HAMMOND | What started as a public access-aired short, "Deadly Memories: Lost and Found" has morphed into a feature film production.
"We got great vibes from it, and it just kept growing and growing," said Chicago resident and East Chicago native Robby Celestin, who wrote the screenplay and stars in the film. "It's about a group of secret agents who, to the outside world, lead ordinary lives and have ordinary jobs."
Incidentally, Team Underground, a collection of local mixed martial arts fighters and trainers, also is populated with ordinary "Joes." For one, there's former Hammond multisport athlete Josh Weddington, who works as a respiratory therapist by day.
And there's Rigoberto Montoya, a detention officer at the Lake County Juvenile Center.
"I lost 20 pounds," the 34-year-old Montoya said about training for his first amateur cage fight.
"Maybe it was a good sign," said Montoya, whose fight was canceled. "Maybe I wasn't ready back then because I'm in even better shape now."
Weddington, Montoya and fellow Team Underground members Tim Carlisle, Chris Elkins, Mike Trtan, Jesse Hamer and Justin Wolters (who has film making experience) were recruited by the film's director, Paul Celestin (Robby's brother) to serve as stunt extras for an action sequence.
"I've been following these guys (from their fight card highlights) for some time, and I thought they would a good fit for what we're trying to do," said Paul Celestin, who previously wrote and directed the psychological thriller "Victims of Circumstance," which had a special showing at the AMC Showplace in Schererville last year.
The Celestins and Team Underground rehearsed the action sequence in the garage of Carlisle's Highland home in preparation for a shoot in downtown Hammond.
"I prefer to do more wide-angle shots for the action ... like in the classic Bruce Lee movies," Paul Celestin said after showing the extras a previously shot fight scene featuring Robby and another actor.
"Those close-cropped fight scenes you see in many action movies today help give the illusion that the actors actually know how to fight," Paul Celestin said. "You can shoot one punch then shoot another punch or kick to make it look like a (real-time) combination."
Not graced with a blockbuster budget, Paul, Robby (who in rehearsal aptly displayed his own martial arts prowess) and the extras have to make it work during a single extended take.
One extra who Robbie rouged up considerably was Carlisle, a longtime mixed martial arts instructor who started Team Underground after one of the gyms he worked at closed and several of his students needed a place to train.
"For some gyms, you've got to sign a two-year contact, and that's a lot to ask during these times," Carlisle said. "So I decided to help train them for free ... try to give back. And our guys have been doing great."
In particular, Weddington who is ranked among the Top 10 middleweights amid the United Combat League, and will be fighting in the main event at the Brawl at Bourbon Street card July 17 at 115 Bourbon Street bar and restaurant in Merrionette Park.
"My cousin (Dave Nowaczyk) said I should give MMA a try because of my size and strength," Weddington said. "So I did, but I didn't get serious about it until Dave got killed in Afghanistan."
On April 15, 2012, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Nowaczyk, 32, of Dyer, was killed when the truck he was riding in set off an improvised explosive device.
"I'm doing this in his memory," Weddington said.