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Film shot in Fremont to air on UP Network

Linda Cutts didn’t expect a rave review for her brief performances in the “12 Days of Giving” movie.

The waitress at J’s Steakhouse played the small role of a grandma in the movie filmed in Fremont last winter.

“I was taking chemo at the time and my memory was horrible and I felt like I did a horrible job memorizing the lines,” Cutts said.

But the film’s director, former Nebraskan Christine Conradt, praised performances by Cutts and other local residents in the feel-good, family Christmas movie set to premiere at 7 p.m., Eastern Time, Dec. 3 on the UP Network. A list of stations and cable providers are provided on the website.

A party is being planned during which cast and crew members can see the movie locally, said Stacy Heatherly, commissioner of the Eastern Nebraska Film Office, which was instrumental in bringing the movie to Fremont. She urges them to watch the film office’s and “12 Days of Giving” Facebook pages for more details.

The movie, which stars David Blue, Ashley Jones and Jax Connolly, is about a man who becomes a Secret Santa and befriends a boy who’s lost his father. Cast members included about 20 main actors and an estimated 120 background actors.

The California-based Expression Entertainment produced the movie.

“We’re very happy with how it turned out,” Conradt said. “The performances are fantastic from everyone.”

That includes Fremont folks.

“Linda Cutts is fantastic and Heidi Melcher — also fantastic — so natural. You really connect to them as people,” Conradt said.

Cutts was working at J’s Steakhouse when Conradt and others came in to eat. One night, Cutts saw Conradt in the hallway and they started talking about the movie. Cutts said she’d planned to audition for the grandmother part, but wasn’t able to do so.

The part hadn’t been filled.

“A gentleman called me back later that day and wanted me to come in and audition for that role,” said Cutts, who landed the part.

Cutts had three scenes all shot at Fremont Mall. In the first, she’s pleading with a store clerk to give her more time to pay for her grandchildren’s gifts on layaway. A gentleman behind her hears the conversation and — unbeknownst to her — pays for the items.

In the next scene, Grandma (Cutts) is sitting in the mall, when she gets a call that the items have been paid for and in the third she’s holding up money she would have spent on the gifts and telling a TV crew that she’s going to “Pay it Forward.”

Cutts, who’d started chemotherapy, said she wasn’t sick from the medication, but her memory wasn’t so good. So she was pleased to hear about Conradt’s comments.

“I’m glad Christine thinks I did an OK job,” Cutts said warmly.

Melcher was happy to hear Conradt’s comments about her performance, too.

“It just meant so much to me because I have no acting background,” said Melcher, who has seven lines. “I was in a church program, but no drama background, no school plays, no classes, nothing. I felt like God opened that door for whatever reason. It was huge blessing.”

Melcher, a schoolteacher in Fremont for 28 years, plays a librarian in the movie.

Scenes were filmed in Linden Elementary School.

“That was so awesome for me,” said Melcher, who attended fifth and sixth grades at Linden and later returned there for her first teaching job.

Melcher said she was nervous, because she hadn’t acted before, but said everyone, including Blue – the lead male actor – were very patient. Blue is known for his portrayal of Cliff St. Paul on TV’s “Ugly Betty.”

In the movie, the librarian (Melcher) talks to Blue’s character about getting a job. Later, they’re in a school hallway and she visits with him about a volunteer photography job.

“He was so genuine,” Melcher said of Blue. “He helped me run my lines. He said he would help with whatever, because his first movie was with Jamie Lee Curtis and she helped him and so he wanted to return the favor and help me. But from the director to the makeup person, they were all just amazing people to work with.

“I wouldn’t change my experience for anything,” Melcher noted. “It was one of the Top 10 days of my life.”

Melcher, the 8C special education teacher at Fremont Middle School, also credits Cynthia Stogdill, then a librarian at FMS, for giving her some pointers and said all the teachers helped read lines with her.

“It was a group project and it was a win for us all,” Melcher said.

Melcher also was excited because she had her own actor’s trailer.

“I took lots of pictures (of the trailer) and sent them to lots of people,” she said.

Besides Cutts and Melcher, Conradt complimented many other performers.

“I feel bad if I’ve forgotten someone, because everyone was so good,” Conradt said. “The background (actors) were mostly local Fremont people and they did such a great job.

“They were so professional, listened and followed directions and really wanted it to be a good movie and did everything we wanted them to do,” Conradt added. “Those filming days are very long and it’s hard to keep the positive attitude up when you’ve been filming for nine or 10 hours. They did a great job and you see it on the screen.”

Conradt looks forward to the film’s premiere.

“The movie looks beautiful,” Conradt said. “I think it’s a fun, family friendly film and I hope people get to enjoy it while they’re decorating their trees with family members.”

Does Conradt have a favorite scene?

“The final scene in the church is really a tear-jerker,” she said. “Overall, what I love most about the movie is just the positive message it puts out into the world. I hope people will see it and will be reminded of what the Christmas spirit is about which is compassion, generosity and breaking down the walls that we seem to have all year long, and really connect with each other again.”

Conradt wouldn’t mind returning to Fremont.

“I would love to come back and do another movie, so hopefully I can make that happen at some point,” she said.

Looking back, Cutts recalls her excitement about getting the part.

But Cutts has something else to be excited about: She’s cancer free – which is perhaps the best Christmas gift at all.

Christmas movie benefits town

Christine Conradt and Stacy Heatherly are thrilled.

Conradt, a former Fremonter, wrote and directed the movie “12 Days of Giving.”

Heatherly is commissioner of the Eastern Nebraska Film Office, which was instrumental in bringing the movie to Fremont.

The movie, filmed in Fremont last winter, is set to premiere at 7 p.m. Eastern Time, Dec. 3 on the UP Network.

This week, Conradt announced the 86-minute film’s premiere date.

The movie was sold to the UP Network, which she said has the exclusive U.S. rights to it. Conradt said she believes UP has a four-year licensing agreement and could renew that. UP can play the movie as often as it wants.

“I’m sure it will play more than once during the Christmas season,” she said.

Conradt noted something else.

“We did sell it to a foreign distributor as well and I don’t know all of the countries it will play in, but most likely Argentina, France, Germany and Italy,” she said.

Should you go to Italy to see the movie? Maybe.

“You’d better speak Italian, though, because I’m sure it will be dubbed (have a soundtrack in a different language than the original film),” Conradt said.

Conradt suggests finding a pal who has cable and a DVR (Digital Video Recorder).

“DVR actually counts toward the ratings when you watch it on DVR,” she said.

Heatherly is happy about the movie’s premiere, too.

“The Eastern Nebraska Film Office and the City of Fremont are very excited because this is our first film from start to finish,” Heatherly said. “We brought the film in. We worked together. We used the film incentive packet and now we are excited for distribution.”

Heatherly said her office and the City of Fremont designed a packet that provides incentives for films to be shot here.

Films of this size and capacity bring visitors from throughout the United States to audition and help local businesses as casts and crew spend money in Fremont. Such films also create excitement in the community, she said.

The movie might come out in a year or two as a DVD, Conradt said.

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Mythic Affinity gets scary with haunted house

As snow fell throughout Fremont on Tuesday afternoon, trick-or-treaters were forced to brave the elements on their annual All Hallows Eve quest for candy.

While the weather made the day feel more like Christmas, local residents could pop into Mythic Affinity for a taste of traditional Halloween fun.

The local gaming business, at 141 East Military Avenue, transformed its storefront into a haunted house to provide plenty of gasps, screams and squirms throughout the evening.

“We have a fog machine going and live actors helping us scare people, we put (rubber) mice and roaches on the floor to add to the effect as well,” owner Wendy Bean said.

While Wendy was manning the front of the store handing out candy and taking entrance fees, her husband and co-owner Scott Bean was reveling in his opportunity to scare people.

“We love haunted houses and we like to scare people, why else do you do it?” he said.

Along with Scott dressed as an evil clown with very convincing face makeup, the Beans enlisted seven other people to help them put on the haunted house.

One of those volunteers was Morgan Bassett who carried around a large bloody sledgehammer and was dressed in a reaper costume of sorts, which was based on a popular character in the online game Paragon.

“It’s kind of a reaper costume, it is supposed to be a takeoff of Severog from the game Paragon,” he said.

For the live actors who were tasked with actually scaring people, there are a number of strategies for getting people to scream and jump in fright.

“I sit really still so they think I’m a dummy and then reach out and grab them,” Scott Bean said.

Bean’s scare strategy came partly, from his father, who used to scare unsuspecting trick-or-treaters when Scott was in his younger days.

“My dad used to do that all the time on Halloween, he would sit out on a lawn chair in full scarecrow get-up sitting in a pile of leaves,” he said. “He’d sit there with a big mask on his head covered in leaves and people would think he was a dummy and then he’d reach out and grab them and they would scream and run. It was hilarious, he’d be so proud.”

For the Beans, part of their love for Halloween and haunted houses comes from their love of the gaming community and its relationship to cosplay.

“For us it’s the community,” Scott Bean said. “Whether it be cosplayers or people who just like to dress up, it is its own little genre and we’ve always loved it.”

At Mythic Affinity, Halloween is far from the only night of the year where you can find people dressed as their favorite comic book, video game, and movie heroes as they host Cosplay Nights every other Sunday.

“One of our gamers who is really into cosplay and has won some amateur competitions, she comes in twice a month and does a cosplay event where people can come in and get help with an outfit, learn how to use Worbla and everything else,” Wendy Bean said.

Mythic Affinity, which moved to the location on West Military earlier this year, will be celebrating its third anniversary on November 21.

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Eagles Club hosting Thanksgiving dinner for area veterans

People surrounding the greater Fremont area are being invited to attend an early Thanksgiving celebration hosted by the Fremont Eagles Auxiliary #200 in an effort to show appreciation to veterans and those currently serving in the United States Military.

The event has been taking place at the Eagles Club, 649 N. Main St., for at least four or five years, Eagles Club Manager Shirley Brester said during a Tuesday interview with the Tribune.

Brester and her sister, Bev Mielke, host the event because they are both fervently patriotic and understand that not all veterans have family members to spend Thanksgiving with, and that they may not otherwise have a quality Thanksgiving meal.

“My thinking is that there are some veterans that won’t have the opportunity to enjoy a turkey dinner because they are alone, they might be homebound or they don’t have anybody to bring them a meal,” Brester said. “And this is one way that we can pay them back by having them here at the club for a great dinner.”

The Veterans Dinner is being held from noon-5:30 p.m. Sunday, with active military members and veterans eating for free, and the public having the opportunity to eat for $10. Children 5-and-under eat for free, Brester said.

Course items include: Turkey and dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn or green beans, cranberry jelly, roll and butter and coffee. Pies will be served for desert and are being made by Eagles Auxiliary members as well as by members from the American Legion Auxiliary.

Entertainment is being held throughout the afternoon by George & The Juniors and The Arthrighteous Brothers.

The Veterans Dinner provides an opportunity to not simply have a good meal, but also to reflect on others’ service. Brester and Mielke will likely be thinking about their father, Elvin Niles, who served as an Army tank driver during World War II.

Niles was awarded the Purple Heart after being injured during the War.

“They took a little break from the tank and while they were taking that break sitting in a roadside ditch the tank was hit by a bomb,” she said. “Some of the shrapnel caught him. He was in Germany in the hospital for some time and then came home.”

Niles died in August 2003, and would have turned 98 on Monday, Brester said.

One of Brester’s favorite aspects of the annual dinner is hearing what veterans have to say about their service.

“In my position now I can kind of move around and talk to the people, and it’s fun listening to the veterans talking about some of their stories, I wish I would have more time to sit at a table with them and just listen to their stories,” she said. “Because it’s just amazing how much you can learn from those veterans. Just amazing.”