Saturday, April 4, 2015

Meet Shelby Staxx

Who's the badass actress-turned-crime fighter trying to clean up the streets of a corrupt city? Staxx! I'm just talking about Shelby.

For those of you who are not familiar with her, Shelby Staxx is a recurring character from a series of shorts by Azbest Films. Played by the talented Charisse Norment, she was created by writer/director Sam Bahre.

The character is also important to me, because it marked the first time I really worked with Azbest on a production. I had shot a couple of small things with them (like the book trailer to The Check Out) but had not made a film (short or otherwise) in quite some time. This film marked the beginning of a fruitful period for all of us.

But, before we get into the story of Shelby Staxx, take a look at the original short.

Warning: Very NSFW

Shelby Staxx from Azbest Films on Vimeo.

Shelby Staxx was born in the summer of 2014 out of a request by another local flmmaker. "I hadn't shot anything since I made my feature I FILMED YOUR DEATH in 2012 and I wasn't looking to do anything except focus on the post production of that," Sam Bahre states. "I was asked by filmmaker Mike McCarthy to make a short for his Time Warp Drive-In blaxploitation night. I love exploitation movies, I want to make them." 

At that time, the Time Warp Drive In was in its nascent stages. A one night showing of older horror films proved successful enough to establish an entire summer line up of classics. Throughout the 2014 season, a line up of 4 films were screened on Saturday nights. Each night featured a different theme, with local shorts taking the place of the standard trailers between movies. McCarthy, being the organizer of the series, pitched a concept to Bahre that resonated. 

"Mike came to me and told me he wanted it to be about a badass chick and I was quick to jump at this. My friend, and the leader of the band The Conspiracy Theory, Brett Trail always says how freeing it is to create within boundaries and that's exactly what I found with this project. I'm not really interested in making any project if it doesn't have some meaning for me and it didn't take me long to see where I could go with the kernels that were provided. From there it was just a matter of waiting until the ideas accumulated, which they did quickly."

Shelby would be an exploitation actress who would be fired by two white men in suits, looking to pad their bottom line. They degrade her with racially charged comments, and fail to heed the warnings she so candidly delivers. The plot was solid; full of action, humor, and nudity for good measure. 

The task at that point, was to find an actress that could own the role. "I knew it had to be someone who could match the intense character I had in my head," Bahre said. He reached out to a number of women on Facebook, and posted in groups for African American actors. Although a couple of people read for the role, none of them captured the spirit of Staxx. Finally, Charisse Norment answered the call. 

When she first arrived on set, she seemed shy and demure. She was a quiet, small woman who kept to herself and rehearsed her lines in whispers. Bahre had his own concerns when she auditioned. "I didn't see her as Shelby until she read," according to Sam. "Then it was like she flipped a switch and the character was right in front of me. She only had to do a few lines and I knew she was Shelby." 

During her first take, a mighty roar of a woman bellowed from Norment as she swore her revenge and slammed the door in the suits' faces. For Charisse, finding the character was easy. "I watched some Pam Grier films like Coffee," she says. "Once the wig goes on I feel empowered."

Norment earned her Azbest stripes throughout the whirlwind shoot.  At one point, Charisse was directed to pull up her skirt, revealing her buttocks while she aimed a shotgun between her legs. She was a great sport about it, laughing harder than any of us. 

With the main character cast, it was time for Bahre to fill the role of the villainous studio men who come to rattle Shelby's world. He didn't have to look very far to find them. "John Shaw and Brett Trail were both my friends but more importantly I'd worked with them a bunch in the past and I knew they could do anything. I wrote those parts for them." For Shelby's costar and friend, Bahre had to cast outside the box. "Brett and I were at kareoke at the now defunct Dublin House the year before and we saw a man do a rendition of Hotel California that blew our hair back, " Sam laughed. We introduced ourselves to him and told him we made movies. That man was Michael Suggs and right when I started working on this project I knew I wanted him to be in it."

The Shelby Staxx short also helped establish a system for Azbest: making movies for close to nothing. "They probably each cost $200," according to Bahre. "Pizza, gore and nudity have their price." This is an idea that I will explore further in another blog post. The most important thing to remember when planning a short is to shape it around what you have access to. Bahre's philosophy is this: "I always write within my means so I never come up with ideas that I can't achieve with the right team."

Shelby made her premiere at the Time Warp Drive In, playing 3 times during the night. The short was a success; generating buzz and helping to spread the word about the movie series. It was inevitable that she would make her return, and she did so for the conclusion of the season in October. With the theme of the evening being horror films, it only seemed right for Staxx to meet the Hunchblack of Notre Dame. 

Warning: Still NSFW 
Shelby Staxx Meets the Hunchblack of Notre Dame from Azbest Films on Vimeo.

The second installment in the Staxx saga was another success. The short saw the return of Michael Suggs as the titular character, as well Brett Trail in a completely different role. (Did you spot him?) It also featured friends Thomas Hunt (who would later appear in Stacked Deck), Stephen Teague, and yours truly.

As the end of this film clearly states, Shelby will return. "I want to do three more Shelby shorts and then put her to rest until someone wants to give us money to make a feature, a TV show, a webseries or whatever," Sam stated. "This character has legs and I think she could work in almost any situation. But for this particular incarnation of her, I know where I want it to go and I want it to end before it gets old."

Bahre does have one stipulation about bringing Shelby back: "it has to be Charisse, there's no Shelby without her. " As for Norment, she seems to be ready, willing, and able. "Sam is hilarious, every time I watch the film I can't help but laugh! I am super thankful Sam picked me to be Shelby Staxx. The cast and crew are wonderful and very friendly!"

So, watch out all you studio heads, monsters, drug dealers, thugs, criminals, and anyone else who wishes to do harm to the city of Memphis. There's a new force on the streets, and she will take you on. Fire her, kidnap her, it doesn't matter. Shelby Staxx will return!

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