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August 17, 2004

The movie makers

From: Monterey County Herald, CA - Aug 17, 2004

Monterey County film shoot 'a leap of faith'

Herald Staff Writer

During his entire 30 years, Eli Steele has had to figure out how he fits into a hearing world.

Now, a movie that he created will ask that very same question.

Steele, profoundly deaf since birth, has just finished filming "What's Bugging Seth," based on some of his experiences, "but not autobiographical," he hastens to say. Shooting has taken place on and off over the summer in various locations around Monterey County.

Thanks to a cochlear implant four years ago and speech therapy at a young age, Steele has experienced both sides of the hearing/non-hearing continuum.

His script tells the story of a young deaf man who is trying to make his way in the world, in what is basically a drama, but leavened with humor.

"We're going to go the festival route," said Steele. "My goal is to get it into theaters. It's a leap of faith in many ways."

Steele doesn't live here, but his parents, Shelby and Rita Steele, do. In addition, his cinematographer and co-producer, David Myrick, is also a local product. When the two young men first got together and started talking about making a movie together, Monterey seemed like a natural choice for the setting.

"I've always wanted to shoot a film in Monterey," said Myrick, 22, who grew up on the Peninsula and now works on feature films in Southern California.

"I think of Monterey as my home," said Steele, currently a resident of Pasadena.

Fate apparently had a hand in bringing Steele and Myrick together. So did Steele's mother, who introduced the two during a chance meeting last year in Los Angeles. Rita Steele was acquainted with David Myrick through taking a photography class at Myrick Photographic, the Monterey camera store owned by David's parents, Stephen and Linda.

Steele and Myrick hit it off, and their friendship led to a partnership that is the driving force behind "What's Bugging Seth."

Steele wrote the script, and is also directing and producing it.

"What's Bugging Seth" also has the distinction of being the first 35-millimeter movie to be shot entirely in Monterey County since Clint Eastwood's "Play Misty for Me."

Steele entered the hearing world a mere four years ago, thanks to a cochlear implant, a small, complex electronic device that helps provide a sense of sound to those who are profoundly deaf or severely hard of hearing.

The implant is surgically placed under the skin behind the ear to compensate for damaged or non-working parts of the inner ear. Many people with the implants are able to understand speech easily, both in person and over the phone.

The implant has worked well for Steele, allowing him to carry on conversations with ease -- a big plus in pushing his project.

While writing the script, Steele drew his inspiration from things that happened to him while he worked a series of odd jobs in Southern California.

"It is about the issue of being handicapped and how the handicapped fit into so-called normal society."

The film's main character is Seth Singer, who is attempting to start his own pest control business, but with occasional misunderstandings and miscommunications in his dealings with the hearing world.

There's a romantic entanglement as well. Seth is attempting to choose between two girls --one deaf, like him, and the other hearing.

"He's trying to decide who he really loves," said Steele.

One of the twists of this filmmaking experience is that Ross Thomas, the hearing actor who portrays Seth, has had to learn how to play someone who's deaf. For instance, the lines that Thomas speaks must be handled carefully, Steele said.

"There's a fine line... you don't want (the character) to be unintelligible," he said.

Earlier this month, the crew filmed at Santa Catalina School in Monterey, as well as private residences in Pebble Beach and Seaside, and on Cannery Row. Earlier this summer, they shot scenes in Spreckels and Carmel Valley.

Many of the actors are local, as are the crew members, including Salinas resident Rebecca Willis and Dugan O'Neal of Carmel Valley.

"It's a bunch of people I've worked with in the past," said Myrick.

Steele recruited his parents' next-door neighbor, Edie Karas, for a small role -- a natural, since Karas has long been involved in local theater.

Steele had shown his script around Hollywood, with some nibbles but no bites. That's when he decided to make it as an independent film, and raised the money to get it in production.

Once it's edited, "What's Bugging Seth" will be sent off to a variety of film festivals throughout the country. This allows it be seen, to develop the all-important "buzz," and hopefully to find a distributor.

Steele said he couldn't have done it without encouragement from his parents, who also served as impromptu script consultants. His father, Shelby Steele, is a well-known author and authority on race relations in America.

"They've both been very supportive," Eli Steele said, and adding with a twinkle in his eye, "and my dad's a pretty hard critic." Kathryn McKenzie Nichols can be reached at or 646-4358.

© 2004 Monterey County Herald and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.