Last June, actor Shia LaBeouf and 50 other Hollywood types took over the Bennington home of Don and Jennifer Sedlacek for 10 exciting if sometimes strange days.
The reason was a movie. The movie was “American Honey.” The film, which opens Friday in Omaha, needed a pool with a view.
“They wanted a pool with cornfields and rolling hills behind it,” Jennifer Sedlacek said. “And that’s what we have.”
A location scout for the film knocked on their door in spring 2015, letting them know their house was perfect for a scene they needed to shoot. Would they be interested? Once the Sedlaceks determined this was legit, they negotiated a fee. A few weeks later, the movie crew moved in.
The scene shot at the Sedlacek home features the film’s main character (played by newcomer Sasha Lane) and its biggest star (LaBeouf, star of the “Transformers” series) partying poolside with a trio of cowboys (one of them played by Will Patton of “Remember the Titans”). The party sours, Shia shoots a gun into a few steaks on the grill, and the cowboys wind up in the pool. A snippet of the scene can be seen in the film’s trailer.
The production had full control of the Sedlaceks’ backyard, basement, garage and entire first floor of their home. It was supposed to be three days of prep and shooting but quickly grew to three times that.
Though it ended up being more of an experience than either Don or Jennifer had anticipated, it was still a good experience, they said — for them and their two children.
They were well-compensated, though Jennifer said she would have done it for free. (Don said he might not go that far.)
“It’s just one of those once-in-a-lifetime things,” Jennifer said.
Photos: The day Shia LaBeouf moved in
Last June, actor Shia LaBeouf and 50 other Hollywood types took over the Bennington home of Don and Jennifer Sedlacek for 10 exciting if sometimes strange days. The reason was a movie. The movie was “American Honey.” The film, which opens Friday in Omaha, needed a pool with a view. Read more: Why a Bennington family gave LaBeouf run of their home for a week
The film, which is being distributed by A24, follows a teenage girl (Lane) who joins a traveling magazine sales crew (led by LaBeouf) that gets in all sorts of trouble on a road trip through the Midwest. The nearly-three-hour “American Honey” was directed by English filmmaker Andrea Arnold, who made the acclaimed drama “Fish Tank” and 2011’s adaptation of “Wuthering Heights.” Don Sedlacek hasn’t seen any of Arnold’s films yet, but his impression of the filmmaker herself? “She’s a stud.”
“American Honey” has received good-to-great reviews since its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, where it was awarded the Jury Prize — third place, basically. Arnold based her script on a New York Times article about the grim reality of magazine crews, and the film plucks at some of the working-class struggles and resentments that are driving this presidential election.
The film’s road-trip framework took the production through Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa, North Dakota and, of course, Nebraska.
Besides the Sedlaceks’ home, “American Honey” shot footage at a lake near Bennington, the Bosselman Travel Center in Grand Island and the Rath Motel along Interstate 29 in Missouri Valley, Iowa.
Locals like Stacy Heatherly helped facilitate the production and find locations, such as a certain pool with a cornfield view.
“The people that I worked with were phenomenal, and the production was very well-maintained and respectful,” said Heatherly, commissioner of the Eastern Nebraska Film Office, based in Fremont. “We wanted them to leave with a very positive experience.”
Though Nebraska lacks tax incentives for film productions, Heatherly wants the state to be known as a friendly and supportive location for visiting crews.
The movie’s cast and crew slept (and partied) in midtown and downtown Omaha. But for 12 to 15 hours a day they were at the Sedlaceks’. The family was home for most of the shoot, save for taking the kids to baseball games and for Jennifer going to work at Union Pacific Railroad; Don is a stay-at-home dad.
The Sedlaceks were allowed to hang around the shoot as long as they didn’t get in the way. They had the second floor to themselves, though LaBeouf wandered up there once looking for a bathroom.
The Sedlaceks were given a few rules.
They weren’t supposed to tell their neighbors, friends or Facebook followers anything about the shoot. (Neighbors still knew what was going on; a few gathered at the end of the Sedlaceks’ driveway, trying to catch a glimpse of LaBeouf.)
Don: “And they told us no taping or filming.”
Jennifer: “They did?”
Jennifer has dozens of photos and videos from the shoot, many taken surreptitiously from an upstairs window.
“We didn’t have to leave our home,” Don said. “But what did they tell us?” he asked his wife.
“Stay away from Shia and don’t talk to him,” Jennifer said. “He’s always in character.”
For his part, Don had no idea who LaBeouf (or “LaBoof,” as Don first pronounced it) was. Don learned that this “LaBoof” (actually pronounced “LaBuff”) was an eccentric actor who stayed in his trailer much of the time and got pumped up for scenes by listening to hard-rock music.
“When Shia came walking down the driveway, everybody was freaking out,” Don said. “They were, like, ‘Shhhh. Shhhh.’ I’m like ... ‘Him?’ ”
But Jennifer and Don said that whatever his idiosyncrasies, LaBeouf did a tremendous job in a very intense scene. And Jennifer got to snag a photo with him at the end of the shoot.
What surprised Don and Jennifer the most about the “American Honey” experience was how little their kids seemed to care about it. Trenton, 14, now says he doesn’t remember much about the experience. Taylor, 12, wasn’t starstruck by LaBeouf.
The shoot may not have left a mark on the kids, but the memory is still vivid and a little surreal for their parents: the crew blowing circuits by using every outlet in the house; rising starlet Lane dancing on the outdoor fireplace; the crew replacing the Sedlaceks’ furniture with movie furniture, their dogs with movie dogs, their family photos with the family photos of movie characters.
Also, the crew finishing their basement; the crew taking apart their trampoline; the crew using Jennifer’s office for hair, makeup and wardrobe.
Jennifer recalls acclaimed actor Patton running through their house soaking wet from jumping into the pool. Don remembers the horses that kept wandering off and out of the shot, delaying production.
They remember proudly watching their baseball-pitcher daughter, 10 at the time, strike out several crew members on a bet, a bet that scored Don $400 worth of Whole Foods steaks — the same steaks fake-shot by LaBeouf.
Don got close with the crew members, each day following them and watching them work.
“I’d ask them ‘What do you do?’ ‘What do you do?’ ‘What about you?’ ” he said. “That crew was amazing to watch. The way they shot it, though, I didn’t think that the film quality would be all that good. I thought it would be all herky-jerky, not a movie movie. But when I saw that trailer, I was, like, ‘Wow, that looks good.’ ”