Funny what you have to tell the neighbors when they hear screams coming from your home.
“I think my neighbors were a bit concerned," said Eileen O’Donnell ’00. "My new neighbor was outside when I walked out with some film equipment, and he gave me this really awkward look and said, ‘Um, is everything alright over there?’ We had to have them come over and see all of the people and film equipment before they really believed we were shooting a film.”
Screaming in a sci-fi/horror film isn’t what O’Donnell expected she’d be doing after earning a degree in 3D Fine Arts from Moore.
But you can see and hear her shrieking her head off in a new web series she produced with her husband called Blue Light, which debuts on YouTube March 7th.
Of course, she had to practice.
“Learning how to let go of self-consciousness, and really scream, is incredibly fun,” she said. “I practiced screaming a lot because my character is going through an emotional collapse.”
Blue Light centers on Mildred, a 1950s housewife who comes home one day to find that people from the future are speaking to her through her TV, O’Donnell said. “They are completely distressed and they’ve all experienced this blue light, and they’re sort of asking her for help.”
O’Donnell plays Mildred, and also serves as cinematographer for the film. She credits Moore faculty with teaching her the skills she uses to make movies.
“They didn’t have cinematography or filmmaking classes, but everything I needed to know I learned from my foundation classes, especially with Tina Newberry,” O’Donnell said. “Learning from her about pieces of light and how to look at things with light, and how light can shape a room – all of those things were so helpful when I was trying to learn production design and cinematography.”
“When I was at Moore, I thought of movie making as something that you would have to move to California to do,” she said. “It seemed like a whole other world! But with the advent of movie-making tools that the average person could use, this work became possible.”
FLOOD, THEN FIRE
O’Donnell and her husband, Miceal, a member of the Coast Guard, delved more heavily into filmmaking after he was sent to New Orleans following the September 11 attacks. There, the couple found a community of filmmakers and artists, and they became collaborators on each other’s projects.
Then Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005. Their home had minor flood damage, but nearly a year later, a neighbor’s house caught fire. The fire was put out, with no damage to the O’Donnell’s home.
“But the next night, it was like a bomb went off in the same house,” she said. The huge fire, on June 6, 2006, destroyed five houses on the block, two of them owned by the O’Donnells.
O’Donnell said there was a rash of fires at that time, purportedly set by people who had no flood insurance to help repair their hurricane-damaged homes.
“We were working on our first big movie and then everything happened – the stuff we lost, the people we lost – everything changed,” she said.
They couldn’t afford to rebuild – the mortgage company was holding the insurance money until 90 percent of the work could be completed, but O’Donnell said building material costs had skyrocketed. The couple lived with friends, surviving on savings and money Eileen brought in as a real estate agent. They continued to work on their movie, Jack and the Dead Girl, and the hurricane destruction proved to be a great backdrop for some of the scenes.
“It was sort of like a healing process, trying to get back to some semblance of normality through working,” she said. “Working on this movie helped us all get back on track.”
The couple stayed in New Orleans until 2010, then moved to Baltimore when Eileen’s sister needed help with her three children. O’Donnell is now their nanny.
“It works out great for me,” said O’Donnell, an active ceramic sculptor. “I get to hang out with the kids, and I have time to go to my studio at the Baltimore Clayworks, and work on films.” She also enjoys rock climbing at a gym and climbing boulders in the Maryland woods.
Blue Light is the first web series by the O’Donnell’s company, Cagesafe Productions. It’s O’Donnell’s first role as lead actress.
“Acting was never anything I sought to do, but when we moved from New Orleans, we lost the ability to work with a lot of the great actors we knew there,” she said. “Miceal teaches an acting class, and I took his class and we rehearsed a lot to get my skills up to speed.
“Once I could fully understand and sympathize with what Millie was going through, I was able to use events from my own life to fuel her screams.”
See the trailer for Blue Light here.
Watch the teaser here.