Photo Courtesy Kitsann Means

Lights, Thunder, Action

Local director shoots genre-bending short film in Eugene

Kitsann Means’ first memory is of red vinyl. 

She had fallen asleep pressed against the curve of a casino restaurant booth in Reno, Nevada. Means grew up immersed in casino life, surrounded by feathery plumes and comedy acts and eccentric entertainers, her own mother among them. 

Her childhood has influenced her work as a writer and director, including her newest project.Thundercloud Lane, one of three films in an upcoming trilogy written and directed by Means, is being filmed over a period of 10 days here in Eugene. 

The film will star professional actors Gabriella Noble, Maureen Kedes and Sandy Hackett, son of famed comedian Buddy Hackett. The three hail from a range of previous experiences that include acting, improv and comedy. 

Thundercloud Lane centers on a family of three. Russell, played by Hackett, is a comedian who has retired and returned home from life on the road after the death of his beloved comedic partner. Esther, played by Kedes, is a painter who must readjust to married life with Russell in the same home. Donna, played by Noble, is their daughter — a kombucha-loving, country-fair-going Eugenean, as Means describes her. 

Russell’s traditional views clash with Donna’s eclectic lifestyle, and Esther is forced to play the middleman. Tensions rise even further when Donna announces she is going to marry herself and invites her parents to the wedding. The film ends with several surprises, which Kedes endearingly refers to in an interview as “juicy bombs of information.”

All three films in Means’ trilogy, including Thundercloud Lane, will explore the different ways that intimacy manifests itself, the relationships between mothers and daughters and the well-intentioned but misguided decisions people make regarding those they love. 

The mother-daughter relationships are inspired by Means’ relationship with her mother, whom she describes as “complex and interesting and amazing and negligent.” The relatively older casting is influenced by Means’ childhood connections to older people, including her grandmother who raised her. And Russell’s character is a nod to Means’ Nevada upbringing. 

“All these characters are bits of me,” Means says. “This was my life. So there’s lots of color there, born of pain.”

Means chose to shoot Thundercloud Lane in Eugene to achieve a Pacific Northwest feel. The title is a nod to the street the family lives on, which was inspired by the very real Thunder Cloud Drive in Eugene. It is also an indication to audiences, Means says, that “the storm is coming.” 

Oak Hill School, an independent K-12 school in Eugene, serves as home base for Thundercloud Lane’s cast and crew. Means teaches theater at the school, which has a very active film department and high-quality equipment. The school is funding the cost of the less than $5,000 film, alongside private donors. Many of Means’ Oak Hill School students are working as crew members on the film and get to watch and learn from the professional actors throughout the process. 

Two Eugene houses are being used for Esther’s art studio and the bedroom. The wedding scene is being shot around Mount Pisgah on the trails and at the riverbank in the park. The entire 40-minute “long short” is being filmed in 10 back-to-back days. The crew arrives at 6:30 am, and shooting wraps up when the sun goes down. Nick Lackides, cinematographer for Thundercloud Lane, is taking the challenge in stride. 

“The less options you have, the more creative you become,” Lackides says. 

Means initially intended to go to Italy to shoot The Prompt, a different installation of the trilogy, this summer. She changed course because of the COVID-19 pandemic and plans to go next summer. The other film, La Ultima Pluma, was shot in 2019 in Mexico. 

She describes La Ultima Pluma as a “visual feast,” full of popping color, handheld camera movement and drag queens. Thundercloud Lane is exploring a completely different style, with long takes, intentional camera placement and natural lighting.

Means plans to release all three films as a set of shorts when the trilogy is complete, though she’s unsure when exactly that will be. For now, her focus is on creating a body of work that is true to her vision and will make people’s eyes light up when they see it. 

“I love to watch the audience,” Means says. “That’s the whole reason we do it. It’s a gift to the audience.”