Local high school graduate Jesse Steele is making good on his dream of working in the movies in L.A. and recently celebrated the premier of his first feature film.
Steele has been somewhat of a local celebrity, working on his own television program, “Get Real with Jesse Steele” when he was still in high school and moving on to theater productions put on by the Inyo Council for the Arts and Playhouse 395.
About two years ago, Steele moved to Southern California in an effort to further his career.
While it hasn’t been all glitz and glamor since then, he has appeared in numerous short films, commercials and most recently, a feature-length production.
Steele said he began getting serious about a career in the film industry while attending Big Pine School. When he realized the school couldn’t land him a job in his preferred profession (playing basketball with the Los Angeles Lakers), Steele began focusing on his second choice: film or television.
The school hooked him up with a Job Shadow Day assignment at the local Channel 12 television station, where he got his first professional look at the behind-the-scenes work that goes into public access programming.
Steele segued the one-day “internship” into a gig hosting the variety/talk show “Get Real with Jesse Steele” for close to two years.
TV station employees Freida Lindsey and Jennifer Ellis oversaw the production, helping Steele – a natural on camera – learn the basics of editing and recording.
It was apparent to viewers and colleagues that Steele had found his calling.
According to Steele, it was all part of what felt like a natural progression.
“When I was a kid, I had a camera and I was always making short films,” Steele said. “Whenever Big Pine had a play, I’d audition, then when I was 17, I started doing ‘Get Real with Jesse Steele.’”
After high school, Steele attended college in Sacramento before returning to Inyo County.
Back on home turf, he began getting more involved in community theater and worked for a time at Channel 12.
More recently, Steele moved down to Irvine to seriously pursue his career in film and acting.
In late 2010, Steele landed the starring role in an independent film titled “The Sandman,” directed by Stephen Cunanne.
The movie is about the fabled Sandman, one of the only beings able to travel between the fantasy world and the human world. Despite his power to encourage sleep and dreams with his famed sand, the Sandman longs for a normal life in the human world, where he can live and love under the sunshine.
But before he is able to lay down his duties, his boss, Father Time, sends him on a mission to acquire three objects from the fantasy realm.
Steele said he landed the lead role through his performance as “Bottom” in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at a Shakespeare Festival in San Juan Capistrano.
Coincidentally, Shakespeare’s famed play is based on a similar premise of fantasy worlds and the human world melding for a night.
Steele said that his performance as Bottom, which he landed due to his mastery and range with facial expressions, made such an impact on directors and producers at the playhouse that was hosting it, that he was eventually cast as a replacement for another actor, in another play.
When the director for “The Sandman” contacted the playhouse looking for somewhere to hold auditions for the movie, Cunanne also asked if there were any actors who might be interested in auditioning.
Naturally, Steele was at the top of the playhouse’s list.
Steele said he went to the audition and read, was asked to make a couple adjustments, and re-read the lines he was given. From there, he was sent home and it wasn’t long before he got a call informing him that he got the lead role.
On Oct. 1, 2010, Steele began shooting the movie.
“Every single shot, except one, is at night,” Steele said. “We shot for six months and there were four or five more months of pick-up shots.”
Steele said the challenge was working his day job, then heading to the set at night, but in the end, it was all worth it.
“That’s the challenge about acting, you have to work too,” he said.
“I met a lot of cool actors and was hired as an assistant editor for post-production,” Steel said, pointing out that his work with the local TV network gave him the experience and ability to continue working on the film even after shooting had wrapped.
Steele was even able to bring a friend who is a composer, Jason Fernandez, on board to write the score for “The Sandman.”
“He is just a ridiculously talented guy,” Steele said. “It makes me sad for the world that there are people out there like him that you’ve never heard of.”
“The Sandman” is currently getting exposure in international film festivals and Steele said he is hoping, eventually, to have a screening locally.
Since wrapping up the production, he has moved on to do a number of commercials and short films, and, as always, he has at least a couple personal projects in the works.
Steele is working with friends and Inyo County Film Commissioner Chris Langley on a couple projects locally, including one that he will be in town working on this month, scheduled to shoot exclusively at Laws Railroad Museum.
Steele will be holding a casting session for that short film from 6-9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 24 at the Highlands Rec Center in Bishop. Anyone who is interested in participating is invited to visit stainlessfilms.com.
A second project, which Steele is writing with a friend, is still coming together, but he said it will be a Western written to be shot completely in the Owens Valley, utilizing as many of the different settings as the Eastern Sierra has to offer.
Steele will be looking for local thespians and other residents with an interest in film when he comes to shoot at Laws. See future issues of The Inyo Register for more information on that project.
Steele said anyone who is interested in pursuing a career in film needs to hunker down and practice their art.
“You have to focus, don’t wait on other people,” he said. “Playhouse 395 is fantastic. But you can also do it yourself, go make a movie and do the best you can, nobody can tell you you can’t be in your own movie.”
Steele said young thespians who audition for a role in community theater or any other production and don’t get it should not get discouraged. He said if someone is denied a role, they should pursue an opportunity to work as a stage hand, or an assistant, “and pay attention, watch how they’re telling the story, and watch the person who was cast, and see how they’re doing it differently.”
For Steele, the biggest challenge is deciding how to move forward. He spent his young life studying every aspect of film, from directing or writing, to acting and editing.
He said one of the best pieces of advice he has received in his career is to focus on the one thing that he is most interested in.
“My love is just making movies, and I just want to be a part of it,” he said.