'Love' is in the air

Independent film shooting scenes in Martinsburg

July 28, 2010|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD
  • Sun Jae Smith gets cameras in place and ready to shoot a wedding scene Wednesday morning for the movie "Ai Means Love" at the Shenandoah Hotel in Martinsburg, W.Va. Smith is the director of the movie and a Kearneysville, W.Va., native.
Yvette May, Staff Photographer

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. --As children of Japanese-American parents, Jefferson County native Sun Jae Smith and his wife, Mie, have a real life connection to their company's third independent feature film, "Ai Means Love."

Set in the Eastern Panhandle, the majority of the scenes for the romantic comedy about two families, one from Japan and the other from a small West Virginia town, was shot in downtown Martinsburg over the last 21 days, according to Sun Jae Smith, the film's photography director and co-producer.

Nominated in 2009 for the West Virginia Filmmaker of the Year, the 25-year-old Kearneysville, W.Va., native said he and his wife started LightSmith Productions in 2006 with the goal of creating "inspiring, uplifting, positive media and films."

For "Ai Means Love," Sun Jae said they wanted the film to be a collaborative, grassroots production with the Martinsburg community as investors.

With a budget of about $6,000 for the project, community support was critical, according to Kate Tsubata, a writer and producer for LightSmith Productions.


A number of downtown Martinsburg business and property owners opened their doors for scene locations and others gave in-kind contributions. City officials also permitted filming at City Hall and outdoor locations in downtown.

"If we had to pay for everything that we got for this movie, we would be talking about $200,000 to $300,000 just for the production equipment," Tsubata said.

Tsubata expects the movie will premiere at a "red carpet" event in downtown Martinsburg early next year, possibly at the Apollo Civic Theatre or the Shenandoah. Both have offered to host the event, she said.

"We figure, why should that be limited to Hollywood," Tsubata said.

On Wednesday, the historic Shenandoah Hotel building was used to stage a wedding scene. The building was one of several scene locations in the Civil War movie "Gods and Generals," which was released in 2003. Producers of a documentary about Charles Manson also filmed in the adjoining block of North Queen Street in 2008.

Scenes for "Ai Means Love" also were shot at War Memorial Park in Martinsburg, in Shepherdstown and in Hagerstown.

On Tuesday, Sun Jae said he shot aerial footage of the Eastern Panhandle including scenic shots of Shepherdstown and Harpers Ferry from a Cessna airplane.

"We definitely brought this film to the next level," said Smith, who graduated from Shepherd University with a degree in mass communications.

Tsubata, who is Mie Smith's mother, said they hope to finish the movie by January, but still have to create an original music score and complete some animation and a short film within the film.

If any money is made off the project, Tsubata said the company plans to return dividends to those who contributed.

That included between 80 and 100 actors, extras, production crew workers and others who volunteered their time. Some commuted two hours to help with the project, Tsubata said.

Among the extras and actors involved in the film production were students enrolled in the Ryan Film Institute's Teen Filmmakers' Workshop this summer.

"Just like magic, every year somebody calls me," Institute founder and president Katherine Walsh Ryan said. The filming of "Ai means Love" presented a valuable opportunity for the students who have been enrolled in the Institute's workshop, Producing Short Films & Documentaries, Ryan said.

Tsubata credited Ryan for helping enlist support and volunteers from the community.

"She was huge in terms of really getting us hooked in," Tsubata said.

Tsubata said they hoped to produce the movie for about $40,000, but decided as a family to move ahead with the project using money originally set aside to help their children buy a house.

"We couldn't have done it without the support of the businesses," said Mie Smith, 23.

Smith directed the acting cast for Wednesday's film shoot while pregnant with their first child. Smith said she is due to have a boy Aug. 23.

More information about "Ai Means Love" is on the Internet at

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