Thursday, July 2, 2009

Making a Movie at Smith Mountain Lake: In This Economy? You Bet!

Sara Elizabeth Timmins: Opportunity time^

At that very moment, Sara Elizabeth Timmins was looking at the prospect of raising $500,000 in about three weeks. You’d have thought she had a surplus.

If sheer force of will has anything at all to do with the making of the new Smith Mountain Lake-based movie “Lake Effect,” it’ll be on time, under budget and a box office smash.

This small, pretty, 33-year-old actress/producer from L.A. via Ohio and now The Lake, where her parents have retired, has a resume that includes 12 productions of various kinds, so it’s not as if she was a rookie. But, the conventional wisdom asks, what about the worst economy in the memory of most of us? Huh! Opportunity: “It’s more exciting this way,” she says, leaning forward and emphasizing each word. “Millionaires are made and people do great things during recessions.”

Advantages? Yep: “There are fewer movies being made and therefore more talent available and it’s cheaper.” Raising that 500 Large was the problem of the moment and Sara Elizabeth Timmins was in the middle of her whirlwind tour, meeting, cajoling, convincing, charming. She had already secured roughly $1.3 million in donations, loaned materials, volunteer work. It is a wide variety of necessities from boats to homes to all that which is required to put together a movie and support its crew.

The goal is to begin shooting in October, when the leaves are at peak, but, says Sara Elizabeth, “If we don’t meet the goal, then we go to spring or next fall. The movie will be made.”

She has been something of a roiling storm from the beginning. She went to Xavier University in Cincinnati to study theater and discovered there was no major when she got there. She put together a coalition of students, demanding one and voila! It was deemed so.

Her first producing project came when the producer of a movie on which she was working as a volunteer left to do “Seabiscuit.” She had so impressed the powers that be that they slotted her into the producer’s chair for “Tattered Angel,” an award-winner.

She’s been in the business eight years (and yes, she admits she still looks like a teenager) and has 12 production credits. She’s also an actor, but it’s the business side that fascinates her most. Will she act in “Lake Effect”? “Probably,” she says, unimpressed.

She’s been a Los Angeles resident for the past six years, but has never really taken to it. “I was disheartened by what I found,” she says. “It is not in line with the way I work. There’s a lot of dishonesty there.”

The Lake, though, is another matter. She loves the Lake. “I was here one winter,” she says, “and went for a walk. I was suddenly calm and, click, there was clarity. The film, based here, came to me.”

So, she hired a writer (Scott Winter of Providence, R.I.) who produced a script and she was right smack in the middle of “taking my own advice. I do motivational speaking and I always tell people to follow their dreams.”

The idea is to tell a good story (it’s about coming home), showcase the Lake and create community around the movie. Her company, Life Out Loud Films, “can be a catalyst for possible change,” she says.

“When I started, I asked myself how I could do this differently or better. I felt like we had to give some of the profits to lake cleanup. “My dad started getting the word out and I was getting calls from people offering lodging, medical care, a plane, boats, things we could use.”

Bart Wilner of Entre Computer in Roanoke became the first cash investor and Sara Elizabeth is working the room for more, maybe 10 total at about $50K each. “When I started pitching,” she says, “it ceased to be my project and became the community’s project. It all began to click that way. We’re hoping to create a positive economic impact with this film. We’re using the name of the lake, businesses at the lake and we’re using Virginia products everywhere we can. We’ll use as much as we can without losing the integrity of the project.”

It’s a project “we couldn’t do in L.A.,” she says, emphasizing that “I have no money. It’s more exciting this way.”


  1. How exciting! My parents live on the lake. Every time my dad takes a "newbee" on a boat ride, he always shows them the What About Bob House. I think it's wonderful.

  2. Sarah Elizabeth rocks! She has incredible vision and is a pleasure to work with! I really hope the community continues to come together to make this happen.