By Kaitlyn Von Behren, Current Staff
As six-year-old Saleem Soden tried to sink a putt at a mini golf course, the cameras were rolling, the lights were on, and everyone was watching.
Saleem and his mother Hadwat acted as extras in “Another Yesterday,” a feature film directed by Steven Heil in Oshkosh throughout the month of October. Hadwat and Saleem are the wife and son of Joel Soden, a math teacher at West Bend East High School.
“I remember Hadwat and Saleem very well, they were absolutely wonderful!,” Heil said. “They didn’t have any speaking lines, but they were incredibly kind, patient, and enthusiastic.”
Saleem told The Current that he was excited and a little scared to act in the film.
The Soden family got involved with “Another Yesterday” through word of mouth. A mutual friend of Heil and the Sodens contacted Hadwat to ask if she and Saleem would like to help with the film.
“Saleem was excited before, and he was excited after,” Joel said. “He really enjoyed the experience.”
Being part of a film was a first for both Hadwat and Saleem. While Hadwat took a high school drama class to learn about acting and playwriting, she never participated in the school plays or choir.
“I almost didn’t do it, but my son was excited and he really wanted to be in a movie,” Hadwat said. “I ended up doing it because that’s what he wanted to do.”
“Another Yesterday” revolves around the life of a Japanese American high school student named Akira who has just moved into a new town and transferred schools. It details his relationship with his parents and his new friends, a shunned girl named Elizabeth and a gay student named Scott.
The character of Elizabeth is coping with something weird and supernatural, according to Heil. Scott is experiencing difficulty both at home and at school due to a lack of acceptance for his sexual orientation.
Japanese culture also plays a major role in the plot of “Another Yesterday.”
“Akira has a passion for art, which his father rejects,” Heil said. “In kind of a tit for tat response, he rejects his father’s interests in traditional Japanese spirituality and culture, so he doesn’t get along with his father too well. All of those plotlines stress the themes of acceptance, forgiveness, and the importance of kindness.”
“Another Yesterday” is Heil’s first full-length movie, although he previously directed the short film “The Order” along with many music videos. He said those experiences taught him what he needed to know before he directed his first feature film.
“I got my first little video camera around fifth or sixth grade or something and was always making little movies with my friends growing up,” Heil said. “And then, of course, by college it was much more serious projects.”
Filmmaking is a mutual interest in the Heil family. Heil’s mother Diane majored in filmmaking at Columbia College Chicago and his father Douglas teaches filmmaking and scriptwriting at University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.
Heil’s favorite directors include Sergio Leone, Akira Kurosawa, Shinichiro Watanabe, Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg, Joe Wright, Frank Capra, David O’Russell, Kenji Mizoguchi, Alfred Hitchcock, Hayao Miyazaki, and Kyōhei Ishiguro. But his main influence is closer to home.
“I probably learned the most from my father,” he said.
Heil has learned strategies for making films from his father since childhood. Heil’s mother and father also co-produced “Another Yesterday.”
Heil was raised in Oshkosh and is pleased to have directed “Another Yesterday” there.
“Oshkosh really has a lot to offer location-wise,” Heil said. “It’s a small city, but it’s right on the lake. It’s got a river going through it. It’s got a lot of really interesting locations and it worked totally super well for us. Another wonderful thing about Wisconsin is the fall colors.”
Heil is happy to have grown up in Oshkosh because of the friends he made there. They remained supportive even as his videos evolved from a hobby to a prospective career.
Heil encourages aspiring filmmakers to continue watching and making films in order to develop their own individual style of filmmaking and get lots of practice.
“One of the best things a writer can do is to take his or her own personal experiences from life and externalize them into stories,” he adds.
For actors and actresses, being active with the Screen Actors Guild, continuing to audition, and joining an agency are all important for furthering careers, he said.
“I really appreciate all the students from [West Bend High Schools] who came and appeared as extras in this movie,” Heil said. “It really adds a lot, and makes the high school in the movie seem a lot more alive and believable.”
“Another Yesterday” will be released in the summer of 2017, although rights for distribution (like movie theaters and Netflix) are not finalized yet. Unlike Hollywood movies, “Another Yesterday” will finalize distribution during its film festival run. That’s a traditional path for independent projects.
“Filmmaking is so beautiful to me,” Heil said. “You take something that’s inside of you, and work with a wonderful group of people. You’re all working together to make that reality and to bring it to life so that’s very special I think.”
(Photographs courtesy of Steven Heil.)