Ohio University

There’s a Chicken in the Grip Van: Adventures in Midwest Filmmaking with Keisha Martin

Film director looking into monitor.
Keisha Martin (Director) looking into director monitor.

Filmmaking in any given year is already a stressful endeavor, but add in a pandemic, and it can rightfully fry some nerves. However, School of Film’s Keisha Martin credits the smoothness of her recently wrapped thesis project, "Pancake’s Pasture”, to an intangible element not explicitly taught in school - kindness.

“Working with Lexie Tillery [BFA Theater Freshman] was absolutely amazing.” Martin regales. “She brought so much joy and kindness, and overall, a happy atmosphere on this set that was so beneficial.” Deadlines and other pressures don’t seem so overwhelming when you’re having fun.

Lexie plays the main character Tyler, a 15 year-old in the 90s, living in rural Ohio. This film gave Martin the opportunity to explore her own upbringing as source material. “I love cows and I love telling stories of the Midwest and putting them in positive frames,” adds the soon-to-be MFA graduate. “I wanted to show the quirkiness of the Midwest without making fun of it.”

Despite dealing with Covid, Lexi’s good attitude proved to be its own contagion and it made the long nights away from campus all the more satisfying. “It was fun to be with the cast and crew and we got really close,” Martin says fondly of the film’s overnight travel to Springfield. “We were on an active farm, and we got to be a part of that which was really awesome.”

This trip wasn’t without its own set of challenges though. “We had to make sure that we brought everything because we were driving two and a half hours, far enough where you don’t want to have to go back.”

slate of pancakes pasture
Slate of Pancakes Pasture.

While tackling a coming-of-age story is new for Martin, the dark comedy approach to the Midwest isn’t. So much so that one of Martin’s professors has even coined a name for it, ‘Rural Gothic’. Martin’s films are attuned to the rhythms of small-town life, utilizing country landscapes to provide its pervasive sense of space. Within these idyllic settings, sinister or dark elements usually lurk just beneath the surface.

For context, Martin cites some of the film’s inspirations, “I love the aesthetic and world of Fargo, making the normal weird. American Honey, and Andrea Arnold in general, are huge influences to me as a director and that shows in my work.” When asked what she would miss most about her Ohio University School of Film experience, there was no hesitation, “the people! It’s all the people that you meet along the way; it’s the journey of going through this together.”

While this leg of the Martin’s professional/personal journey wraps up, there’s optimism heading into the future. In the coming month, Martin plans to relocate to Nashville to pursue freelance work.

 

Scenes from the film set
(Left to right) Jacob Midkiff, Staci Kulikalova, Keisha Martin. Lexie Tillery portraying the role of Tyler.

 

Scenes from the film shoot.
(Left to right) Katey Jo Henry, Keisha Martin, Staci Kulikalova, Jacob Midkiff. Jacob Midkiff and Staci Kulikalova getting the camera ready.