Editor’s note: Wheeling has cultivated a number of men and women who are outstanding in their chosen fields — the arts, science, medicine, etc. Today, Weelunk features Kristin Slaysman, a Wheeling Park High School graduate who is making a name for herself in the film and television world.
There’s good news and bad news.
The bad news is that writer Josh Crockett had a friend whose parents both died in an accident.
The good news is the writer used that nugget as a jumping off point for a movie starring Wheeling native Kristin Slaysman.
The two, who live in Los Angeles, were in Kristin’s hometown earlier this summer to premiere “Dr. Brinks & Dr. Brinks,” a film about siblings Michelle and Marcus reconnecting after both parents were killed in a plane crash.
Crockett, who also is Slaysman’s “partner in life,” wrote the part of Michelle for Kristin. The whole process “from script to screen” took about three years, she said, and it was funded by a Kickstarter project.
“We knew our first movie was going to be a small film, and we would need all the help we could get. Crowdfunding has become a sort of rite of passage among micro-budget filmmakers and raising the initial funds that way was our only chance to make the movie anytime soon. Meeting our Kickstarter goal really made ‘Dr. Brinks & Dr. Brinks’ a reality because it meant we had the money to dive into pre-production full force! I don’t think people truly realize how meaningful their contribution was, big or small,” Slaysman said.
Friends and family packed the invitation-only premiere at Towngate Theatre — a perk for those who contributed to the fund.
Kristin explained the movie’s plot: “The funeral brings Michelle back to Los Angeles where she is reunited with her brother to settle the affairs. But the twist is, their parents were eccentric aid workers, and the kids hadn’t seen them in years, and they honestly don’t know how to feel. It’s about the kind of grief that sneaks up on you. And I like to think of it as kind of a love story between Marcus and Michelle because everything in their lives starts to crumble but they actually rediscover their sibling relationship in the meantime. And it’s a comedy! It’s sad and funny and sweet and strange,” she said.
Having family, friends, supporters and one of her Wheeling Park High School theater teachers, Bill Cornforth, in the audience meant a lot to Kristin, a 1998 Park graduate and the daughter of Dr. Michael Slaysman and Kathleen Slaysman.
“We wanted to screen the film for some friends and family in Wheeling because the hometown support was a big part of getting the movie made. And I love Towngate! I’d like to make a film set in Wheeling in the next few years so it was great to reconnect with people in the art scene there like Tim Thompson [director of performing arts at Oglebay Institute] and Bill Cornforth,” she said.
Slaysman’s first play was “The Mikado” at Mount de Chantal in fifth grade, and she also cut her teeth at the former Cornerstone Project in South Wheeling and at Towngate Theatre. In her senior year, she had the lead role in “Peter Pan,” an experience she believes changed her life.
“The theater program at WPHS — from behind-the-scenes to performance — made me want to pursue theater in college. It’s also where my love for the process of making art began and why I also enjoy producing so much,” she said.
“Kristin was a joy to have in our program,” Cornforth said. “She was a very smart and creative student and provided a lot of positivity wherever she was. You could tell she liked challenges and liked to be pushed, and would have a lot to offer to challenge others.”
Cornforth shared a standout memory of his own from “Peter Pan.”
“My 6-year-old-son and 12-year-old daughter were also in the play. They were very intimidated in the beginning of the rehearsal period because the high school cast members were so much older than they were. Kristin made them feel so welcome though, always talking to them and acknowledging their good work, and making them feel a part of the cast. The play wound up being a memorable event in their childhood. I will always be grateful to Kristin for her role in that.”
Cornforth said he is not surprised that Kristin continued in the field of acting after high school. “She was a dedicated and accomplished performer on our speech team and in our plays and musicals. She lit up the stage when she played Peter Pan and other roles,” Cornforth recalled.
Following graduation from WPHS, she studied performance at Northwestern University, moved to New York City as a stage actress, then got into film when she landed in Los Angeles. Among many other film, theater and television credits, she has appeared in “The Last Tycoon,” “Masters of Sex,” “American Horror Story” and “Promised Land.”
Slaysman not only is an actor. She’s credited on IMDB as a producer, director and writer. Kristin has written and directed several shorts and produced a narrative feature about the L.A. rock and roll scene called “The Icarus Line Must Die,” which hit theaters early this summer.
“Because the director is my partner in life, I’ve been with it from the very beginning. From character development, re-writes, fundraising, casting, assembling the production team … to filming, editing, screening the movie at festivals, finding a distributor … producing is an all-encompassing job,” Slaysman said.
“I took a step back in the weeks leading up to production because I wanted to focus on my acting,” Kristin said. “We have two other producers on the film who are great and more experienced than me, and they really allowed me to prioritize my performance. Acting is always the most fun part for me … but when you’re an actor in a film, you’re only involved in the production part of the process. You have a lot more ownership over the project when you’re a producer. It’s not as glamorous, and it’s a lot of hard work, but it’s a very meaningful position.”
She noted that producing “Dr. Brinks & Dr. Brinks” was quite a learning experience, a “mini film school.”
“I learned a lot more about the business side of film and the work that happens behind-the-scenes before the camera rolls. I found myself in a lot of situations where I didn’t know what I was doing, and I asked A LOT of people for advice. In the end, though, you really only learn by doing,” she said.
And there’s more good news for Slaysman the producer. An independent pilot, “I Was a Teenage Pillow Queen,” was accepted into the Tribeca TV Festival in New York this weekend. The pilot’s premiere is set for 7:45 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 22.
“’I Was a Teenage Pillow Queen’ is an independent pilot from Bridget Moloney and Claire Coffee, and they brought me onboard to produce. It’s about a former sex essayist who is married to a much older man and trying to reinvigorate her now-defunct writing career by getting back in touch with her wild side. It was inspiring to work on a project with a complicated, smart and funny female lead, created by such talented women — plus we’ve all been friends since college,” she explained.
There were only six independent pilots chosen for the festival, she said, “… so it’s an honor to be one of them! It’s all about exposure for the project and meeting people who want to turn the pilot into a series.”
“I actually did film a small scene in it and then had to cut my character from the pilot! So we have to make the series so I can be in it!”
While she’s waiting to see what happens with the pilot, she and Josh are both writing new scripts.
“We are in a race to see whose will be ready to make next. Mine is set in West Virginia, and it’s about mothers and daughters. I have a 1-year-old daughter so — surprise! — that relationship is on my mind lately. I’m planning on being in the area more to do research and find some spots to film,” she said.
But until either of those next projects come to fruition, you can catch Slaysman on film in “Dr. Brinks & Dr. Brinks,” available on iTunes, Prime Video, Google Play and VUDO.
“Kristin’s professional acting and producing are huge accomplishments,” Cornforth said. “All of Wheeling should take note of this success story.”
• After nearly 38 years as reporter, bureau chief, lifestyles editor and managing editor at The Times Leader, and design editor at The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register, Phyllis Sigal has joined Weelunk as managing editor. She lives in Wheeling with her husband Bruce Wheeler. Along with their two children, son-in-law and two grandchildren, food, wine, travel, theater and music are close to their hearts.