Independent film studio, IU alums shoot short film in local businesses


Jesse Cook awaits the take as Erick T. Cole and director Charles R. Pearce adjust the camera frame. Pearce studied Film & Video Arts at IU before creating film studio Buhu Design with his wife Sara Cashman Pearce. Caitlin O'Hara / Caitlin O'Hara Buy Photos

This trend affecting college graduates who wish to support themselves with a career in the arts is explored in the 20-minute short “It’s Okay to Be Happy,” which is being filmed in Bloomington until July 28.

Filming will take place in five businesses: Le Petit Café, Mother Bears Pizza, FARMbloomington restaurant, Bloomington Monroe County Convention Center and Solution Lab, a shared office space.

Buhu Design, an independent film studio in Chicago, and IU student group are each contributing to the film.

Directed by Charles Pearce — an IU alum, executive producer of Buhu Design and former production manager of — “It’s Okay to be Happy” centers around Chris, an everyman artist stuck working night shifts as a tech support representative.

Although lead actor Douglas Burbank originated the story, Chantel Mikiska, a freelance writer and poet in Los Angeles who also graduated from IU,wrote the screenplay.

“We thought that was a highly  identifiable story, and it’s one that merits much of what Doug has done in his life,” said Pearce, whose wife Sara Cashman Pearce is producing the film.

“So, we took that and we tried to kind of broaden ... beyond to it just happening to one person.”

Most of the cast and production team are also current IU students or alums, with another crew filming additional footage in Chicago.

Burbank, 29, graduated from IU in 2006 with a degree in theater and drama.

After finding little success in the acting field during his two years in New York, Burbank returned to Bloomington, then Chicago, where he helps refine story ideas for production at Buhu Design.

In about a month, Burbank will attend IU’s Maurer School of Law.

While Burbank said he was interested in doing a more dramatic acting project, Pearce wanted to direct a film set in the Midwest.

During a dialogue between the main character Chris and a friend, Chris recounts walking past a group of people eating brunch and drinking mimosas outside a restaurant after an all-night work shift.

“That absolutely happened, and that was sort of like the impetus, and that’s kind of the story I told Charles to get this going,” Burbank said.

The script has gone through several revisions to round out Chris’ profile, including the addition of Ash — Chris’ girlfriend — played by IU student Jacque Emord-Netzley.

Anisa Dema, who graduated from IU in 2005 with degrees in political science and philosophy, plays Nicole, a character who urges Chris to consider a social media job at a company where she is employed.

Dema, who attended law school in Minnesota for a year after graduating, said she was asked by Pearce and Cashman to play Nicole’s part.

“I read the script and saw how organized they were about every detail, so I said,

‘Yes, I’ll do it,’” said Dema, who also works as an accountant in New York. “And the script is something anyone in their early 20s to early 30s can relate to, especially for someone doing artistic endeavors.”

Buhu Design and plan to complete post-production for “It’s Okay to be Happy” by the end of this year, in time for the 2013 film festival circuit, according to a press release.

The film, Pearce said, will be admitted to the South-by-Southwest Film Festival, Cannes Film Festival, the Sundance Film Festival, the Tribeca Film Festival and several regional film festivals.

“Almost from the beginning, (the film) became this kind of hand-in-hand approach to not only making something that we were really passionate about ... but also making sure we were building something that could be legitimately competitive as well,” he said.

Pearce said the most common feedback he has heard from people helping with the project is that the plot is highly relatable.

“Ultimately, the resolution that our character comes to is that your identity is not driven by whether you’re working,” he said. “It’s much more driven by whether you’re happy with life, hence the title ‘It’s Okay to be Happy.’” 

The film closes with Chris’ decision to be interviewed for the social media position. During the interview, Chris is asked what he wants.

Both Pearce and Burbank purposefully gave the story a cliff-hanger ending so viewers can decide what Chris should do with his life.

“I don’t want to give it away,” Burbank said. “I have to know what Chris wants to do so I have to figure out what Chris’ ultimate decision is for it.”


Director and executive producer Charles R. Pearce helps stabilize Jesse Cook as he stands on a chair and extends a boom microphone. Pearce and wife Sara Cashman Pearce attended IU before creating their film studio Buhu Design. Caitlin O'Hara / Caitlin O'Hara Buy Photos

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