Kevin L. Hoover
ARCATA – After weeks of behind-the-scenes planning and preparation, the feature-film Flea started shooting last week in and around Arcata.
With its story examining interactions between tribes in Bridgeton (a thinly-veiled Arcata) as it follows the title character’s life journey, set locations included streets, schools and even forest treetops ranging from the North jetty to McKinleyville.
But most of the action is in Arcata. The first day of shooting took the crew to Sunny Brae Middle School for a classroom scene. Another was shot at McKinleyville High School. An Alliance Road apartment offered a domestic setting, while the forest off Fickle Hill Road was the site of a particularly challenging filming session.
In all the varying locations, Suza Lambert Bowser, Flea’s mastermind writer, producer, director and actor, is in her element, seeming to gain energy with each day’s exertions.
Sporting a bruised rib from rappelling up and down redwoods with fellow actors, Bowser laughed about “filming with pouring rain in your face with full makeup and wardrobe.”
Following that ordeal, she and her crew returned to their office to review the day’s “dailies,” a ritual that sometimes goes until 4:30 a.m.
The next morning, she was back at it, at the center of a small galaxy of orbiting assistants in the film’s buzzing Uniontown Shopping Center home base, prepping for the next shoot.
Monday afternoon saw filming action on the Plaza, where various tribe members interact with the public. Another, more ambitious scene will be shot on the Plaza next Wednesday, June 16. That will include a number of extras in a farmers’ Market-like crafts fair, including vendors who participated in the recent Humboldt Arts Festival on I Street. “I can’t wait for that one,” Bowser exulted. “It’s going to be so groovy!”
With filming to continue through June, volatile Humboldt weather has created some continuity issues since the film is not being shot in sequence. But Bowser is confident that one of her many able crewmembers, Tally Wren, can ensure continuity.
With the infectious can-do attitude Bowser has instilled in the staff, Wren takes the fickle weather in stride. “We’ve had to adapt, but it’s going fantastic,” she said. “We’re all blowing each other’s minds.”
Wren is one of many in Bowser’s energetic and well-trained crew who never stop moving, pecking at laptop computers, barking into phones, making up actors, assembling wardrobe and running from task to arcane task in the office and on the set.
“Suza just generates so much energy,” said Noreen Dooley, production manager. “It takes a village.”
Kirsten Hexberg, Bowser’s personal assistant and second-second assistant director, also invoked the e-word. “Energy and morale are very high,” she said. “So far it’s flowing real well, and it will get better as we get in synch.”
Hexberg and the others seem to thrive on the challenging nature of film production. “There’s not a straight line, or even undulating,” she said. “It’s go-stop, go-stop. When you have something to do, you’re slammed, but when you’re done with that you’re eating chips and waiting.”
The crew is composed of four assistant directors, two camera people, plus specialists in every film-related discipline. About three dozen Humboldt State-trained students, graduates and staff are on the crew as well, contributing what Bowser calls incomparable contributions.
“Our interplay with Humboldt State is so invaluable on so many levels, with talent and resources and all the graduates and alumni.”
Among the HSU personnel on the film are Jody Sekas, assistant professor of Scene Design and Theatre technology (The sets that he’s done are phenomenal,” Wren said.); Joshua D. Nelson, assistant director/producer, an HSU film BA graduate; Janet Warren, makeup designer; David Scheerer, professor of film; and Catherine Brown, costume manager.
Hexberg, an HSU film student, said her training has been spot-on in the real world of filmmaking. “From your first film class at Humboldt State, you’re hands-on filming,” she said. “I’m surprised at what I’ve learned. Someone asked for call sheets and production logs, and I said, ‘Oh, I actually know what that means.’”
“I’ve worked on films for many years, and I’m just blown away,” Wren said. “Humboldt State should definitely be recognized as a top-notch film school.”
Still another former HSU film student, Alex Costello, was more or less conscripted to his job as first assistant director by a phone call two days before filming began. Now an Orange County resident, he’d just graduated Chapman University and was looking for a job and had interviews scheduled when Nelson called him and offered him a job on Flea. He cancelled those and came up, hitting the set running.
“I know half these people from Humboldt State,” Costello said. One thing he hasn’t had time to do is read the script, since as first AD he’s often last off the set.
For Costello, Hexberg and the others, the immersion in filmmaking is a creative dream come true.
“We all love it,” Hexberg said. “We’re all having fun.”