From ‘Sister Wife’ to ‘Backup Singer’ |

From ‘Sister Wife’ to ‘Backup Singer’

Alisha Self, Of the Record staff

As a filmmaker, Park City resident Jill Orschel seeks out subject matter that inspires her and that she can relate to.

While creating "Sister Wife," her short documentary that premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, she felt drawn to the personal journey of DoriAnn, a Mormon fundamentalist who shares a husband with her younger biological sister.

Although she lacked common ground with her subject in terms of her situation, Orschel found that she shared DoriAnn’s desire to reach beyond life circumstances to realize her dreams.

She explores a similar theme in her most recent project, a short documentary narrative that she directed and produced for the Utah Digital Directors Project, a new program offered by the Salt Lake Film Society.

She was selected to participate in the pilot program in July by a committee of representatives from Utah’s film industry. The project is a professional digital laboratory designed to refine directors’ technical skills while encouraging them to stretch their creativity.

Orschel spent the past three months creating "Backup Singer," a short film that revolves around another character who wants to transcend her circumstances to achieve her goals. That character is local performer and business owner Lisa Needham, a friend of Orschel’s and the wife of singer-songwriter Rich Wyman.

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The project creates a narrative story arc from Needham’s real-life situation. A performer in her own right, she often sings backup for Wyman. In her spare time, she is working on a unique one-woman show. The film plays up her position in the shadow of her husband, Orschel says.

"Backup singing for Rich scratches the surface of her potential," she explains. She wanted to highlight the theme of women putting aside their hopes and dreams to fulfill their roles as wives and mothers.

"The beautiful thing is that you find out Rich isn’t holding her back at all," she says. "It becomes really clear that it really has to do with our own frame of mind what really holds us back is ourselves," she says.

Orschel sees the project as an interesting extension of "Sister Wife." She is currently working on another project with a related theme, a documentary about an aspiring dancer who is diagnosed with cancer.

"I can identify with all three of the subjects. I’m really finding myself in each of them," she says. She plans to package the films into a trilogy that encapsulates a set of universal issues.

"Backup Singer" features candid interviews with Needham

interspersed with footage of a set-up performance with Wyman and Needham at the Tower Theatre in Salt Lake City.

The production of "Backup Singer" moved much faster than that "Sister Wife" due to the timeline of the Digital Directors Project. Orschel starting shooting two weeks into the project and had one day to capture the main scene.

"That was hard but it was also great because I had to know exactly what I wanted there was no messing around," she says.

The Salt Lake Film Society provided the camera equipment, film crew and a mentor to work with actor, director and screenwriter Peter Riegert. The main focus of the project, Orschel says, was to encourage the four fellows to concentrate on the process rather than the end product and to push their limits as directors.

"For me, that was working with more actors," she says. The shoot at the Tower Theatre required 25 extras to play fans at the performance. Local resident Jewels Harrison helped with casting and many Parkites participated. At first Orschel felt overwhelmed by the chaotic atmosphere, however, "Once we rolled the camera, it was so much fun," she says.

Other Parkites were also involved in the production, including Lela Newey on the camera crew and Cynthia Sandoval as the stills photographer.

Orschel has submitted the five-minute project to Sundance and plans to submit to several other festivals as well. The film will be featured as part of the fifth annual Park City Filmmakers Showcase on Dec. 9, which Orschel coordinates with the Park City Film Series.

The Salt Lake Film Society will host a reception and screening for the directors’ projects on Tuesday, Nov. 9, at 7 p.m. at Color Mill in Salt Lake City. Orschel’s film will be shown along with projects from fellow directors An Dinh, Alex Johnstone and Connie Wilkerson. The cost is a $50 suggested donation and all proceeds will go to Utah Digital Director’s Project. Seating is limited to 50 guests; RSVP by calling (801) 746-0038 or emailing

"I’m feeling that this is just the beginning it’s more schooling for me," Orschel says. Her ultimate goal? To push beyond the constraints of her everyday life and create a feature-length film.