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‘Grace’-ful landing: Writer, director Anna Elizabeth James finds a home for her independent feature in New Mexico

Greer Grammer on the set of “Grace,” which filmed around Albuquerque. (Courtesy of Lewis Jacobs)

Five weeks of pre-production.

Seventeen days of filming.

One break for Thanksgiving.

This is the journey Anna Elizabeth James experienced while filming her independent feature, “Grace,” in New Mexico.

“I’m glad to be wrapped,” she says. “It was a fun time filming there and I didn’t ever expect to come to New Mexico.”

James is from Utah and originally submitted the film for production there. It was rejected and that left James scrambling to find a home for the project.

“I was on a set in Utah and a producer was shooting in New Mexico,” she says. “I was looking at Mississippi and Georgia for the film. When I learned of New Mexico and how the process is so streamlined, I changed my mind. The New Mexico Film Office was so accommodating and it was such a close flight.”

Greer Grammer, Shanola Hampton and director Anna Elizabeth James on the set of “Grace.” (Courtesy of Lewis Jacobs)

“Grace” tells the story of a best-selling female novelist suffering from writer’s block who hires an innocent young woman to watch over her twin children.

As the novelist dangerously indulges in her new bestseller, the line between the life she’s writing and the one she’s living becomes blurred.

The film stars Kristin Davis, Dermot Mulroney, Shanola Hampton and Greer Grammer. Filming was done in and around Albuquerque. Production also took place for a few days at the Albuquerque Journal.

Production took 17 days and each day was filled with filming 12 pages of script.

Everything James set out to find was accomplished.

“We found a beautiful home and the homeowner never had a feature film there,” she says. “It was something I wanted to film and then it was removed from the list. I wanted to see the house and I sat outside her gate until the woman came home and asked her personally to film inside her home. I begged her for 48 hours and she agreed to letting us film there. It was a win.”

In the film, there was a scene in a courtyard with a water feature. This is where James found the Albuquerque Journal campus.

Once on the scene, she found that more scenes could be filmed there, as well.

“It turned out to be an incredible location,” she says. “We turned it into a police station, interrogation room, an office for Elaine. We also were able to use the library. We used six or seven locations in that one spot.”

James pulled double duty as both writer and director of the project.

It’s an idea that’s been floating around in her head for a few years.

“There’s a scene from the film that kept appearing to me,” she says. “You have the perfect caretaker for your child and you invite them into your home, and let them be a part of your family. This is a person you trust. Then there’s the juxtaposition of what they are like versus your imagination. It plays with your mind.”

James put pen to paper in January 2018 and pitched it to Grammer right after.

By April 2018, the outline was in place with a bigger treatment complete in August.

In January 2019, James took the script out to talent, which piqued the interest of Davis and Mulroney.

“New Mexico really came through in giving me the perfect space for the film,” she says. “Unfortunately, Utah is behind on things and they thought the film’s premise was a little out there. It’s something that women in the state could have been proud to be part of and support.”

Another aspect of the film industry that James was happy with was the quality of actors and crew.

“The child actors that we had and their mothers were supportive of the story,” she says. “The local talent of New Mexico is unbelievable.”

Marie Wagenmen, Shylo Molino and Dermot Mulroney on the set of “Grace.” (Courtesy of Lewis Jacobs)

In fact, James was impressed by Melissa Chambers, who plays Aunt Lotty in the film.

“The day of filming, people didn’t understand that the aunt has two different personalities,” James says. “We were blocking in the rehearsal and blank stares were all around. Melissa walked in for the audition and just knew the part perfectly. I told her, ‘You have the part.’ She is such a rich talent because she embodied Aunt Lotty.”

James’ goal is to submit to the Festival de Cannes, which takes place in April.

She plans to submit to the Venice Film Festival, as well as the Toronto International Film Festival.

“The other thing that is happening is that Amazon and Netflix want to see a cut of the film,” she says. “There are so many avenues and I do hope that we get released this year.”

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