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By Eric Campos | May 10, 2004

By the age of 16, thanks to her “Big Sister” Cindy Baer, Celeste Davis had finished her story Purgatory House, an afterlife journey of a teenage girl dealing with her own suicide, turned it into a screenplay and then saw it come to life as a feature film with herself in the lead role. Pretty crazy stuff and that’s more than a lot of people accomplish in a lifetime.

We spoke with Celeste about what it was like suddenly writing and starring in a film.

Did you believe Cindy when she told you that she wanted to turn your story into a movie?
Yes, because at first we were only going to make a short video. But when Cindy told me she decided to make the entire feature, then I was shocked! If someone would have told me that I was going to star in a feature film a year earlier, I would have thought they were crazy! Cindy has always kept her word with me.

Was it fairly easy turning your story into a screenplay?
Yes, because I originally wrote it with a lot of dialogue. It had just naturally come out like a screenplay.

Did you enjoy being in front of the camera?
Honestly, at first no. But they would tape all of the auditions, and since I would read lines with the people that came in, I got pretty used to the camera before we started shooting. After awhile, you get so used to the camera that you don’t even notice it. It’s nerve racking to have so many people around watching you. But, after time though, you get used to that, too.

What was life like on the set of Purgatory House?
So far, it has been the best three weeks of my life! We shot the movie for 18 days. When I think about it, what is so cool is that I didn’t do anything else for that whole month except be an actress! I woke up, showered, dodged to the set (I was always late!), got into costume, hair and make-up, sat around for awhile, rehearsed and blocked the scene, sat around again (hung out with all the cool crew people and actors), shot the scene, ate lunch, sat around, worked with the studio teacher, shot some more, went home, relaxed and learned my lines for the next day. Woke up..repeat. It was pretty awesome!

What were some of the biggest challenges in getting this movie made?
The biggest challenge for me came a couple months before the shoot. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to star in it once I realized how big a project it was going to be. I got scared. I wasn’t sure if I was capable of doing a good job. But Cindy really believed in me, and I knew that if she believed that I could do it, that I would do great. Then, once the shoot began, I couldn’t believe that I ever considered not starring in it!

Are you happy with how the movie turned out?
I am amazed at how Purgatory House has come out. Cindy has done an incredible job. When I watch it, I just can’t believe my eyes!

So Cindy is a good director, as well as a good “Big Sister”?
Are you kidding me? Cindy is Super Woman! You take one look at Cindy, and think, “Wow! She did all of this?!” She is a clear example that you can do anything if you believe in it and put your mind to it. Cindy understands me better than I understand myself, which is why I think Purgatory House came out so well. Cindy also loves me unconditionally, which is why she is the best big sister in the world!

Have you attended any festival screenings of Purgatory House?
I haven’t gone to any “official” screenings yet (because I’m in school), but we did screen the unfinished cut to my high school, and that was awesome! It went better than we could have hoped! The kids were so inspired in it, and really connected with it. It felt great. I also got to speak with Cindy on a big filmmaking panel about PH, and meet some accomplished filmmakers.

It was SO MUCH fun, and I can’t wait to do more! We’ve been getting a lot of publicity too, and that’s really fun. We were just featured on “All things considered” on NPR, in the same story with Elephant! And right before Woodstock, The New York Post ran a feature story in the Sunday edition that was so cool! I love it.

Do you have any projects you’re working on right now?
Yes! I am working on more projects than I can handle or deal with! The wheels are constantly turning, which is a blessing and a curse! I am working on two screenplays (both top secret), a book of poetry, acting, song writing, art, and photography. I wish I only had one focus, but I love it all!

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