One of the newest independent action movies continues to make the rounds at international film festivals, and people are starting to take notice. If you enjoy movies with action, mystery, and suspense, then you will most likely enjoy The Pineville Heist. Starring Basil Hoffman, Presley Massara, Carl Bailey, and Priscilla-Anne Forder, The Pineville Heist is directed and co-written by Lee Chambers. Thus far, the movie has been featured at 41 festivals and events, it has been nominated over 60 times, and it has garnered 29 awards including the Grand Jury Award at the Honolulu Film Festival.
The Pineville Heist has received favorable reviews on IMDb, and the site provides the premise for one of the best action movies on the independent circuit.
“Seventeen-year-old Aaron Stevens stumbles into the aftermath of a five million dollar bank heist gone wrong. Hiding under a canoe, Aaron partially catches the murder of one of the robbers. In the chaos he sneaks away with the money and heads straight for the closest place of safety, his high school. Terrified, Aaron tells his shocking tale to Amanda Becker, his drama teacher, but it doesn’t take long for one of the psychotic robbers to show up. In the locked down school the pair are relentlessly pursued in a quest to get the money back and wipe out the evidence.”
As a kid, Lee Chambers started filming stories with his video camera and he made comics with his friend, Graham Annable, and they would sell them in small press trades. They had a cartoon strip running in about a dozen newspapers. Graham went into animation and was nominated for the Oscars and Golden globes as co-director of The Boxtrolls. Lee would become a teacher of screenwriting, producing, and directing at a film school in Canada, and The Pineville Heist is his first feature-length movie. This reporter had the pleasure of speaking with Lee Chambers and he shared how The Pineville Heist came to be.
“It was originally a short story idea about a kid under a canoe I wrote a long time ago. In 2008, I went to the Cannes Film Festival and talked to distributors and producers on what sells. I immediately came back from Cannes and wrote a treatment when the idea to get the story into the high school came up. The high school itself is a character, and helped create that ‘big feel.'”
Born in Canada and a dual citizen of the U.K., Lee Chambers has made several short films, like Eyes on the Road which also stars Priscilla-Anne Forder, and most of them are comedy. He explained why he decided to do an action movie for his first feature film.
“I liked comedy in the short medium, but when talking to distributors at Cannes in 2008, comedy doesn’t always translate to other markets. But a genre film—action, horror, or thriller—can be relatable anywhere. I really enjoyed directing it!”
It’s often difficult for independent filmmakers to get the location that they truly desire for their story. Lee explained how he used two locations for the one setting in The Pineville Heist, and the hard work it took to create the high school.
“Most of the movie was filmed in Thunder Bay [Ontario, Canada], where I live and work. The high school was closed down and was around the corner from my place—perfect! They were gonna rip the insides out of the building to make condos; they started in the third floor and were onto the second, but they put that on hold so I could film.
“It was empty, so we had to clean and decorate. I borrowed a ton of chairs, tables, desks, filing cabinets, etc. from the college, and the art team painted the walls and added Pineville branding. It took a month to prep, and then a month to film. Man, the students and grads I had on it were fantastic! They shoot their thesis films in three long days, and to go a month is a massive change for them. It was exhausting, but awesome!
“With CG we placed the school in the little town of Red Rock. It’s an hour east of Thunder Bay. Lots of the driving scenes were filmed out that way; loved the rock bluff. It felt American to me. Even though I am a Canadian, I still wanted it to be an American story.”
When asked why he wanted The Pineville Heist to be an American story, Lee gave a humorous response.
“Do you watch movies about Canadian cops? But really, walking around the Cannes Film Festival or American Film Market, I realized I need to make it sellable. People around the world know the feeling of a U.S. thriller and it’s more sellable. Plus, I was born on the border of America. I spent lots of time there and I was influenced by U.S. media and movies.”
Chambers explained the difficulties of getting independent movies funded. Often, novels are made into movies; Lee did the opposite with The Pineville Heist.
“Canada has lots of pots of money, but after chasing my tail for four years, I didn’t get a dime. As a first time feature-director, I was considered the biggest risk. There were producers who wanted to take the movie from me. I told them to ‘f*** off.’ Everyone who makes their first feature has to fight like crazy to get it made. I thought to myself, ‘I can’t wait for people to let me direct my debut movie. I just need to do it no matter the budget.’ So I set my date of June 2, 2014, and busted my a** to get to camera—and I did!
“My smart move was turning the screenplay into a book. It helped build an audience and it attracted angel investors. It was a companion piece to the script on my vision as a director. It sold over 42,000 copies in paperback, audiobook, and ebook formats. I was getting messages from readers from around the world that loved the story. Most people can relate to high school; imagine being a teen in that situation in the story.
“Had I received Canadian funding, I would have had to of hired Canadian actors and the like. So I wouldn’t have been able to use [music composer] Fabio [who composed many of Chambers’ shorts], or casted Priscilla, Jacob, Presley, Carl, my editor, etc. Being all private meant that I had 100 percent control. It think it’s a better movie because I had full creative control.”
Lee Chambers is a true inspiration. He had a lifelong dream of creating movies and never lost sight of that. He went from being a child who filmed stories and created comic strips, to teaching his passion at a film school, to creating one of the best independent thriller and action movies. To find out when The Pineville Heist hits distribution, and to see all the latest from Lee Chambers, you can follow him on Twitter.
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[Featured Image by Jetlag Pictures]