Movie Review: American Players Theatre Actors Power Short Film ‘One Foot In’

Bill Gordon, Contributor

Photo via Wisconsin Film Festival

American Players Theatre actors James DeVita and Marcus Truschinski star as grave robbers seeking to reconcile their troubled past by making a big score in One Foot In. The twenty-five-minute independent film was written and directed by Eric Schabla, and produced by Jack Whaley, both APT alumni. Whaley was also director of photography for the film.

The first thing I noticed was how the visual and auditory elements of this film quickly create a mood and atmosphere. Incredible sweeping aerial images of Wisconsin skies and forests are used with creative transitions to close-ups of trees. There is a shot of a moonrise over the woods that is spectacular. The score creates intensity with a mix of searing music with chanting and rumbling bass and almost jungle-like sounds as it captures birds piping and trees rustling and the overall feel of the woods. It’s nighttime and dark and danger lurks in the air. The cinematography and score set the tone, and I was immediately immersed in the experience.

Grave robbing is believed to have peaked in North American in the 1870s, which appears be to the general time frame for this story. DeVita plays Tammany, a gritty, conniving, smalltime career criminal with no moral compass. Truschinski is Greer, a former understudy of Tammany. There is tension between the two because Tammany fled the scene of a crime they both committed, and Greer was left to take the fall. Driven by greed, but feeling guilty over Greer’s capture and imprisonment, Tammany is nervous and constantly talking.

Now the two are back together in the dark of night in search of riches buried in a coffin. But Greer is not the same man he was before. Tammany says to Greer, “What is it they done to you in that box?” Greer alternates between blank and pre-occupied stares and at times speaks one word at a time with long pauses between each word. There may be something wrong with him, or he may be experiencing an awakening and seeing the world differently. He responds to Tammany, “I been reborn.” He has a scar on the side of his head, and while we are not told, he appears to have endured an attack while locked-up, or perhaps 19th century brain surgery to cure him of his criminal behavior. Greer has become an enigma and has Tammany on edge as he fears he may take revenge for abandoning him to be arrested.

The movie was filmed entirely outdoors over six days at seven locations in the southwest Driftless area of Wisconsin. Schabla and Whaley took months scouting locations and ultimately filmed at Devil’s Lake State Park, the Lake Stone Ruins and marshlands, the Lone Rock Boat Landing, and farm and private lands just outside Spring Green.

The language, a mix of Victorian, pre-industrial English, and rural Wisconsin vernacular delivered through the slang of 19th century thieves, creates a feeling of authenticity. Tammany does most of the talking and his speech is brusque, sarcastic and thought provoking; there’s a depth to it that adds to the experience of the film. Fans of the TV series, Deadwood may like One Foot In as it was among the many influences Schabla drew upon for elements in this movie.

Crowdfunding to help finance the project was hosted through the Seed and Spark Web site and achieved the targeted goal, generating over $54K in donations from over 350 people. Additional funding came from corporate sponsorships and endorsements and organizations such as the Spring Green Area Arts Coalition. APT generously provided costuming and props for the film.

DeVita and Truschinski’s performances are thoroughly convincing and engaging and this is an excellent directing effort from Shabala. Will Tammany and Greer hit the big payday? Will Greer exact revenge on Tammany? You’ll have to watch One Foot In to find out.

Note: Viewed by many through the Wisconsin Film Festival in May, the movie is undergoing final touches and once complete, an outdoor screening and a hosted premiere is anticipated somewhere in the River Valley. After that, the film will be available for HD download.

5/5 stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Viewing information

Release date: 2021
Duration: 25 Minutes
Genre: Drama, Crime
Rating: Unrated