Like the two-book series and doll introduced in January, Saige's screen debut showcases a ten-year-old girl with a passion for horses and art. As the school year starts, Saige is excited about entering a new grade until she discovers that art—her favorite class—has been cut. On top of that, her best friend, Tessa, seems to be spending more and more time with another girl at school. For help, Saige turns to her grandmother, a well-known artist and horsewoman, who inspires Saige to take action. Saige has to dig deep to find the courage to overcome her fears and save the art program—and her friendship with Tessa.
Why did we choose to create a movie out of this book series? Because we knew that girls who had read Saige's books would love watching favorite scenes take shape on screen, particularly in dramatic horseback-riding and performance scenes that highlight Saige's talents and her desire to make a difference in her community. We also hope the movie will reach a new audience and carry important messages about tapping into creativity as a way to overcome challenges and inspire others.
Cast and crew
To create Saige Paints the Sky, we once again partnered with producer-director team Debra Martin Chase and Vince Marcello, who brought our 2012 Girl of the Year to the screen with the movie McKenna Shoots for the Stars. Chase's production credits, which include The Princess Diaries, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, The Cheetah Girls, andLemonade Mouth, exhibit her knowledge of girls and her ability to create films that girls can relate to.
Casting for the lead roles started in July 2012. After reviewing videos of auditions, we found our Saige—a talented young actor named Sidney Fullmer. Although this was her first film, Sidney had been taking acting classes for several years and was a true professional on set. By capturing the lead role in Saige Paints the Sky, Sidney came full circle—a few years ago, her interest in acting in film was sparked when she was noticed by a talent scout after visiting an American Girl store.
Next, Emmy Award-winner Jane Seymour (Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and Smallville) signed on as Saige's grandmother, and Kerr Smith (Dawson's Creek, Charmed, and Life Unexpected) as her dad. Three young actors joined the cast as Saige's friends and classmates: Alex Peters as best friend Tessa; Alana Gordillo as the new girl, Gabi; and Mika Abdalla as the bossy but spirited Dylan.
Although the girls had some singing and dancing experience, all four took dance lessons to master the choreography of the movie's grand finale—a song-and-dance number put on to raise money for the arts. Those lessons not only prepared the girls for performance scenes but also gave them a chance to bond before filming. By the time they showed up for the first day of shooting, they were fast friends who had worked together, played together, and even studied together with the help of an on-set tutor.
Hair, wardrobe, and set design
To ensure that the Saige on-screen would stay true to the character girls had come to love in books and doll products, we paid careful attention to hair and wardrobe. The lead actor, Sidney, is a natural blonde, so her hair was dyed a rich dark auburn, and long extensions were added. When she showed up on set in her riding boots and indigo knit dress, Sidney looked the very picture of our Saige—a horse-loving girl with a penchant for bright colors and jewelry inspired by her Southwestern surroundings and traditions.
Careful thought went into sets, locations, and props, too. A beautiful property and house were scouted out in Santa Fe to represent Mimi's ranch. An art team worked on interiors as well, imagining a bedroom and an art studio that would be fitting for a young artist in the Southwest. To fill the space, designers created sketchbooks and paintings in a girl's hand, small details that lent authenticity to the film.
For the final dance number, the set—a large, multilevel structure built to resemble a mural painted by Mimi—was created not just once but twice. First, the set was constructed in a warehouse so that designers could work out the scale of the set and ensure it was safe for our actors to perform upon. Then before filming, the set was taken apart and rebuilt on location. The time and labor were intensive, but the result was breathtaking—a mural that "comes to life" as dancers step out of it to perform onstage.
After months of preparation and planning, filming began in September 2012. The first two weeks of filming took place in Winnipeg, a location where experienced movie crews are readily available. There, we shot most of the indoor scenes, such as those taking place at school, inside a theater, and at Saige's home. The last two weeks were shot 1,500 miles away in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, where cameras could capture the beauty of the Southwestern landscape.
Shooting in two locations presented challenges in terms of moving the cast and finding new crew, and also in terms of weather. During the first week of filming in Winnipeg, there was frost on the ground, and our actors had to "tough it out" while filming outdoor scenes like selling lemonade and holding a bake sale. In Albuquerque, the challenge wasn't frost but dust. During riding scenes, in particular, a thick layer of dust covered cars, trailers, and, ultimately, the cast and crew!
Despite the dust, filming in the Southwest added realism to our outdoor shots, particularly those taken at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. By filming at the Fiesta, our cameras and crew were able to capture some natural footage of hot air balloons. And for close-ups of Saige and her dad riding in his hot air balloon? Those were filmed while the balloon was safely tethered to the ground—with a "green screen" in the background, which would later be digitally swapped out for sky and clouds.
Some of the most dramatic moments in Saige Paints the Skyinvolve horseback riding, and, luckily, our two leading actresses—Sidney and Jane—both had riding experience. Still, the actors relied on stunt doubles to stand in for them during scenes with more difficult riding moves, such as when Saige learns to ride with a parade gait and during the actual parade.
Even Picasso, Mimi's beloved horse, had a "double"—a horse with similar markings but who was smaller and therefore easier for Sidney to ride. This horse trotted on set when the director was filming faraway shots, during rehearsals of upcoming scenes, and whenever Picasso Number One needed a rest!
The parade-riding scene was filmed from several angles, and for close-up scenes, a fake horse was used. The mechanical horse allowed the photographer to zoom in on the rider's face. The result was a dramatic scene in which Saige overcomes her stage fright to urge Picasso forward and continue on with the parade.
Attentive viewers will see some differences between the Saige movie and the books. The "Day of Beige" scene, a protest organized by Saige and her friends, plays out on-screen in a much grander and more vivid way. And the final performance scene, which in the books is a small show involving a horse and two girls, catapults off the screen as a "Living Art" performance, with inspiring music and a whole cast of talented dancers.
The movie allowed us to convey in new and creative ways the themes that we had set up in the books. Yet the underlying message of both of the Saige books and this movie is the same—girls can use their imagination to create art and inspire action. We hope that viewers will be left wondering how they can use their own talents to inspire others.