Kevin L. Hoover
ARCATA – The nondescript breezeway between Arcata Pet and Cash Advance at the Uniontown Shopping center may not look much like Hollywood and Vine, but there, a new chapter in local motion picture history is being made.
Open the dor to the former Curves For Women salon and you encounter a full-blown movie production office, packed end-to-end with all the stuff you see in DVD making-of featurettes – storyboards, props, wardrobe, makeup stations – and a busy but spirited crew of dedicated indie filmmakers.
What they’re making is Flea, the brainchild of writer/driector/producer Suza Lambert Bowser. The $300,000-plus production begins filing next month, and when it does, you’ll know it – the story includes several locations in Arcata and Humboldt beyond.
Bowser is putting the ideas she’s developed over several careers worth of experience as a writer, teacher, actor, director and composer into the film.
“When my last child got launched, I said, ‘OK!’ [claps hands together decisively] I’m going for it!’” Her first film, a western called A River of Skulls, only debuted April 17, and now Bowser is well into her next project, the ambitious Flea.
Bowser said Flea is based on an Arcata-inspired short story she once wrote. Flea examines themes of tribalism and redemption via the journey of the title character. Found badly beaten, the mysteriously mute 12-year-old Flea runs away from his trailer park home and joins a group called the Shadow Clan.
Adopted by Marsh Man, he is inculcated into the eclectic assemblage, which lives on the Shadeland on the outskirts of Bridgeton – a thinly-veiled Arcata.
The Shadow Clan comes into conflict with the Neo-Freaks – another tribe of a less peaceable nature who live in Shadeland. Still another tribe is composed of those who inhabit the mainstream – the “clean people.”
The story is rife with opportunities for colorful – and colorfully attired – characters, and Bowser makes the most of them. “It’s interesting to me how people decorate themselves,” she said. She describes the various characters’ garb as “a neo-pagan mishmash.”
The characters’ names are as fanciful as their clothing – Raven, Poet, Preacher, Plasterface, Two Girl, and many more dubious denizens of Bowser’s imagination.
Location shoots will take advantage of striking local scenery ready-made for such a production, including the Plaza (of course) and the otherworldly back bowels of Arcata Scrap and Salvage.
In fact, the film taps an astounding breadth of local talent at all levels – actors, support staff, set designers, make-up artists, grips, gaffers, industry movers-and-shakers and many more with all the arcane technical skills required to make a full-on motion picture.
Humboldt Film Commissioner Mary Cruse said the county is well-positioned to become a production-friendly film mecca, and Flea will be key in making that point.
“The more quality and creative productions that are made by local filmmakers, the more attractive we are for visiting productions,” Humboldt Film Commissioner Mary Cruse said.
She credits Humboldt State’s film program and local high school support for media production with helping develop the area’s abundant moviemaking assets.
“Because of digital media, our locations and our talent, there’s no reason Humboldt County can’t become a premier location for international film productions. For every key film position, we have crew.”
Acting talent, too. Stars include some name imports – Barry Williams (yes, Greg Brady), Brian O’Halloran and Josef Cannon – as well as homegrown thespians whom the cameras will likely love just as well – Betti Trauth, Mo Burke, Bob Wells, Peggy Molloy and the inevitable Donald Forrest, among many others. There will also be multitudes of extras from the local populace.
“I have ace people working with me, just ace,” Bowser enthuses. “They’re working hard and paying their rent. The money I’m paying my team is being recycled into Humboldt County.”
Flea is no flaky-shaky handheld production. It’s being shot in digital high definition, and will include some computer graphic special effects. “Making of” and “behind the scenes” featurettes will be produced along with the actual movie.
“I really feel that this film is going to be so tight and so unusual,” Bowser said. “I think we’ve got a good shot at doing something wonderful here.”
More information at fleamovie.com.