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Trekking to the big screen

Dan BurkhartReinette Senum (kneeling, right) poses with actors Sunday at a rehearsal for a staged reading of her screenplay, "Reaching Allison." With her are (from left): Drue Mathies, Rene Sprattling, Vann Dart (front, looking through frame), Glenn Leeson-Smith, Lorraine Webb, Peggy Dart and Daven Mathies.
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

Being in precarious positions is not a big deal for Reinette Senum.

At age 27, Senum skied and paddled a handmade kayak 1,500 miles alone across Alaska along the Yukon River.



The National Geographic Society lent Senum video and photo equipment to chronicle her adventure and told her she was most likely the first woman to trek solo through Alaska.




Now 35, Senum has mountain climbed, hitchhiked and trekked in 40 countries for 16 years. She spent $10 a day for 18 months in 27 countries from 1986-87.

Senum is happiest when she’s in the adventure mode.

Her mother told her, “If you’re ever going to do something, do it now,” just before she died at age 54 from cancer. Senum has followed that advice to the letter.

She grew up in Nevada County and moved to Los Angeles six years ago to learn filmmaking. Senum still considers Nevada City home and returns every six to eight weeks to see her friends and relax.

Senum’s newest quest is Hollywood, and her plan of conquest is in the form of a comedic screenplay, “Reaching Allison.”

“It feels great. I feel alive, having my creative juices flowing,” Senum said Sunday minutes before she greeted actors at the first “Reaching Allison” stage reading rehearsal at Center for the Arts in Grass Valley.

While Senum’s current expedition (writing, producing and directing “Reaching Allison”) takes place in an urban area, she has the same sense of adventure and surge of energy as in the wild.

There are obvious differences, however.

“With my trek to Alaska, I knew where point A and point B were,” Senum said with a laugh. “In Hollywood, I’m navigating blindly. I’m like a mouse in a maze looking for the cheese.”

Senum plans on finding that cheese.

“This is a completely different adventure,” she said. “I’m in it for the long haul, come hell or high water.”

And unlike her outdoor adventures, which have geographic boundaries, there are no boundaries with her imagination.

“I fell in love with filmmaking because you can create anything,” Senum said. “I can bring back my adventures to people and give them a vicarious adventure. I’ll be happy to get my butt kicked so I can tell you about it later.”

Reaching for a star theme of screenplay

Reinette Senum wrote the script for “Reaching Allison” in eight days last February.

The words came easily because it deals with a subject she has experienced firsthand.

“Reaching Allison” is about wannabe filmmaker Tommi Thomas’ desperate attempts to leave her 12-step support group Struggling Screenwriters and Fledgling Filmmakers, Enough (S.S.A.F.F.E. ) and put her just-completed screenplay, “Flying Huevos,” into the hands of actress Allison Janney of “The West Wing,” “American Beauty” and “Nurse Betty.”

Senum states with a laugh the main message of “Reaching Allison”: “What do you have to do to get a response? Just read the damn script and then say yes or no.”

But for four years in the late ’90s, Senum was daunted by the elusive carrot as she peddled “A Stone’s Throw,” a coming-of-age screenplay she wrote about a 40-year-old woman in Africa.

She got tired of hearing the word “no” from agents or that an actress had almost bitten at the role. Senum believed enough in “A Stone’s Throw” that she decided to approach Janney, an actress she thought would be ideal in the leading role.

“I just drove right by, past the studio guard,” Senum said. “I had just finished a house-painting job and was all smelly and sweaty. But I wanted the chance to scout the place and figure where I could find Allison Janney.”

Senum, who has come across sleeping bears, been bitten by lions, attacked by baboons, chased by wolves and slugged in the face by a gorilla, was shaking as she drove into the Warner Brothers studio in September.

Then, as if Senum herself were cast in a movie with an unbelievable script, Janney walked by.

Senum asked Janney if she could bring her a script to consider.

The next Monday, Senum drove past the security guard, professionally dressed and pretending to scream on her mobile phone while holding a Starbucks coffee cup and driving a spotless car.

Senum returned to “The West Wing” set two more times to see if Janney had read her script.

But Senum never received an answer from Janney.

“I’ve trekked across countries, climbed mountains around the world, I’ve snuck into a studio, and I can’t get a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ from the source,” Senum said Sunday.

Then Senum visualized the possibilities of a campy low-budget film, and “Reaching Allison” emerged.

Senum remains impressed with Janney: “Here I’m inside her star trailer, and she was very cool and professional. Even though she didn’t get back to me, she’s on the top of my list for allowing me to go back a few times to the set.”

Filming of “Reaching Allison” will begin in early spring in Los Angeles.

Senum has raised $15,000 from her part-time house-painting jobs and donations from investor-friends. She hopes to raise another $20,000 for film production costs.

The three leading roles were cast from 3,000 actors nationwide.

East Coast actress Laura Margolis, now living in Los Angeles, is cast as Tommi Thomas; Travis Shakespeare from Colorado plays Kirk Donner; and Nicole Marcks, a recent graduate of the Juilliard School, plays Brenda Wallis.

The actors will be joined at Sunday’s staged reading in Grass Valley by eight Nevada County actors.

Most of the locals agreed to be in the reading before even seeing the script – they trust Senum.

Peggy Dart, who performed with Senum in Foothill Theatre Company productions during the 1990s, was at Sunday’s rehearsal. She didn’t care what part Senum gave her.

“I’m doing this reading for Reinette because she’s special,” Dart explained. “We all know she’s very talented.”

Glenn Leeson-Smith, who also appeared with Senum in FTC productions, was at the rehearsal “because she called me and asked me to do it.”

This stage reading is not recommended for children because it contains strong language.

Afterwards, Senum will ask the audience to fill out a questionnaire and will also hold a question-and-answer period. Feedback will be incorporated into the movie version.

Know and Go

WHAT: “Reaching Allison” staged reading

WHEN: Sunday at 1 and 6 p.m.

WHERE: Center for the Arts, 314 W. Main St., Grass Valley

ADMISSION: $12. Tickets on sale at the door one hour before curtain time.

INFORMATION: 274-8384 or 470-0816


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