Why do some movie directors have such a low opinion of actors? Listen, for example, to what Alyssa Buecker has to say about her female lead: “Hazel is very sweet, but she’s just so dumb, she doesn’t even know the camera is there.”
To be fair, Hazel is one seriously limited thespian. In Buecker’s 1996 debut movie, Hazel, the Guinea Pig’s Package, Hazel played a guinea pig. And she played a guinea pig again in the followup, 1997’s The Christmas Caper. Artistically, Hazel is sort of spinning her wheels. But so what? Hazel is a guinea pig, and guinea pigs like to spin wheels. Buecker doesn’t. She sold her series of film shorts to the new HBO Family channel (all of them are cast from her resident repertory company of 19 guinea pigs, whom she squeezes into Barbie costumes for their roles).
The budding director, 15, is taught at home in Lawrence, Kans., by her mother, freelance writer Nancy Pistorius (dad Brad is an engineer). Buecker took a local filmmaking class when she was 11—the same year, coincidentally, that she acquired Hazel, her first guinea pig. It seemed only natural that the two pet projects should converge. “I was going to do a film about my dog Squwiger,” explains Alyssa, “but he doesn’t like people very much.”
Using lettuce and grass as incentives, Buecker got Hazel to perform in Package, a two-minute short about a guinea pig opening, well, a package. The Christmas Caper is a crime thriller, while Guinea Pigs from Mars is a sci-fi adventure. “All three [films] were just so darling and very funny,” says HBO Family vice president Dolores Morris, who selected them for its “30×30: Kid Flicks” series. “I just had to put them in.”
Next in the Buecker development pipeline: a Star Wars spoof commissioned by HBO Family. Its working title: The Carrot Wars. What did you expect, Return of the Gerbil?