Blue Screen Has Austin Studios in the Green

And what John Walsh catching more crooks has to do with it

Producer Sebastian Vega at Austin Studios
Producer Sebastian Vega at Austin Studios (Photo By John Anderson)

Child actor Spencer Flynn breaks off a hunk of banana and points it at Willis, a 1-year-old Gibbon ape. Willis' furry wire of an arm stretches out to swat it away. Behind them on a bank of monitors, John Walsh – yes, the host of America's Most Wanted – identifies the "cybersnakes" that roam the Internet: "You don't want this dirtbag to know everything about you, do you?" Welcome to The Safe Side, an educational safety video series that recently wrapped an eight-day shoot at Austin Studios. Why should we care about a project that will go straight to DVD and is aimed at 8- to 12-year-olds? It's all in what's been left behind after the shoot, and it has studio personnel feeling blue, as in blue screen, as in another piece in the puzzle that is an Austin-based film industry.

Video producer Sebastian Vega and director Jimmy Lindsey have spent the past 15 years working in Austin film. When they signed on for the project, they had to convince Julie Clark – creator of the series of videos, as well as the Baby Einstein series – to come to Austin instead of her hometown of Denver (the first in the series, about stranger safety, was shot in Los Angeles). The sticking point was the ready availability of a large blue screen – a green screen wouldn't do because the main character's costume is largely green – to add computer animation. Austin Studios gave a rental price break on Studio 1, and, in exchange, the blue screen stays put. "It's a huge thing for film infrastructure that will attract commercials and larger features," Vega says. "It's exciting to contribute a substantial upgrade or our community as a filming location."

Walsh is clad in a black leather jacket over a black turtleneck as he speaks to the video's star, Safe Side Superchick, played by Angela Shelton (her doc Searching for Angela Shelton won an Austin Film Festival audience award in 2004). Walsh, who also appeared in the first video, is credited through America's Most Wanted with recovering 38 missing children. Walsh's own son, Adam, was abducted from a Florida mall in 1981 and found murdered two weeks later. "He's participating because he felt it was a good cause to be involved in," Vega says. Indeed, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is working with producers, who hope to return to Austin – where almost all of the project crew are based – for the next video in the series.

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Blue screen, Austin Studios, John Walsh, Angela Shelton, Spencer Flynn, Sebastian Vega, Jimmy Lindsey

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