The Movie That Took 10 Years To Make

Once upon a time, about a decade or so ago, my daughter, Sarah, and I saw the musical film, “Mamma Mia” at our local theatre.  We loved the ABBA music and the amazing ensemble cast of stars but were a bit disappointed in the storyline.  I commented to her as we walked out, that we should make a cute romantic musical film, but we should use Michael Bublé favorites to guide the storyline . . . so, we did.

In December of 2008, Sarah and my husband, Billy drove nearly 3 hours to pick me up from the airport in New Orleans.  We were in Louisiana for Christmas break.  On the return trip, we listened to a new Michael Bublé Christmas EP.  And so it began.  

The entire road trip, we brainstormed what the storyline would be.  We talked about possible music choices and by the time we arrived at Granny’s for Christmas the shell of an idea was pretty well developed.

For the next few days, Sarah listened to every song that Mr. Bublé has ever recorded and came up with 17 songs that told the story we were creating.  We returned home to Tennessee and for the next 10 days, Sarah wrote the script for the film.  Often she would write very late into the night and sleep all morning, only to get up and do it again the next day.  She was fierce.  After two weeks, she had a 96+ page script with all the songs selected that flowed perfectly along in the story.  We started pre-production.  We called this new musical venture . . . SWAY.

Sarah’s dad and I funded the very low budget, indie film and there were thousands of details to work out!

Sarah shared the project with one of her good friends, Roxie.  Sarah gave her an overview of the plans and Roxie was really excited.  One afternoon, she called Sarah to tell her that she went to school with a guy who had to play the lead male role.  She had met Jay in the cafeteria at Austin Peay State University.  He was a music major and sang Bublé tunes perfectly.  We met him in Leiper’s Fork for an audition and he was definitely an easy casting decision.  He sang, he danced, he played piano and he was quite handsome.  Jay was the perfect leading man.

Next, we reached out to Mr. Bob King.  He was the head of the media department at our local high school.  He was an expert in everything film related and we asked him to be our Director of Photography.  He very politely declined and put us in touch with two film school students:  Josh and Jonathan.  We had a great meeting with them – SwB Crew (Josh and Jonathan’s company) was on board for production. 

In the meantime, we had to get started with the recording for the soundtrack.  The music had to be done first so that all the scenes could match up exactly with the tempo and lyrics.  A colleague of mine put us in touch with Jim Frazier who agreed to produce the CD.  Sarah and Jay recorded all 17 songs for the film and Jim did a great job polishing the music for inclusion in the film.

Sarah returned to college for the second semester of her freshman year at Catawba College in Salisbury, North Carolina.  She began to talk up this project to her fellow thespians in the Theatre Department and a few signed on.  She got Nicole Durant, Betsy Foster, Canaan Cox as well as the twins, Zach and Quinn McRae to take on roles.  She talked to the theatre department, and while they weren’t interested in working with us,  the music department definitely was engaged and was “instrumental” in assisting with professors, stages, instruments, and extras.  I flew out and we held our first (and only) casting call.  We cast everyone who showed up and auditioned.

We decided to film the first half of the story in Salisbury.  So, in May of 2009, we contracted for a week to film at Catawba, a local dance studio, a club, an auditorium, Nicole’s house, and on the grounds of the college.  It would prove to be an amazing, but exhausting week.  

The second half of the film would be set in and around Nashville.  We filmed in the Summer/Fall of 2009 at the Parthenon, on a tour bus, a record store, a pizza place, an art exhibit, a ritzy hotel, a church, streets of downtown, and in private homes.  We had so many friends and family members jump in to assist us.

With production completed, we moved into post-production and by this point, we’d run out of money (and room on our credit cards).  We prayed about it and decided to do a Kickstarter campaign to help with expenses for editing the film.  There was such an amazing response.  We had so many family members (Denise & Lance Coy and Joni & Shawn Holland) step us to make significant donations as well as folks that we had never met like Mary Luongo and Jennifer Frazier.  It truly was a God thing that we reached our goal and just in time.  

In Spring of 2010, Sarah transferred to a new college closer to home so that we could finish the movie and release it.  She spent the entire first-semester, when she wasn't in class, teaching herself how to edit and completed the first rough draft of the film.

Then God seemed to say, “Wait!”  And we did. For a very long time.

No matter what we tried to get the ball rolling, we met one brick wall after another.  For a very long time.  Years, actually.

Finally, in the Fall of 2015, we attempted once again to at least finish the CD of the soundtrack for SWAY and it worked.  No roadblocks.  We secured licensing and released the CD in February 2016.  We mailed copies to everyone who either financially supported us or to those who were in the film.  We put it online for sale and sold 2 copies.  That was it!

With such great “momentum,” we moved forward to release the film.  The synchronization licensing costs were prohibitive, so we finished it up, packaged it, and once again, mailed it out to donors and cast & crew by March of 2016.  We simply give it away whenever someone requests a copy.

It truly was such a fantastic ride.  We learned so much, made so many new friends, and completed our very first full-length, musical, motion picture.  There are definitely things that we would do differently if given another chance.  But SWAY will always have a very special place in our hearts.

- Diane LeJeune

Sarah LeJeune