Alyssa Price THE MONSTROSITY

Former Los Olivos student filmmaker and actress Alyssa Price with four of the twenty local children cast last summer in Price’s short film, The Monstrosity. From left: Alexis Healey, Leanna Zamora, Caden Fallon Scott, Price, and Jake Healey.

Alyssa Price’s film, The Monstrosity, may be short, but it has a long reach — all the way back to junior high school. Anyone who has experienced those harrowing days will find a kindred spirit in Milly, a sweet thing who just wants to survive the bus ride to her first day at George Adams Middle School.
However, the large pimple — “the monstrosity” — that has popped up just above the space between Milly’s dark eyebrows makes an uneventful ride impossible. The cool kids point at her and laugh. Cyclops, they call her. Yup, junior high school all over again.
“It’s amazing how many demons you have from those years even when you’re an adult,” said Price. “When you see someone else going through it, it seems like no big deal. But when it’s you, in the moment, you feel like you’re going to die.”
The idea for “The Monstrosity” came to Price after she finished reading a memoir by author Mary Karr. “She talked about her first zit, and that got me thinking about my own zit experience, when I got teased by a cute kid on the bus in high school.”
For dramatic effect, however, Price chose to set her film in middle school. She also chose to do all the shooting in the Valley, using a Los Olivos school bus and Jonata School in Buellton for exterior scenes. In addition, she held auditions here and cast local children in just about every role. Of the more than 40 would-be actors and actresses who tried out, about 20 were given parts in the film.
Born in Goleta but raised in Los Olivos, Price caught the filmmaking bug in second grade when her classroom at Los Olivos School was used for a scene in the film Return to Mayberry. Several children were chosen as extras, and Price was among the few who participated for an entire day of shooting.
“I thought, ‘This is the first of many films I’m going to be in,’” she said. “I was emphatic. So when we were talking about casting this film, I knew there were kids in the Valley who yearned to be part of the movie-making process, but their parents wouldn’t be taking them back and forth to Los Angeles.”
To arrange for auditions, Price planned to call principals of schools in the Valley. She started with Los Olivos School, her alma mater. To her surprise and delight, she reached Gary Crispin, her former second-grade teacher. At a Friday assembly, he told the students about the film. Dozens of students planned to audition. Not among them, however, was Leanna Zamora, the 10 year old who would be selected to play Milly.
“We happened to be hanging out at a coffee shop in Los Olivos before the auditions began,” Price recalled. “A little girl came up and said she wanted to audition. I told her to show up at noon and put her name on the list and I’d do my best to fit her in. As she walked away with her mom, I thought to myself, she is exactly the girl we’ve been talking about.”
So Price caught up with the pair and asked the mother to accompany her daughter to the audition.
“Leanna was the first person to audition, and she had the right energy. She’s one of the most grounded kids I’ve ever met,” Price said. “She just sort of knew what to do. The director of photography and I felt like we were there to make her film, that we were the ones cast in a role, rather than the other way around.”
For Zamora, the film was an opportunity to try something she’s always wanted to do. “I didn’t expect to get the lead role,” she said. “There were things about Milly I could relate to, but also things I couldn’t. It was hard to get into character.” Staying in character also proved difficult on occasion. “When I fell on the bus and everyone was laughing, I tried not to laugh with them. That was hard,” she said.
Other Valley actors included Alexis Healey, a seventh-grader at Jonata School; her brother, Jake Healey, a third-grader at Oak Valley School; and Caden Fallon Scott, a fifth-grader at Los Olivos School. Alexis Healey played “the loser girl on the bus,” and Scott had the role of the nice kid who moves his backpack and offers her a seat. “He offers the glimmer of hope that maybe someone will be nice,” Price explained. “We cast Alexis as the loser girl not because she looked like it, but she had the acting chops to embody the role.”
Both Alexis Healey and Scott are veteran stage performers, but The Monstrosity represents their first foray into film. “I’ve done several plays and I like doing them,” Scott said, “so I thought maybe I should try it on film.”
For Alexis Healey, the experience was much as she anticipated it would be, but very different from her stage work. “It was kind of nerve-racking with all the people and all the cameras. I’m not used to all of that. I’m just used to an audience.”
Jake Healey, who played one of the not-so-nice kids on the bus, is a veteran of two commercials, but The Monstrosity was his first film experience. He very much enjoyed the camaraderie on the set. “I liked meeting all the new people,” he said.
“The Monstrosity” had its premier in January at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and screened at the San Luis Film Festival in March. It was also accepted by the Kids First International Film Festival in New Mexico.