He walked around the studio and took in the sights. The sets were up and the camera sat patiently on the tripod, ready for filmmaker and director Chris Zuhdi to utilize in capturing his first feature film, "Goodnight, Charlene."
The film, which premieres today in Los Angeles at the historic Arena Cinelounge, will run for a week and is being reviewed by the Los Angeles Times.
"It's a crime fiction thriller so it's basically a more modern version of the old film noir movies back in the day like the 1940s and early 1950s like 'Sunset Boulevard' so it's kind of in that crime fiction tradition but it's set not quite contemporary...and it's in a small border town in West Texas," Zuhdi said.
The 82 minute long movie features Charlie Potter (Chris Zuhdi), a mechanic married to the beautiful but sketchy Charlene (Melanie Man Millan).
Zuhdi explained Charlie is a hard working honest man just trying to please his wife and save money to move her somewhere more exciting. Little does Charlie know Charlene is having an affair with Billy (Daniel Ross Owens) and the two are plotting his demise.
"Just like in those old film noir the plot never goes according to plan and it kind of starts to unravel," Zuhdi said.
Born and raised in Shawnee and now residing in Fort Worth, Texas, the filmmaker explained he wrote the script nearly 15 years ago after graduating from film school at The University of Oklahoma. He said the story was inspired by his job at a golf course and his hometown of Shawnee.
"So just during that period after I graduated I started to get the idea and piece it together and then I really liked Downtown Shawnee, especially some of the really old art deco buildings like the Aldridge and it just inspired me to set it in small town America in the passed...," he said.
The director said though he wrote it in 2002, he wanted to wait for cameras to advance so his low budget film would be better quality.
Production for "Goodnight, Charlene" began last summer and the filmmaker explained the best aspect of the production process was seeing the film adapt.
"You have a certain movie that's playing in your head...but then when you actually go into reality and you're working with real people, real situations, real scenes and you start actually making the movie...this whole different thing starts to emerge...," Zuhdi said.
Since he was young Zuhdi has wanted to make movies and explained for him the best aspect of his profession is bringing his imagination to life.
"I think everybody kind of has a dream world that we walk around with. You have memories, nostalgia, places you've been and places you'd like to go and we all carry that with us," Zuhdi said. "It's kind of cool as a filmmaker that it's sort of the closest you can actually get to living a dream in the sense that you actually get to dream something up but then...you can make that dream a reality."
However, Zuhdi said, filmmaking and directing is not without its challenges. There are several moving parts and a million decisions to make which in the end affect the overall quality of the movie.
"I hope it's a breath of fresh air. For this particular film I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel and show people something they've absolutely never seen before...what I am hoping is that it brings people back to traditional film making...back in the 40s and 50s when there wasn't cussing," Zuhdi said. "There wasn't nudity or sex. There's were good stories, there was good character development, there was interesting cinematography and it transported you to a different world for an hour or hour and a half."
In addition to writing and directing "Goodnight, Charlene," Zuhdi also starred in the film as Charlie.
"It was pretty chaotic. I would set the camera up and set up the lights and check the audio levels and then I would jump in the shot and I would run lines. It was definitely a lot," he said.
Zuhdi said his casting director, Kina Bale-Reed, put together a talented group of actors who captured his characters well. However that meant more pressure to make the movie a great feature.
"I remember showing up at the studio and I remember walking around the inside of the sound stage and looking around and just thinking 'what have I gotten myself into,"' Zuhdi said.
The director said he had been working to his goal for so long and now that it had arrived it was daunting because he essentially had to learn how to make a movie.
However, the other actors and the crew made the process fun and Zuhdi said together everyone made a great film.
Zuhdi is planning a limited release in Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin and here in Shawnee sometime in February or March.
Currently Zuhdi is working on his second feature film and he's hoping it'll be a bigger footprint in his career.
However, he's grateful for the inspiration Shawnee gave him and said he'll always remember where he came from.
"Your roots are only going to be one place and you can live in all kinds of places and like it and get adjusted but there's something special about your roots and as time goes on they get more special," Zuhdi said.
"Goodnight, Charlene" is now available to download on Amazon.