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November 23, 2015

UMass student co-writes and stars in independent film

Courtesy of Sascha Turnheim

This past year, University of Massachusetts junior Sascha Turnheim and film director Trista Allman co-founded production company CheckM8 Films, and the pair created their first film, “Staying Afloat,” which is set to premiere sometime this month.

Allman described the film as, “A dark representation of the life of a drug addict and the effect his addiction has on his family, friends and loved ones”. It tells the story of Lucas Mayne (played by Turnheim), a law graduate who returns home to find out that he has been betrayed by his friends and loved ones. He also soon learns that his closest childhood friend has died of a drug overdose. To cope with his recent misfortunes, Lucas turns to the streets and becomes a drug addict.

Turnheim, who immigrated from Austria to Boston in 1999, immersed himself in acting during the summer of 2011, and has since participated in a few short films, such as “Irish Whisper” and “Diamond Ruff.”  In 2012 he started writing a script in his dorm room that would later turn into “Staying Afloat.” It took Turnheim six months to write the story, and when he was finished, he asked Allman to direct the film.  “Staying Afloat” marks Allman’s directing debut as well as her debut as director of photography.

Turnheim and Allman dedicated three months to rewriting the script and a month was spent casting the twelve roles for the film, of which 150 people applied for, seeking roles.  Earning one of the co-star spots was Dennis Lynch, who has been cast in films such as “Shutter Island,” “The Departed” and “What Doesn’t Kill You.” Turnheim said that he enjoyed working with “someone of that caliber,” as Lynch was able to “personify his character to the fullest.”

Many hours of the production were spent on fine-tuning the script, scouting locations and shooting the film. As Allman put it, “Blood, sweat, and tears went into this.” She and Turnheim worked together to help secure funding and permits, and they are currently marketing their film.

They filmed from August to November in nearby locations such as New Bedford, Somerville, Quincy, Abington, Braintree and in several other cities near Boston and the South Shore. They also filmed scenes at various well-known Boston landmarks, one of which was taken while driving across the Zakim Bridge, which is seen in the opening of the official trailer. To complete the shot Allman mounted a camera on the car while driving across, along with a second shot coming from inside the car, facing out through the sunroof.  They had to complete the drive over the bridge a multiple times, just so they could get just the perfect shot. Allman also orchestrated a scene at the Boston Common that was filmed at 4:30 a.m.

“Her style of directing is truly a unique and phenomenal one. Through this she really brought out the best of every cast member. Personally she pushed me to the limit,” Turnheim laughed. In his eyes, he believes every director should be pushing an actor to the full capacity of his or her craft.

The vision of Allman and Turnheim was to make an honest and authentic film. Allman and Turnheim tackled the character of Lucas so Turnheim could embody the true nature of a junkie. Allman had him approach his character by doing method acting  so he could channel the thoughts and emotions of his character, in order to give an honest depiction of a junkie. Turnheim also went through a rigorous process in order to appear like he was under the influence of drugs. He followed the Christopher Walken diet for the length of 75 percent of the film, which Allman had told him to do in order to get a gaunt and strung out look. This diet consisted of eating only rice and bananas, which helped Turnheim achieve muscle atrophy. Turnheim also subjected himself to sleep deprivation in order to solidify the look he was going for.

“(It’s) a film that shows an original situation that people will be able to relate to,” Allman said. She and Turnheim wanted to create awareness about the drug epidemic and they both stressed that “Staying Afloat” is “very raw and very gritty.”

“Staying Afloat” will premiere later this month at McGreevy’s in Boston. The Irish Sports Pub, which is owned by Ken Casey of the Dropkick Murphy’s, is working with a few non-profit rehabilitation organizations to raise awareness about drug abuse. Also there will be a showing at Cambridge’s Kendall Square Cinema in early 2013. Turnheim and Allman are aiming to submit the film to the Tribeca, Nantucket, Brooklyn, Sundance and UMass Film Festivals.

Ryan Sacco can be reached at


3 Responses to “UMass student co-writes and stars in independent film”
  1. CheckM8 Films says:

    For more information be sure to check out the links below!

    FB Page:


    IMDb Page:

    Can’t wait to see you all at the premier!

  2. Great story and very well written. Can’t wait to see the film

  3. Devyn OBrien says:

    Lucky for me, I was able to see this incredible film at a VIP premiere back in January. A year of hard work and dedication by Sascha and his crew is truly evident in this film. I recommend that everyone see Staying Afloat and support a fellow UMass student and his production company because they are absolutely going to make their mark and they have only just begun!

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