It’s a safe bet that masters of cinema like Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese didn’t have to sleep in their cars while finishing work on their first feature film, but that’s exactly what happened to rookie director Debbie Ivanrie-King while in post-production on her debut movie.
“I moved out of my apartment because I couldn’t pay the rent,” says Ivanrie-King, who wrote, produced, directed, edited and acted in “Walk Through the Valley,” a courtroom drama/murder mystery filmed primarily in Smithfield and Durham. “I then moved into an apartment that was uninhabitable, so I moved out” she continues, “then I spent two months sleeping in my car more often than not.”
Ivanrie-King is nothing if not persistent. A Brooklyn native who graduated from Queens College, she had a dual career as an executive assistant and singer/actress – once opening for the R&B group The Main Ingredient – before moving to the Triangle in 2011 to look for work. Always interested in acting in films, she soon discovered that her agent would only send her on auditions for commercials and infomercials, so “I decided the only way I was going to act in film was to do it myself.”
Researching how to write a screenplay and taking tips from two of her favorite movies, the steamy “Body Heat” (1981) and the Bette Davis classic “Now Voyager” (1942), Ivanrie-King knocked off the “Valley” screenplay in seven days. “I was inspired by Ayn Rand’s play, ‘The Night of January 16th,’” she says, “which I directed (in New York) and played the judge. I wanted to do a courtroom drama, and the only thing I could directly connect with was that play. I was looking more for dialogue.”
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Initially advertising for actors on Craigslist, Ivanrie-King eventually hired a casting agent who put together a multi-ethnic group of mature performers, including African-Americans, Hispanics and Indians. “I recognized there was not that rainbow presence you see in real life; you don’t see it in film,” says Ivanrie-King, “and my main focus was on mature (over 35) actors, that’s why I cast the way I did.”
Shooting took place in the summer of 2013 and lasted only nine days. But post-production dragged on for 17 months, thanks in part to financial concerns, footage that was lost, and Ivanrie-King’s on-the-job training as a film and sound editor. “This was my first time cutting anything; I had to piece the story together, literally,” she says. “And the other challenge was sound editing – there was vacuum cleaner noise, an air conditioner running. It took me about six months just to clean the sound.”
With the film finally finished last November, Ivanrie-King hoped to get a traditional distributor, but when that appeared unlikely, she got the film on Amazon, where it was available for a time on DVD. The film is now available to rent or download through her website.
Ivanrie-King is putting together a business plan for her next film, which has already been written. And if nothing else, the struggle to get the film made has made her realize how important it is to not give up on your dreams.
“I did what I wanted to do. I dreamed I would have the ability to produce and direct a movie, and I completed something that was tremendously difficult to finish,” says Ivanrie-King. “Go out on a limb for the thing you believe in most. Continue with the plan.”
“Walk Through the Valley,” written and directed by Debbie Ivanrie-King, is available to rent or download from eirnavieentertainment.com. A rental is $4.99 and the purchase price is $15.95.