OGDEN — Shila Hicks is new in town, sniffing around the Browning Mansion and other high-society hangouts in the designer gown she spent her last dollars to buy.
Her secret is that she’s fresh out of the trailer park, where she lived with mom Fancy and with Jimmy Ray, a nice guy Shila always knew wasn’t her real dad. So Shila’s back in her mother’s moneyed hometown of Proper, looking for the rich guy Fancy was dating before she fled, right after high school.
Shila’s looking for her biological father, and for her share of his fortune.
Welcome to Proper. You have been warned.
That’s the tagline for “Proper Manors,” a new soap opera shooting in the Ogden area, set to debut May 31 on the Internet, with new episodes once a week. Northern Utah actors, writers, directors and crews are donating their skills now in hopes the project will make money in the future.
“It’s going to be great,” said Amy Savannah, 25, of Layton, who portrays Shila. “I’m very picky on writing, so it has to be good, especially if it’s nonpaid at first. I’ve never done a soap before, but even if I wasn’t in it, I would get hooked.”
Shila and a few dozen other major and supporting characters were the 1980s childhood creations of Pietro D’Alessio, a Florida native and Ogden resident for about the past three years. D’Alessio moved to Utah at the urging of his lifelong friend, Jef Phillips, who showed up in California to rescue his old friend from a film career that wasn’t happening. Phillips has since moved to Utah after his family relocated from Florida.
“I thought of ‘Proper Manors’ when I was 13, 30 years ago,” D’Alessio said. “I was a fan of ‘General Hospital.’ I grew up with sisters and got caught up in all the soaps.”
As a junior high student, D’Alessio began envisioning his own interconnected community of soap opera characters for a show that, at the time, he called “Southern Manors.”
“Being his friend, I got to know the story,” said Phillips, 42, of West Haven. “It was a little strange, but it was cool at the same time. So I told him, ‘All right, let’s play around with this and see where it goes.’ ”
Life and careers took them in separate directions, but the men decided in 2009 that the time was right for the show, now called “Proper Manors.” They spent a few years developing back stories and future stories for every resident of the town of Proper, now portrayed by Ogden. All of the characters’ lives are intertwined, although just how may not be apparent for several episodes or even seasons to come.
Proper features old-money families, their children and grandchildren. One family may or may not have organized crime connections. The young adults, who are the main focus of the show, feel they are the pawns of their elders, and there’s a fair amount of evidence that they’re right.
D’Alessio said he’s amazed by the talented actors, directors, writers and film crews of Utah. Local professionals have formed a group, New Ogden Cinema, Inc., and have filed for nonprofit status. Group members have worked together for the past few years, making short films and independent features.
The Utah actors bring long and short lists of credits to their roles. Savannah will appear in the upcoming “Left Turn,” starring Danny Trejo and Luis Guzmán, and has a starring role in the upcoming indie film “Lust of the Vampire Girls.”
Fans of 1980s soaps will recognize Anne Sward as Lyla, from “As the World Turns.” She has played many other roles, often in Utah-filmed Disney movies. On “Proper Manors,” she’s matriarch Blanche Crawford Sorrento. Guy Nardulli, who has had guest shots on “The Young and the Restless,” “General Hospital” and “How I Met Your Mother,” plays Antonio Sorrento.
Phillips said location shots for “Proper Manors” have also included a North Ogden residence, the Soul and Bones restaurant on Washington Boulevard and Jimmy’s Flower Shop.
“More and more people are becoming interested in our show,” Phillips said.
For information on “Proper Manors,” visit www.propermanors.tv. That’s the same place you can watch new episodes once the series debuts.
“I hope people will love the show,” Phillips said. “I hope they fall in love with the characters and are really able to identify with them. I hope they will find it entertaining and comedic. There are some fun things going on, even with the seriousness of it all.”