They laughed out loud – a couple of elves , the dark queen and the human sitting at the head of the picnic table surrounded by very real, heavy and lengthy swords. She was telling a joke that had the group in stitches.
Passersby glanced at the horses dressed in royal regalia. They stopped and stared at the human-like creature painted completely blue all the way to the top of her pointy ears.
When Shari Prestwood holds a staff meeting, it tends to turn heads, even when held deep in the woods.
Prestwood and her cast of characters have spent much of the past year re-imaging the lost years of King Arthur through the movie, “Beyond the Myst,” being filmed in Baldwin County.
Prestwood, well known throughout Baldwin and Mobile counties for her work with the Mobile Ballet, Joe Jefferson Players and in the theatre department at the University of South Alabama, has spent the last several years writing the book, “Beyond the Myst,” with the help of two other authors.
When her husband passed away several years ago, her close friends gave her a very special gift, she says, the gift of work.
“My husband had just died the year before so they were kind of looking for something to make me think of something else,” she says. “So they gave me the gift of a major project to undertake.”
The project has blossomed into dozens of weekends sweltering in the Alabama summer sun to film Empress Morgana plotting in the deep woods, as elves disappear in and out of the forest’s undergrowth. There are horses, and sweeping battle scenes yet to be filmed. There are choreographed sword fights in which the weapons are every bit as heavy and real as they look.
The costumes are handcrafted, often by specialty companies overseas that painstakingly recreate historically accurate armor patterns. Every detail is meticulously planned to pull viewers into the medieval world.
Every volunteer, stage hand and even the horses are volunteers.
“People are very generous with their time and talent,” Prestwood said. “We get people from all walks of life. You meet people you would have never met before with unique talents. They are all so excited and that makes me feel good.”
Organizations such as the Church of the Redeemer have loaned costume pieces. Fort Conde and Blakeley State Park have been the backdrops of many scenes. A composer in Texas is crafting the film’s score while a New Orleans based videographer is adding the special effects that make those magical scenes all the more glittering.
With cooler weather set in the cast will begin filming large battle scenes that require more characters and lots of extras. Prestwood is hosting a casting call this Saturday in Foley at the Copper Kettle Tea Bar to fill those slots.
“The more the merrier, we really want to show off people’s talent,” Prestwood said. “Everybody has a little bit of dress up inside of them.”
Once finished, the film will be released online as a series of webisodes, with the first expected to air in January.
As more costumed volunteers arrive and join the crowd at the table during that autumn rehearsal there are more laughs. More fun. More friendships made. That, Prestwood said, is what she hopes the movie can bring to everyone.
“In our world everything is so dark. The King Arthur legend was always a ray of hope, that good will overcome. This film is our ray of hope,” Prestwood said. “Good will overcome. We hope people see that. The world is not all dark. There is a ray of light at the end of it.”