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Anna Claire Sneed – ‘A Fine Step’

In IT-Teens on February 26, 2010 at 3:14 pm

Photo by Karen Pulfer Focht // Buy this photo

Anna Claire Sneed, 15, makes her film debut in “A Fine Step” alongside another newcomer, 5-year-old Paso Fino stallion Substituto.

“He’s really very sweet,” Anna Claire says.

“When it’s done right, it can be really powerful,” director Jonathan Meyers says of movies that depict the bond between a horse and a person.

His film “A Fine Step” is shooting at locations throughout the Memphis area.

Photo by Karen Pulfer Focht
Buy this photo »

Nancy Steiner (center) and her husband, Mitchell, own the Germantown home in which much of the filming for “A Fine Step” is taking place.

Here she chats with producer Ari Palitz (left) and director Jonathan Meyers.

Locally filmed ‘A Fine Step’ is a family film with equestrian appeal

The producers of “A Fine Step,” a film now shooting in Shelby County, weren’t expecting snow and ice for their first weekend in Memphis.

The winter weather had the crew scrambling to make the best of a tough situation. But the movie’s star — a proud and strikingly tall, dark and handsome newcomer — rolled with the changes like a pro.

Cast in the film’s heroic lead role is a debuting motion-picture performer named Substituto — a 5-year-old champion Paso Fino stallion.

“He’s really very sweet,” said co-star Anna Claire Sneed, a 15-year-old Hutchison School student also making her first movie appearance.

Recent Memphis film projects have included an MTV series about bed-hopping rock stars (“$5 Cover”), a saga of terrorized teens (“Savage County”) and the story of a sexually promiscuous country girl who is chained to a radiator (“Black Snake Moan”). Originally titled “Fandango” (the name was changed this week to avoid confusion with the popular online movie ticket-buying site), “A Fine Step” is something different: a family film with an equine theme that may please horse fans of all ages and moms who remember “Black Beauty,” “National Velvet” and “My Friend Flicka,” in particular.

“There is something about the bond between a horse and a person that can really connect,” said the film’s director, Jonathan Meyers of Los Angeles, an experienced equestrian who is a fan of the horse trails in the Hollywood hills. “When it’s done right, it can be really powerful.”

Written by locals Keith Suggs and Dennis Sonnenschein (a Paso Fino champion rider whose real-life horse, Fandango, inspired the film), “A Fine Step” tells the story of an expert horseman (Luke Perry of “Beverly Hills 90210” fame) struggling to overcome the trauma of a serious accident involving himself and his top horse, Fandango.

“Any movie that doesn’t have horses in it, I’m always wishing I could be somewhere else,” said the bearded, cowboy-hatted Perry, 44, back in the saddle again on the film’s Germantown set. Perry previously played a rodeo champion in 1994’s “8 Seconds,” for “Rocky” director John G. Avildsen.

Anna Claire plays a neighbor girl who bonds with Fandango and helps rehabilitate both horse and horseman. Memphis singer Amy LaVere plays the Luke Perry character’s wife, and veteran actor Armand Assante stars as an imperious and aristocratic rival horse owner.

Roy Cash — the nephew of Johnny — has been cast in the amiable trainer role originally suggested for Ernest Borgnine.

With a budget that producer Bret Saxon said is “a work in progress” but is expected to be less than $1 million, the Insomnia Media Group production is scheduled to finish shooting in the Memphis area next week. Another week of production in Insomnia’s home base of Los Angeles will follow.

According to Saxon, about half of the shoot’s almost 150 crew members were local hires, including such veterans as key makeup-and-hair artist Alicia George, costume designer Meriwether Nichols and production designer Darian Corley.

Saxon — who recently bought a house in Memphis — wants to keep the crew busy, even after the 12-hours-plus days of the current production come to an end. He says his Insomnia Media Group plans to shoot three additional low-budget films here this year, namely, “The Master’s Tree,” inspired by Mississippi’s Palmer Home for Children, to be directed by David Mickey Evans (“The Sandlot”); the hitman suspenser “The Last Story of David Allan,” from Memphis filmmaker Justin Gullett, who is handling second unit work on “A Fine Step”; and “90 Minutes in Heaven,” inspired by the Christian best seller.

Much of the shooting on “A Fine Step” is taking place at the Germantown home of Mitchell and Nancy Steiner. The 45-acre spread includes a lake, four houses and a barn with 14 horse stalls.

The Steiners’ son, Derek, 22, is a young filmmaker who will be at the Cannes Film Festival in May as a participant in “Creative Minds in Cannes,” a prestigious filmmaking program. “One day I hope my son can go to people in the community who will help him out,” said Nancy Steiner, who acknowledged that allowing a film crew to take over one’s house for a few weeks has plenty of inconveniences. (Nobody can shower or run the washing machine while shooting is in progress because of the noise, she said.)

“We’re trying to support the Memphis film community,” she said. “They took ‘The Blind Side’ to Atlanta, and a lot of movies are going to Louisiana. The grips, the lighting professionals, the caterers — all these people here don’t work when they shoot in Atlanta to fake Memphis.”

Substituto and the 14 other horses in the film — including Fandango’s rival, a willful stallion known as Diablo — were trained by Jaime Gascon and his son, Michael, owners of the Horse Haven ranch in Poplarville, Miss., which specializes in Paso Finos, a breed with a distinctive and natural stepping gait that was brought to the New World centuries ago by the Spanish conquistadors.

“The horse, Fandango, he is the main actor,” said Cuba-born Jaime Gascon, 49, who has lived in Mississippi since he was 11. “The horse has to act scared, happy — he poses for the camera, kind of like he knows what he’s doing. He acts like he knows it’s ‘Lights, camera, action.'”

Gascon also had to train the actors to ride and work with the powerful animals. Some scenes will use stunt performers, to take dangerous falls or gallop at a risky pace.

“The horses are easier than the actors,” Gascon said. “We can communicate better. I’ve been with horses since I was 5 years old, so I guess we probably think the same.”

— John Beifuss: 529-2394

Locally filmed ‘A Fine Step’ is a family film with equestrian appeal » The Commercial Appeal.

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