Labor of love: Film, television are a family business for Utah couples

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Boston McConnaughey and Renny Grames

(ABC4) – Boston McConnaughey had the ultimate pickup line.

Working as an assistant on the set of his friend’s movie project, “Missed Connection,” he approached one of the film’s actresses, Renny Grames, with a surefire attention grabber, especially considering the setting.

“You look exactly like this character that I’ve written for this movie,” Grames recalls her mohawked suitor saying right off the bat. “And of course, that’s how you get a date with an actress.”

Fast forward 10 years later to 2021, Grames and McConnaughey have now been married for seven years. The movie that McConnaughey was referring to in his opening flirtation, “Alien Country,” is finally set to debut after years of the two working on the script and shooting the production together with Grames as the lead and McConnaughey as the director, in the coming weeks.

Romance is a tried-and-true storytelling vessel in the movie business, but off the screen and behind the camera, love stories are also quite common.

According to Marshall Moore, a former director of the Utah Film Commission and still a prominent member of the community, the nature of filmmaking lends itself to creating lasting personal connections.

“Film is very collaborative,” Moore describes to ABC4.com “It’s all a collaboration amongst people and departments and skillsets and personalities. It translates to the way relationships should be — collaborative.”

Moore would know, his wife, Michelle, is also a major player in the industry as a publicist and marketer.

The two remember after meeting on film-related business in the state, they went on a first date perhaps inspired by one of Marshall’s favorite movies, “The Sandlot,” by going to the batting cages.

As a married couple, the two have continued to push the film industry in Utah even further as the new owners and directors of the LDS Film Festival.

The Moores are close with many other couples that are involved in Utah’s storied and booming movie and television business.

Michelle says that knowing the relationships, struggles, and triumphs motivate them to continue to build Utah’s big and small screen legacy.

“We sincerely want to bring our skill sets together,” she says. “Both of us want to help our film family.”

Some of these film families have been connected through film the whole time.

Kynan and Jennifer Griffin, for example, chose to use their first home together in Provo as the set of their first movie project as a married couple.

About a month after getting hitched, the Griffins’ humble starter house was slammed, practically around the clock, with over 25 crew members working on the LDS family movie, “Pride and Prejudice.”

“There was only one bathroom,” Jennifer remembers with a laugh. “So the entire crew and us are all using one bathroom and we just had our bedroom where we lived, but the entire rest of the house was completely run by the crew; the front yard, the backyard, every square inch, the driveway. You’re young and foolish and optimistic and you’re okay with not being comfortable, so it was great.”

From uncomfortable beginnings, the Griffins have gone on to enjoy a great deal of success in the entertainment industry, including the creation of the CW’s “The Outpost.”

Other couples have gotten into the business later in life, as a way to stay connected to their film-making children.

Greg and Elisa Brough became involved in movie-making to lend support to their kids, Brian, Jennifer, and Brittany, as part of their company, Candlelight Media. While the children serve as the creatives behind the company’s family-friendly films such as “Hot Chocolate Holiday” and “Timeless Love,” the parents work to scale the studio’s reach by working on the accounting and licensing of the finished products.

The couple admits they were never as passionate about movies as their children. In fact, Greg jokes that one year for Father’s Day, his only request was to go two hours without talking about filmmaking while spending time with his family. He laughs that they all immediately ‘launched back into film discussion’ the second the timer ended on the grueling 120 minutes.

Elisa feels that the family film business has been a great way for the group to remain close. It’s also how they as parents can be assured their children are doing what they love while also avoiding some of the pitfalls that can beset those working in movies.

“I always thought that when Gregory retired early, we would go on many missions. As it turned out, this is our mission,” she explains. “We were very concerned because we didn’t want our children to be pulled into the Hollywood kind of lifestyle and we want to stay, you know, within the standards and the values and that we have in our home.”

Phil and Lisa Shepherd have also made movie and television production their second career, however, in their case, the switch came out of necessity.

After working at the same company shortly after their marriage in the late 80s, both Phil and Lisa were laid off on the same day. For the young family, which was just starting off their lives together with two young children and another on the way, it was a terrifying situation.

A neighbor who was working on a movie set reached out and offered to let the two work on the production, doing anything that was needed. It ended up being a life-changing experience for the couple. Shortly after learning the ropes, Phil purchased a few lights, some rigging equipment and began a lighting and production business.

Now the owners of a professional quality equipment rental facility and production studio in Orem, Shepherd Grip & Lighting, are grateful for the help they’ve gotten, bringing them from desperation to stability.

“Luckily we’ve had really good people we’ve worked with over the years that have taught us a lot,” Phil explains. There are just great people in this industry that are willing to give you a hand and help you and show you stuff and teach you stuff. It’s been really good.”

Like the other couples that stumbled into film, Derek and Mariah Mellus have also climbed the ladder of success as a team. Derek started his career as a set dresser – which he describes as being a “glorified moving person” – and worked his way up to become the Production Manager at the Utah Film Commission. Mariah had been a member of the arts community before the non-profit organization, the Utah Film Center, reached out. She now works as the group’s Managing Director.

Both of them working in film was never a plan until it happened, Mariah explains.

“The universe since tends to guide us how it plays out,” she says. “That’s just been one of those little tongue- -in-cheek coincidence kind of things that people like to joke about.”

And even though the two spend long days working in movies and television, the Melluses still gather with their children at least 3-4 times a week to watch something on their couch.

The pillow on their couch perhaps says it best, describing the feeling and sentiment shared by all the film couples in the state: TOGETHER.

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