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In May 2013, Moviegoers’ staff blogger Mack Bates wrote about the Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign thrown by South Milwaukee native and award-winning filmmaker Kyle Olson and the family of Ashleigh Love (a local teenager whose still-unsolved murder made local and national headlines in the fall of 2009), to film an anti-violence documentary short with the working […]



In May
2013,
Moviegoers’
staff blogger Mack Bates wrote about the Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign thrown
by South Milwaukee native and award-winning filmmaker Kyle Olson and the family
of Ashleigh Love (a local teenager whose still-unsolved murder made local and
national headlines in the fall of 2009), to film an anti-violence documentary short
with the working title
Letters to
Ashleigh
. In the film, family members, friends, and strangers would read
letters (to Ashleigh) that they had written to her following her death.

The goal
was to raise at least $3,000 of the film’s proposed $3,500 production budget by
the end of its month-long Indiegogo campaign in order to move forward with filming.

In
November 2013, Moviegoers ran a follow-up piece with Olson to get a status update
on where everything stood regarding the film.
He shared
that the film’s month-long crowdfunding campaign raised a total of $4,622 (over
$1,100 more than its proposed $3,500 production budget), and that the film was
in post-production following a late-summer shoot here in Milwaukee last August.

Letters to Ashleigh, a long-gestating passion project for Olson, as well as for
Ashleigh Love’s family, ceased being a dream and was well on the road to being
an actual, tangible reality with its official “Red Carpet Premiere
right around the corner.

Determined
to make sure Ashleigh was remembered as more than just a murder statistic,
South Milwaukee native and award-winning filmmaker Kyle Olson, a close family
friend of the Loves, teamed up with the family to chronicle Ashleigh’s life. The
resulting film, Letters to Ashleigh, gives audiences a
glimpse at a family that has been hit with an unimaginable tragedy but still
found a way to persevere with their heads held high.

A
touching and quietly powerful celebration of Ashleigh’s all-too-short life, the
documentary short features the family reading correspondence they received in
the days and weeks following Ashleigh’s death, first from close family and
friends, and then total strangers from around the country who heard about the
story. The film also serves as a sobering wake-up call for those of us who have
become increasingly desensitized to the seemingly never-ending deluge of media coverage
detailing the latest senseless violent act(s) that typically kick off the nightly
news even when it involves young, innocent victims caught in the crossfire. Rightly
or wrongly, the same cannot be said for those who have lost a loved one to a
senseless act of violence, like the Love family. One can’t help but think that
each new media report of a senseless act of violence must feel like salt on a
wound that will never fully heal.

In a recent
conversation with Moviegoers, Kyle Olson, who resides in southern California
and works extensively behind-the-scenes in TV production (his credits include the
CW’s “America’s Next Top Model,” ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars,” Fox’s “Glee,”
Syfy’s “Face Off”) spoke about making Letters to Ashleigh a reality.

For those unfamiliar with the particulars
of the story, in the early morning hours of Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2009, an intruder
broke into the Milwaukee-area home of then-recent high school graduate Ashleigh
Anne Love, walked to her bedroom, and fatally shot her as she slept peacefully.
Ashleigh had just celebrated her 19th birthday three weeks prior. She
is survived by her parents, her two brothers, as well as a host of additional
family and friends. The motive behind her murder remains a mystery as does the
identity and whereabouts of the perpetrator. Ashleigh’s murder has been
classified a cold case by the Milwaukee Police Department.

According to Olson, a lot of effort was put in by all involved before
filming commenced in Milwaukee last August. “Prep work started well before we launched
the Indiegogo campaign for Letters to
Ashleigh
,” Olson said. “Pre-production lasted about eight months before
we moved into principal photography which lasted about a month. We filmed at
various locations throughout Milwaukee because it’s where Ashleigh grew up and
where most of her family and friends live.” 

Olson has been actively working on the film for the better part of two
years now. The film’s post-production work was done entirely in Hollywood and
took nearly a year to complete.

Essentially films are made in the editing room, this especially holds
true for documentary films, regardless of their length. Olson and his
crew shot over 30 hours of footage for the film last summer. The finished film
runs a little over 23 minutes. For a film with such a relatively brief running
time, it packs quite the emotional wallop.

When asked to explain the close working relationship a filmmaker has with
their editor when crafting a documentary, Olson said, “The editor is, in my
opinion, one of ‘the’ most important people on a production. Next to the
director, they have direct control of story. Elliott, our ace editor, worked
tirelessly to make sure the entire film had the same look and feel we were
dreaming of since Day 1 when we started pre-production. I value his feedback so
much and it was so great having him on our team.”

 

He continued: “When
you film a documentary, it’s paramount to have a ‘fresh set of eyes’ to check
out the footage after it’s been shot. I worked with this story, the
concepts, and everything else for almost a year before we shot it — so I
became very comfortable and familiar with it.  After we shot it, Elliott
came in with a whole new set of eyes. That proved to be vitally important.”

 

Similarly, he
had nothing but the utmost praise for everyone involved in the making of the
film. “My crew for Letters to Ashleigh was the best. We
had people from all over the United States working on this project. It was an
incredible collaboration, a true team effort. 
I could not have asked for a better crew.”

Well into the editing process, as the documentary began to take shape,
Olson selectively showed footage to trusted friends and colleagues to gauge
their response to the material.

“It was important to me that we brought in folks from all walks of life
so we could get as many diverse opinions as possible. We had a great grab bag
of people including men and women of all ages from all different backgrounds. Twenty
were asked to be a part of the screenings in total. The general consensus was
that most people were really glad they had a chance to see the movie and learn
about Ashleigh’s story. Most were moved in some way – many to tears.”

According to Olson, members of the Love family have opted to wait to see
the film for the first time at next week’s “Red Carpet Premiere.”

When we last spoke, Olson mentioned that he was on the lookout for a
business or an organization to help sponsor the film. He got what he was
looking for and then some.

We are thrilled to be partnering with Cedar Lodge Music for our sneak peek premiere
event,” Olson shared. “Jim Shoulak, the man behind Cedar Lodge Music, has been a singer,
songwriter, and guitar player for 37 years. 
His latest album, “Stayin’ Focused,” contains many social justice-themed
songs, including selections about: domestic violence, peace, child sex abuse,
same-sex relationships, politicians, and non-violence. It is Jim’s hope that
through his publishing company, Cedar Lodge Music, he can call attention to
injustice and oppression throughout the world, and work toward a more peaceful
world. We could not have asked for a better partnership for this premiere.  It’s a perfect fit.  We are both in this for the same thing –
sharing stories and hoping to make a change.” 

Olson said that he’s
already submitted the film to over a dozen film festivals, including several
here in Wisconsin, in an attempt to get the film seen by as many people as
possible. It’s his and the Love family’s hope that the film will not only draw
attention back to Ashleigh’s case – but, fingers crossed – help bring about some
long overdue justice for Ashleigh and her loved ones.

“I am hoping people will walk away from this film inspired to do
something,” Olson says.  “Everybody can
do something to make a change. It sounds cliché, but it’s so true.”

Trials and tribulations are a part
of everybody’s life. Some people, of course, end up having to deal with far
more than anyone would ever want to imagine. 
But at the end of the day, it’s how one chooses to let those bad days
shape them that makes all the difference.

“I hope Ashleigh’s story inspires people to live
their lives to the fullest and to always walk with their head held high — no
matter what,” Olson said. “This film has a universal message.  Ashleigh’s story is our story.”

Filmmaker Kyle Olson will be in attendance at Letter to
Ashleigh
’s official “Red Carpet Premiere” next Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014, at the
Marcus Majestic Cinema (770 N. Springdale Rd., Brookfield). The screening starts
at 7 p.m. CST, a special Q & A with Olson and some of the film’s
participants will follow the screening. Please arrive early at 6:30 p.m. to
walk the red carpet and get your picture taken. There will also be some
entertainment by some surprise guests. Tickets for the red carpet premiere can
be purchased here, prices vary.

All proceeds from the premiere
will go to the Love family so they can continue to spread the word about Ashleigh’s
story in an effort to bring the perpetrator of Ashleigh’s senseless murder to
justice.


“Letters to Ashleigh” Trailer from Kyle Olson on Vimeo.

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