Olivia Applegate and Katie Folger in "The Honor Farm"

A Face in the Crowd: Karen Skloss Harvests a Mystery at “The Honor Farm”

When plans were being made to turn the Austin bar Cheer Up Charlie’s into a full-on prom tonight, complete with corsages and cummerbunds, as a launch party for the Kickstarter campaign for the new film “The Honor Farm,” Karen Skloss insisted that the evening have a “surreal, psychedelic twist” in line with the tone of the feature she soon plans to direct about a group of high schoolers whose post-prom plans go horribly awry when they wander into an abandoned prison.

“I think we’re going to have a horse’s head available and some other bizarro props for people to take some really amazing prom pictures,” says Skloss, whose band Panoramas will be joined by fellow musicians John Wesley Coleman and Wil Cope for the surely unforgettable night.

While this is hardly Skloss’ first time at the dance, the party is a precursor to the exciting prospect of the multi-talented artist taking the lead of a narrative feature. After serving as an editor on such documentaries as Margaret Brown’s “Be Here to Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt” and the more recent “LaDonna Harris: Indian 101,” Skloss has been eager to get back to what she initially aspired to after first getting bit by the movie bug at 16. However, as detailed in her own 2009 documentary “Sunshine,” her life changed at 23 when she became pregnant just as she was about to leave school. At the time, she made a short called “Smitten,” about an 8th grade romance told through the eyes of a young girl, that would go on to play at a Emerging Filmmakers Showcase at Cannes, but a full-fledged directing career would have to wait. Now, she’s picking up where she left off.

“The lead character in this film is an evolution of that same girl in “Smitten,” except now she’s a senior in high school,” says Skloss. “My daughter’s 15 [now], so having her as a part of the writing process is really cool because she can tell me if the dialogue is hitting or not because she knows if it sounds right. Plus, I refuse to grow up.”

Perhaps that’s why Skloss was able to casually fit in so easily at Austin High in the spring of 2013 to film what would be the first footage shot for “The Honor Farm,” tucking actors like Olivia Applegate (“Revolution”), Will Brittain (“A Teacher”) and Katie Folger (“Zero Charisma”) inside the school’s real-life prom. Assembling an impressive array both in front of the camera and behind it, including “Before Sunset” cinematographer Lee Daniel and producer David Hartstein (“Where Soldiers Come From”), the shoot was necessitated by the need to use up a production grant Skloss received. Yet it was always intended to be just a piece of what “The Honor Farm” would become, a coming-of-age story rooted as much in teen dramas such as “Pretty in Pink” and “The River’s Edge” as Naomi Wolf’s feminist tome on cultural rituals “Promiscuities.”

Having developed the film for so long, Skloss was willing to wait a little longer to make sure she had the resources in place to make the film she wanted to, hence the crowdsourcing campaign which runs until January 6th. Should it be successful, “The Honor Farm” is expected to restart production in the spring, with new additions to the cast such as “Friday Night Lights” star Dora Madison Burge, and will likely be ready for a festival run in 2016. If all goes as planned, Skloss hopes it will inspire young women as much as she was by certain movies growing up.

“I’m excited to engage with a teenage audience hopefully because I think the movie has a cool, weird subtext about growing up and coming into your own that I’m excited to put out into the world,” says Skloss. “I also hope it’s a fun ride.”

Knowing Skloss, you can take that to the bank.

To back this project and watch the filmmakers’ personal pitch video, click here. And follow the progress of the film on its official site, Twitter and Facebook. Additional details on the Prom Party are here.

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