Filmmaker has independent spirit
By Robyn Jackson, MS Accent Online Magazine
Dana Elise is the epitome of the independent filmmaker. Not only did she write and direct her first full-length feature, “Cagin of Chrysaint,” she also financed it with credit cards, bargain-shopped for all the props and even sewed most of the costumes.
The Hattiesburg resident debuted “Cagin of Chrysaint” last weekend at the Petal Civic Center. She plans to enter the film in Christian film festivals, including the KingdomWood Christian Film Festival in October. She attended that festival in 2008 with a short film she had produced and made some good contacts there.
“Cagin of Chrysaint” is a Christian allegory heavily inspired by other Christian allegories such as C.S. Lewis’ “The Narnia Chronicles,” and J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings.” It is set in a medieval land very much like Ireland, and is a love story about a girl, Princess Cagin (Carrie Harris), who receives an amulet from a man named D’arc (Bryan Sellers) that forever binds their souls together. When his forbidden Garlach heritage is discovered, he is exiled. With the unexpected death of the king, the Garlachs attack and Cagin must marry the new Chrysaintian king, whoever he may be. Cagin tries to relinquish her love for D’arc and turns to her faith for the sake of her crown and her people.
Dana Elise (she prefers not to use her last name professionally) earned a bachelor’s degree in mass communication and journalism with an emphasis in film from the University of Southern Mississippi. She wrote “Cagin of Chrysaint” for a screenwriting class in the spring of 2004, and spent the next five years polishing the script. Filming began in May 2008 and concluded in April 2010. Most of it was filmed at Kings Arrow Ranch in Lumberton, where she was able to use some existing structures for sets.
She financed the film herself, using money she made from her day job or her credit cards, and buying only what was needed for the next day’s shooting.
“I did not outline a budget,” she said. “I pretty much got what I could with my paychecks to film the scenes we needed to film that weekend. I had many costumes made long before we started shooting, and props, too. I would shop clearance sales and sometimes I’d use my Visa card. I financed my camera, the Canon XL-2, by my Dell credit card, which is now finally paid off. Woo hoo!”
Dana Elise is one of only a handful of students who have tackled a feature-length project, said Dr. Scott Dixon McDowell, her professor in the USM film program.
“The advent of high quality lower cost digital video equipment makes this kind of project more realistic,” McDowell said. “The cost of film and processing alone for a feature film can run into thousands of dollars. With digital, these funds can be redirected to other production costs. If the filmmaker can recruit volunteer actors and crew, it becomes possible to complete a film for the cost of a good used car. Of course, a costume drama increases these costs, but Dana is also a talented seamstress. If anyone can pull this off, it is Dana.”
Music was composed by Petch Lucas and recorded by Ben West.
She was pursuing a different major in junior college but felt it didn’t suit her. When she entered USM, she switched majors.
“I thought film would be fun, and since I loved movies, I decided to give it a shot,” she said. “I ended up loving film school, and I felt like at last I found a huge part of me, maybe even a calling.”
She has always had a vivid imagination.
“It’s hard to say when I became a filmmaker,” she said. “I remember putting on pretend plays with my twin sister, Dina, as a young kid. We also wanted to snag the video camera and re-create our favorite movies, but my parents never quite trusted us with the camera. Growing up, my family’s main form of entertainment was gathering around the TV and watching movies and going to the theater almost every weekend.”
As she grew up, she refused to abandon her creativity.
“At the age of 12, kids at school around me were saying it wasn’t cool to pretend or play anymore. If you still played with dolls, you were lame. Well, I ignored that because my imagination and play time was the only way I could deal with stress and was an escape. Around that time, I realized I liked to write stories and novels. During summer vacation, I’d spend 10 hours a day writing with a pen and paper on my stories and story ideas. I wanted to put my imagination on paper, but I still played with Barbie dolls until I was 15, and I still do with my niece. So the point, I guess, is that I do believe that my interests and art grew out of exercising my imagination as a kid.”
Dana Elise was a good student with a clear vision of the type of film she wanted to make, McDowell said.
“After graduation, Dana continued to work on several film projects in the fantasy genre. Most were short, but featured the use of detailed period costumes that Dana made herself. I was not surprised that she eventually decided to do a feature length project. Although the challenges associated with a film of this length multiply exponentially, she wanted to tell a bigger story.”
Dana Elise said the message of her story is to look to your faith to make major decisions, something she does in her own life.
“I do not claim to be a saint or the best of Christians by any means,” she said. “My faith is in my soul, it cannot be separated from me, and as a writer, you write what you know. I cannot imagine trying to write a screenplay in which not a single character has her faith to lean on. It would be impossible.”
Hattiesburg filmmaker discusses “Cagin of Chrysaint”
By Colleen Donovan, WDAM Channel 7 Mississippi News
Starting on Tuesday, you can purchase a movie that was written, directed and produced by a Pine Belt native and it was also filmed locally.
The picture is called “Cagin of Chrysaint,” and it tells the story of a young Christian princess named Cagin, who is burdened by a romantic dilemma.
In addition to that, her medieval village is coping with being a recently converted Christian community. Actress Carrie Leigh Harris of Lucedale portrays the title character of Cagin.
Harris talked about the movies success so far. She said, “I’m super excited. It’s gone way beyond my expectations. I took it on as a fun project and it’s blown into this huge deal, something that I don’t think any of us expected.”
The film’s story is the brainchild of a 2005 graduate of Southern Miss, Dana Elise. The Hattiesburg native first started working on the project as a Southern Miss student, but in 2008 filming the final version began and it wrapped up last spring.
The film is being marketed and distributed by URC Media Studios. “Cagin of Chrysaint” is the first Christian film the studio has promoted, and that is important to Elise.
Elise said, “You know why leave God out of the movies. He is out of a lot of movies now and the Christian audience is hungry for more Christian films, and it is an industry that is growing and needs to grow and I am definitely going to stay with Christian material for the rest of my life and I will not do anything else.”
If you would like to watch “Cagin of Chrysaint” you can pick it up at Walmart stores or by logging onto www.amazon.com.