By Erika Webb
Nina O'Keefe May is a little embarrassed to admit her mind was wandering in church, but considering what happened next many might excuse her sermon stray and call it divine inspiration.
The award-winning movie, "Life Fine Tuned," premiered Dec. 20 at the Athens Theater in the writer-director-producer's hometown.
DeLand-based marketing and public relations firm, H&R Unlimited Inc. saw to it the event had all the pomp of a Hollywood premier.
"The red carpet complete with paparazzi will be rolled out for both movie crew and movie goers attending this star-studded premier," H&R Unlimited co-owner Robin Hill wrote in a news release.
The PR firm promised contests with movie-swag giveaways and encouraged premier attendees to dress like movie stars.
Those "brave enough to don a purple wig" to mimic the movie's main character, were promised entry into a special drawing to attend the after party following the premier.
The movie centers on Star, a spoiled young pop star who throws a tantrum at a rehearsal when she finds out dancing may be added to her act, according to the news release.
She runs away to rural Virginia, thinking a search for her will ensue. Instead, she's replaced with Cassie, the understudy -- played by Mrs. May's niece, Jennie O'Keefe.
Ironically Star tells the Madison family, who has taken her in as a boarder, that she is a dancer.
"The deception leads to some funny circumstances and poignant twists of fate," the release stated.
Mrs. May is dedicated to giving rise to undiscovered talent. She sought to do for aspiring actors what "So You Think You Can Dance" and "American Idol" did for budding dancers and singers.
"Life Fine Tuned" provided opportunities for students involved in all aspects of movie making to work on a movie set, either as actors or crewmembers.
"All of the actors had to be undiscovered in order to be cast for the parts, and professional crew had to agree to help train and teach the interns who want to learn the production process," the release noted.
The non-profit group, Renaissance Foundation, launched a successful internship program, Renaissance Women Productions, which produced "Life Fine Tuned."
Local high school students were paparazzi at the movie's DeLand debut.
"Nina May is youth focused and suggested that we get in touch with Jenny (Sejansky, DeLand High Theatre Director) and her drama students to experience what it is like to be part of a movie event," said Jean Gilabro of H&R Unlimited.
Mrs. May, who graduated from Stetson University with a liberal arts degree, studied fine arts and humanities.
"I've always written and I've always been an artist," Mrs. May said in a phone interview from her home in Virginia.
She was interested in visual arts, documentaries, fashion design and "owned a publishing company for a while."
"It all just evolved through the years to movie making," Mrs. May said.
She hosted a radio show, which served as her bridge to production when the show was filmed and "put on the Internet" before streaming was a household word.
The cable TV show "American Renaissance," filmed in Washington, D.C. and featuring political figures, provided Mrs. May the opportunity she'd been waiting for, a chance to edit video.
Her passion for every phase of production led her to want young Renaissance internship participants to experience the movie making gamut.
"We started teaching kids in the internship program from start to finish -- writing, editing, sound production, colorization," she said.
Her Virginia farm draws a lot of weekend visitors. One Sunday her guests wanted to go to services at a little country church nearby, she said.
"It was like going back in time, like to the '40s or '50s," Mrs. May said. "It was wholesome, pure, unassuming."
A mother and daughter dressed in the granny-style dresses popular in the '70s performed Appalachian songs a cappella and the stage was set.
"Their voices were OK, not bad, not good, but wonderful," Mrs. May said. "I was mesmerized like I was going back in time. I wanted to make there be a reason they were standing there in church in those outfits."
The embarrassing part: During the sermon Mrs. May began asking herself questions.
"What would a Hollywood star think if she came in here?" she said. "She'd either think it was charming or she'd be disdainful, thinking she's the center of the universe."
Then Mrs. May pondered further: How did the star end up at the church? Where did she start out? Was she running away from something? What was it?
The answer, though not from the pulpit, hit her all at once.
"I know! They wanted to put dance into her act," Mrs. May said. "That becomes the humorous hook. She wants to be incognito, but expects her manager to chase her down and bring her back. (Meanwhile), she lies and says she's a dancer."
She went home and wrote a 23-page treatment, making sure certain requirements were met: protagonist, antagonist, conflicts and necessary contrasting.
"I thought, gosh, this could really work," Mrs. May said.
After showing it to her niece and a few others who also said it could work, she "thought about it for a year."
Three years ago, during a blustery winter she refers to as "snowmageddon," when she was snowed in for days, her niece told her it was time to write the screenplay.
"I wrote the screenplay in a day," Mrs. May said. "It took my niece three days to transcribe it into final draft format."
Final draft format is the Hollywood standard, she explained.
"Every page of the script represents a minute of the movie. Then you divide the page up into eighths and every eighth of a page takes an hour to shoot. It's very precise, like a science," she said.
"Life Fine Tuned" has been featured in several film festivals, winning more than a dozen awards, including the top honor -- of 100 films submitted -- at the International Film Festival in Hollywood in 2012, according to H&R's news release.
"The Renaissance Women production bested films with multi-million dollar budgets and well-known actors and major studios," the release stated.
"We were honored to be an official selection of the Chinese American Film Festival along with other films like "The Hunger Games," "Men in Black 3," "The Avengers" and several other top grossing movies," Mrs. May said in the release. "The validation of this movie has been overwhelming. Everyone who worked on it is just ecstatic!"
Mrs. May loves movies that are inspirational, uplifting and end happily, movies that evoke laughter and tears and spark after-viewing conversations.
"I can't stand horror movies," she said. "Why would you want to feel icky?"
Two of her favorites are "A Knight's Tale" and "The Devil Wears Prada."
One memorable "Hollywood" meeting took place at the Virginia governor's mansion.
She said Gov. Bob McDonnell was trying to lure producers to the state to film.
"He got Spielberg to film Lincoln in Virginia and hosted a big screening for him," Mrs. May said. "He invited all the producers in Virginia. There's only like 10 of us."
The governor introduced her to the famous director.
"I'm shaking Spielberg's hand and he said 'so tell me about your movie,'" she said. "I told him the model was to give kids the opportunity to be in a movie, and that it's about undiscovered talent."
She told Mr. Spielberg about the pre-production speech she delivered to the young cast and crew.
"I told them there are no stars here. Everybody's equal and working together. I want it to be like a family, working together," Mrs. May said.
She couldn't believe her ears when he told her he delivers the same speech to his cast and crew prior to filming.
"I love humor. If I could be a comedy writer I think that's what I would do," Mrs. May said.
But for now she's plenty busy.
"Marked," which started out as a 10-minute short, was well received at the Hollywood Film Festival and is being turned into a full feature film starring Nico Greetham, a contestant on the 10th season of "So You Think You Can Dance."
Two other treatments also are in the works, she said.
"One is a comedy," she said. "It's Auntie Mame meets Devil Wears Prada. The second is Crash meets The Big Chill. That's how they talk in Hollywood," she said, laughing.
The DVD distribution process also is an integral part of production and will be open to marketing majors, who will be invited to develop unique and creative methods of marketing the movie on DVD.
"Since the purpose of the program is to train kids about the film process, it would be incomplete if we did not add the distribution element to the mix," Mrs. May stated in the H&R release. "We are thrilled that many of our young actors have gone on to have key roles in other films, which we see as an accomplishment for the goals of our program."
For more information about "Life Fine Tuned, or to purchase the DVD visit www.lifefinetuned.org.