson, Haven Wilson, Ted Johnson, James Molinari, Davis Osborne, and Juli Emmons.

The Strawhouse guys have also created an anthology series called Fantastic Tales of the Unknown.  This series is reminiscent of The Twilight Zone with beautiful cinematography.  The Junker episode is about a junkman who can't let go of all his junk.  Brian plays the junkman very well as a man who talks to his junk, and then... the junk starts to talk back.  Another is Midnight Snack played wonderfully by Tim Ross and Kathy Butler Sandvoss where an evil is lurking after a night on the town.


Besides his work with the Strawhouse gang,  Anil also does work as a cinematographer for other productions such as Tainted Love, a TV series about the victims of sex trafficking, and Slave Hunter, a TV series coming next year about the rescue of underage sex slaves in India.

Some of The Strange and Unusual cast includes: Tim Ross, Dervin Gilbért, Chris Jones, David Schifter, Matt Turner, Karen Boles, Craig Beck, Alonzo Ward, Blake Gardner, Erika Chase, Christy Johnson, Lisa Sain Odom, Michael Melendez, and Christopher Tolleson.

Main Crew: Anil Dhokai - Writer/Director, Brian Oxendine - Producer, Micah Troublefield - Director of Photography, Parker Beck - Production Designer, Kevin Welch - Unit Production Manager, and Chris Gervais - Editor/Composer.

Production Comapny: VisionScape Media

The Strange and Unusual Website

The Strange and Unusual on Facebook

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In the interview below we talk with some of the cast and crew of The Strange and Unusual.

Anil, chatter has been making it's way through the film community about your next film The Strange and Unusual. What can we expect to see?

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Anil Dhokai: The Strange and Unusual is an indie comedy about a supernatural reality show that has just been canceled. With only one episode left to shoot, Joel the producer of the show, is determined to make the ultimate finale.

The movie is an in depth look into the live's of those who entertain us. In many ways is an exploitation film on reality TV and the entertainment industry.

Interesting. Have you done a comedy before?

Anil Dhokai: This is actually my first comedy. All my other films have been horror/thrillers. Some of them had humor and comedy in them.

Will this be a feature length movie?

Anil Dhokai: Yep, it will be feature length. We're anticipating around the 2 hour mark.

Take me back and tell me how you became interested in film and how you worked your way up to becoming a producer, writer, cinematographer, and director?

Anil Dhokai:  I've pretty much been obsessed with movies since I was a kid. I spent much of my childhood writing short stories and making up movies in my head. I didn't actually pick up a camera until high school when I made a short film with Micah called Not Quite Dead. It was about students who turned into zombies after eating food made by the culinary arts class.

After high school I went on to attend USC in Columbia, South Carolina where I majored in Media Arts.  I lucked out during college, because at that time South Carolina had really good tax incentives and lots of movies were being shot here. That's were I really learned about the process by working on other films. I would pretty much just show up and say if you let me on set I'll work for free.

Simultaneously, I made several short films during this time. After graduating I moved back up here and worked as a freelancer in the industry. I did my first feature with Micah, Brian and Chris called Palmetto Haunting. Since then we've all collaborated on several features, short films, and music videos. Primarily we've been making episodes for an ongoing TV show called Fantastic Tales of the Unknown.

While making my own stuff, I continue to work as a freelancer full time editing and shooting for television.  The Strange and Unusual has been in development for almost 5 years and has definitely been the project I've been wanting to make for the longest.

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Micah Troublefield:  I'm in Strawhouse Pictures with Anil, and I've been shooting movies with him since 2003. I'm the director of photography on this one.  I also co-shot his last one, and shot Midnight Snack.

I really enjoyed Tim Ross and Kathy Butler Sandvoss in Midnight Snack.  Well done!

Tim Ross:  Thank you, Dan. It was a pleasure to shoot. Anil always has a clear vision on what he wants from his film but he's very open to actors input as well

We know Tim has. Have any of the rest of you worked with Anil or the guys at Strawhouse Pictures before?

Parker Beck:  I have never worked with this crew before but I must say that I've had a lot of fun filming together already so I am excited about spending the month of January in Rock Hill filming.

What will you be doing on this movie Paker?

Parker Beck:  Production design.

How long has filming been underway?


Parker Beck:  We filmed the opening credits roughly 3 weeks ago.

Karen Boles:  I met Brian at a Charlotte Film Community meeting and had an audition for The Strange and Unusual the next day. I had already been asked to come in and read, so it was just coincidence that we met the night before. I've never worked with anyone on the production, except Tim. Looking forward to the whole experience.

A nice coincidence indeed!  Micah, I know you, Anil, Chris Gervais, and Brian Oxendine are the principals of Strawhouse Pictures.  How did Strawhouse Pictures come to be?

Micha Troublefield:  Well, it started as just me and Anil. After we finished USC we shot a feature called Neato Mosquito produced and co-written by Brian Oxendine. He produced Anil's movie Palmetto Haunting, and Chris Gervais helped out doing a lot of different jobs. I'd known Chris some before, and we all got along really well, so we stuck together. We had a lot of different names, but by the time we settled on Strawhouse Pictures we had gone from five people to four.

The four of us have worked on each other's projects since Palmetto Haunting. We made I Am Worthless (another feature), and a lot of episodes to a show we created called Fantastic Tales of the Unknown.  We put the first three episodes together to make an anthology feature. We've shot two more episodes Midnight Snack and 21 Questions.

I remember seeing an early trailer for Palmetto Haunting. Where can it be seen now?

Anil Dhokai:  Palmetto Haunting was released a while ago but we pulled it to have the sound re-designed. It's currently close to coming out again. This time being released by New Daydream Films.

Chris, your reputation for sound design and as a composer is well known.  What kind of soundtrack are you imagining for this film?

Chris Gervais:  Well, it's sort of something we'll get our heads around better when we see the finished product. At present, I'm playing around with something for the fictional show that the story revolves around. I'm trying to give it an Unsolved Mysteries vibe.

Again, my opinion may change once we start putting the movie together, but for now I'm imagining a kind of quirky 50s scifi inspired rhythmic thing for the character building and I'm sure there will be some legit attempts at spooking people throughout.

Brian Oxendine:  I think that Micah summed it up pretty good as far our involvement with Strawhouse goes. We have been working as a team for several years now. I typically stick to the production side of things. As far as my involvement on The Strange and Unusual...  I would have to say I'm one of the strange.

You were great in the Junker episode where you played a junkman. Tell me about being the producer on The Strange and Unusual.  

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Brian Oxendine:  On past projects it was a little bit of everything but on The Strange and Unusual we are lucky enough to have a talented Production Designer (Parker Beck) and a fantastic Unit Production Manager (Kevin) and that has let me focus primarily on locations.

Also, Juli Emmons has been a Godsend as a casting director

Chris Gervais:  I'll second that. Though we've only gotten a few opening shots under our belt, everyone who's come on board for this has totally blown me away with how perfect they are for whatever position or roll.

Brian Oxendine: Word

Chris Gervais: The position Brian is good at is Crane Style.

Tim Ross:  I fear where we are going with talk of positions. I'll wait my turn....

Craig Beck:  Especially considering Chris said "position or roll".

Christy Johnson: Woo all of this talk of rolls and positions is making me hungry and h----

Wonder if Kevin survived the late night bar shoot? Has anyone heard from him since?

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Kevin Welch:  Hahaha I survived but it was ridiculous. Annnnnyway, I'll give you a little more info about myself:

I started producing short films and music videos back in 2005 when I attended a vocational radio/television class during my last two years of high school. After graduating I wandered around New York state attempting to figure out the next phase of my life but was getting nowhere. It was at that time that I decided I must follow my passion and go to film school, less I be stuck doing something I hated for the next 45 years.

After looking at different universities I settled on Full Sail due to the insane amount of hands on experience they pump into their curriculum. During my education I fell in love with Production Management/1st A.D. work. Prior to attending school I worked in restaurants and often took over a managerial role, this prepared me to be a producer better than anything else could have, just substitute the restaurant for a film and its essentially the same process of people/equipment and time management. Plus I just don't trust anyone else to do the job like I can haha.

After Graduation I worked for the university as an Art Director (my second love) on a few commercials and eventually found my way up to Charlotte as I knew the scene here was really starting to take off. I interviewed with Anil and Brian and the rest is soon to be history. We have an awesome crew, a very polished script, insanely committed and talented actors and beautiful locations.

As of today we are finalizing the shooting schedule for January (145 scenes in 21 days, yikes!) Finishing up the table reads/cast rehearsals and locking down the remaining set dressing/specialty prop elements.

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Juli Hood Emmons:  Casting this film has been so much fun. With so many interesting and kooky characters it's taken a lot of auditions but I'm super excited with the cast we have. I love working with Anil, Brian, Micah, and Chris. They are all amazing to work with and they each bring their own unique skill and creative energy to the films.

Micah will you tell us more of your background?

Micah Troublefield:  My background is pretty much the same as Anil's. We started together, and have gone to three schools together (Northwestern High School, York Tech and then USC.)

I initially only wanted to write and direct, but while I was in school I realized that if I didn't learn to light and shoot, I'd have to luck out and find someone who could do it. So I started focusing on lights pretty heavily (learning at the same time as Anil.)

It was a pretty steep learning curve, but after a while I was lighting and shooting something at least once a week (it's died down a bit now, but I still get to do it often enough to keep "sharp."

My passion is still writing, but camera work is just as fulfilling. Really, all four of us in Strawhouse love writing and telling stories, so whoever has a project that's feasible and ready to go, we all gang up on it and work together. I'm really fortunate to have met all these guys, and we were able to learn together. We rarely shoot something where we don't come out of it with some new knowledge or something we're excited to try next time.

Any time there was an area we weren't strong in, someone would step up and figure out how to get it done. Audio's always been the toughest for us, but luckily Chris has a great background in recording and just happens to be an insanely good musician.

Strawhouse Pictures is the better for all your talent and teamwork. Would it be fair to say the four of you are fans of The Twilight Zone?

Micha Troublefield:  The Twilight Zone, Amazing Stories, Tales from the Darkside/Crypt. We love anthology stories when they're done well. We don't always do it well ourselves, but I feel like we've pulled off some good work with our homage series, and they've gotten much better since the first one we made a few years ago.

Chris Gervais:  Personally, those are my favorite sort of ideas- the uncanny kind of things that sort of liberate you from the triviality of every day life.

That being said, it's a very profound thing to connect with stories that are realistic and help make sense of the human experience on a more literal level.

I think The Strange and Unusual manages to pull from both of those.

What about Hitchcock?

Micah Troublefield:  We're much better than that Hitchcock guy.

Craig Beck: Hitchcock? Wasn't that a bad Rom-Com starring Will Smith?

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Chris Gervais:  I think the way that people like Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft figured out how to tell macabre and uncanny stories on the written page, movies with that kind of subject matter wouldn't look anywhere close to the way they do without Hitchcock.

Which is a long winded way of saying me likey duh Hitchcock.

Micah Troublefield: Yeah, if I could afford the box sets I'd own all of his movies. It's hard to pick a favorite, but for me North By Northwest and Rear Window always felt eerily close to perfect, feeling-wise.

Chris Gervais:  For me it's Rear Window. If I'm ever going to be in danger of ripping off Hitchcock, it would be that one.

Micah Troublefield:  I know Chris and I share an over-the-top love for movies set in a small town or better yet a small area of closely tied strangers. Rear Window and some Twilight Zone episodes nailed that a long time ago.

Those productions had a certain economy too them didn't they?   Are most of your movies made in Rock Hill?

Micah Troublefield:  Yeah. 90% probably. This one will take place in some other small towns close to Rock Hill. (Brian knows more about which specific areas we're using.) Anil's first feature took place a lot in Chester.

I've read where a lot of artists like to be constricted by something; it tends to heighten their creativity.

Micah Troublefield:  That's a plus. It's easier than trying to shoot some inter-galactic epic battle, which we'd love to do as well. It's kind of freeing to have limited means, because we get to figure out how to tell a big story in a way that we can afford. We've made 20+ minute shorts for $100 or less that tell stories we'd otherwise feel like we could only do with a million +.

Anil, I noticed you are a cinematographer on the Tainted Love series about human trafficking. Now that's a serious subject. How did you get involved in this?

Anil Dhokai:  For Tainted Love, I started on the show as a B-camera operator going out and getting B-roll for the episodes. My friends Ryen Thomes and Rich Clark are producers on the show.  Eventually I went on to DP several episodes. It's definitely an intense subject. We also went to India to shoot the spin off called Slave Hunter about a team who rescues trafficking victims.

Parker what kind of challenges do you face with this production?

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Parker Beck:  My biggest challenge is planning all my designs from afar. (I live in Savannah) Everything I do is based off pictures, measurements, and brief exposure to each location. Luckily it is filmed in current day which makes props and set dressing much easier to find.

How did you end up on this production Parker?

Parker Beck:  My husband auditioned for them and told me that they may be looking for crew so I submitted my resume.

Craig Beck.jpgCraig Beck:  After assisting my wife on the shoot a few weeks ago, which I've done in some sort capacity since we started a business together almost a decade ago, I really enjoyed working with Brian, Anil, Kevin, Chris, Micah and everyone else I can't remember off the top of my head who was there that weekend. I'm looking forward to the brief time they'll need me on set in January, as one of us has to stay in Savannah to keep the "kids" fed and watered.

Parker Beck:  My husband and I are just a good team.

I'd like to hear from some of the actors and get a taste of what their characters are like.

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Tim Ross:  My character, Joel, is not unlike the real life of a producer. My day job is actually as the producer of a radio talk show and there are always interesting challenges to getting the show made. My character tries to overcome all sorts of obstacles to get a finale made even though he knows the show will probably be canceled anyway. He has a can do spirit and, underneath a little bit of a brittle exterior, he actually has a childlike hope that one of the ghosts and creatures they chase will turn out to be real. Joel is a bit rough around the edges but he means well. He just bulls his way into things a little bit

That sounds like a fun role Tim. Have you done comedy before? Tell me about your career.

Tim Ross:  I have been lucky enough to do everything. I started as a classically trained actor working for a Shakespeare company. I did Equity level professional theatre for years before getting into film and television. I've done over a dozen national commercials, several national television episodics and some soap work.

In the last year I've been fortunate to be in five major indie films in the area. In them I played a good guy who has a very strange and funny nightmare about his family (40 Fears), sarcastic lab worker who gets is head cut off by an alien (Athena), a smarmy news anchor (Triggerfish), a middle class father who makes a bad mistake and then finds redemption (Waiting For Butterflies) and an Italian gardener having an affair with one of the daughters of the wealthy family he works for (Catania). After The Strange and Unusual, I'll play a healer in a faith based film called My Name is Paul. I've greatly enjoyed the variety I've gotten to do.

Craig Beck:  James is as cocksure as they come in Hollywood. He's the network executive.

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Christy Johnson:   I'm very excited to play the role of Cindy. My character isn't the brightest crayon in the box, which is against what I normally play, so this should definitely be different and fun for me. She is the makeup artist on the show and is sleeping with the host, Martin. Both Martin and the producer, Joel, treat her like crap. I've recently had the fortunate opportunity to work with Mr. Tim Ross and if his talent is a reflection of the rest of the cast and crew, I'm sure this project will be unbelievable.

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Karen Boles:  I'll be playing Sheriff Scotts, a small town sheriff who is very protective of "her" town and "her" people. She doesn't like this film crew and is especially wary of Joel (Tim's character). This role was originally written for a guy to play, so a few adjustments were made to the script.

My castability typically skews toward the wholesome, all-American, mom-next-door type (teachers, nurses, moms, young wives, etc), so this is going to be a fun role for me. I already have plans to go through tactical training with a veteran police officer. Creating the physicality for Sheriff Scotts will pull from my background in suzuki training, which ironically enough, is a method where gender is of no significance.

Funny how it all comes together sometimes.

Tim Ross:  Thank you, Christy! And Karen is wary of me in real life too so this should work out great...

Christy Johnson:  LOL

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Erika Chase:  I play Lauren. I'm a production assistant that is brought in for the last episode. A tad bit bitchy, cynical and straight out of film school. I understand that PA's are the underdogs on set. My fellow PA is starting to show some romantic interest in me, that I don't necessarily return.

Dervin Gilbért: Martin Lucky, my character, is just the greatest guy in the whole world, in his own mind. He quite resembles Leslie Neilson. He's kinda bluffstery, certainly still a heterohypersexual in his mid-years, insecure, venal, but blessed with the gift of gab.

In the end of this episode  he comes full circle and is inexplicably professional.

Have you been in a comedy before?

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Dervin Gilbért:  Yes, seems a preponderance of the stuff I do is comedic. Didn't plan it that way but if you look at my latest film reel you'll see as much.

We were all busting in laughter during our first readthrough. Love the script. I'm thinking "who is this Anil guy... he must be like 80 going on 28 or is that backerds?"

I really like the built-in unhealthy imperfections of the characters. It's really going to transcend the average indie film and by several football fields. Tim's awesome, of course we KNOW Martin's awesome (me, I just prep hard), the complete rank and file of talent is really impressive. Can't wait for ACTION!!

Do you do theatre as well?

Dervin Gilbért: Yes and I've refrained from any stage-work since Garden Party at The Warehouse and Floyd Collins at CAST, both earlier this year, to focus fully on film.

I'm keepin' my eye on you. Good luck.

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Lisa Sain Odom:   As far as my character Renee, she's Joel's secretary at the network. I love her because she's sassy. She really has Joel's number and she won't allow any of his funny business or take any of his crap. She's strong and quick-witted, very likeable.

Efficient and professional when it comes to her job, but Anil has written her in such a way that she also comes across as very personable. I love comedy and I think Tim and I (most of my scenes are with him) are going to have lots of fun with this! I've also worked with Dervin before, but, alas, we have no scenes together in this project.

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Christopher Tolleson:   I am very very excited about shooting next weekend. I have a teeny teeny tiny role in this film but, since it was only my second live audition ever, I am super happy they picked me!

I play the role of Charlie...and I just met my Mom in the movie, Juli Emmons,  this week at the Charlotte Film Community meeting!  She is really nice and very pretty! I am happy to work on a comedy.... I hope to get more and more comedy roles in the future. My sister knows a lot of people on this project and she has worked with a lot of them too. She told me everyone is very very nice.

Micah Troublefield:  Glad to have you Christopher.

Did you meet a lot of people at the Charlotte Film Community meeting, Christopher?

Christopher Tolleson:  Yes! Some people I have met before on set. We played a Christmas trivia game and my team won! I won a gift card. It was fun! and my team was fun! Two people talked at the meeting too.  I worked with one of them before Ms. Joanne Hock. She is super nice!

Chris Gervais:  Oh man. There was Christmas Trivia?  Dang. I would have killed it, bro.

Tim Ross:  I'm NOT pleased that I missed Christmas Trivia and potential prizes!

Were there other people your age at the meeting?

Christopher Tolleson:  There was me, my sister Kayli, our friend Brandi Young and a new girl we met there Talia.  She is in fifth grade, and Gabrielle Lopez, she is in third. I was the only boy! haha  My sister Kayli has been going since she was 10! So now, I am 10 and I am going too!

That's nice. Seems like child actors are relatively rare.  Congratulations on getting the part.

Parker Beck:  Kevin's in a bar and I'm shooting in a psychic's office. What a weird little world we live in!

Craig Beck: Well the real world isn't much less strange. I had to take a math placement exam recently so I can take a sign language course in January at our local community college!

Tim Ross:  The real world is easily as strange. There are very successful reality shows on right now that feed into the same desires and interests that The Strange and Unusual will tap into.

Chris Gervais:  I personally think Honey Boo Boo is going to end up being about demonic posession. A crossover is bound to happen.

Tim Ross:  Um. I was thinking more of Ghost Hunters and Finding Bigfoot, but, then again, that's pretty damn close too...

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Anna Wright:   You've all mentioned the reality craze and the idea of paranormal reality shows; was the overwhelming amount of these types of shows what inspired you to create a story like this?

Also, when working on the story, how much was gained from researching these shows and how much was pure, awesome inspiration?   And in general, how much does real life generally go into your ideas? Honey Boo Boo, are we going to see that possession idea come to life? I'm dying to know, lol.

Anil Dhokai:  What initially inspired me to write the script was a combination of things. It was my experiences working on other reality shows as a freelancer and perception of television as an audience member. The entertainment industry is very strange and unusual in how it functions and for me that's what the title really refers to on a deeper level. In the script you have my experiences as a crew member and you have my current take on the shape of television. Both are illustrated in a comedic way.

A good chunk of the dialogue as well as the situations that the crew experience are taken right out of real life experiences.

How hard is it to get the chemistry right for those comedic moments in a film and who are some of your favorite comedic actors?

Anil Dhokai:  We have a great cast and their chemistry works really well. We had a table read a few weeks ago and was one of the most entertaining reads i've been at. Each actor is really bringing their character to life.

I would say my all time favorite comedic actors would be Chevy Chase and Bill Murray.

Chris Gervais:  Jerry Stiller! Alan Arkin! I like the crotchety old guys.

I bet it's fun seeing the actors bringing your characters to life for the first time. Do the actors sometimes bring something unexpected to the character?

Anil Dhokai:  Yeah, they all already have a good sense of comedic timing. Each of them bring something different.

Craig Beck:  Good comedy is the godchild of wit, which is a blessed combination of intelligence, timing and personal experience. I'd say we've got plenty to go around here.