A scene from Alicia Woods’ film “Free Range,” which was shot in Raymond, Wash., and Seattle. Photo courtesy of Alicia Woods
A scene from Alicia Woods’ film “Free Range,” which was shot in Raymond, Wash., and Seattle. Photo courtesy of Alicia Woods

According to the Seattle Office of Film and Music website, Seattle has been the production center for films, television and commercials for more than 75 years.

“One benefit to shooting in Seattle is that, aesthetically, this city is outstanding,” said local filmmaker Alicia Woods, whose first film, “American Red and Black,” was shot in Seattle and on reservations across the country. “It provides an ideal backdrop for many narratives. The city is beautiful, moody, visually diverse and can become an important character in any film, simply because of its visual merits.”

Over the years, a number of large-budget movies have come to the Seattle area to film, with the assistance of the state film incentive, the Motion Picture Competitiveness Program (MPCP). One of the most recent films to benefit from MPCP, “Captain Fantastic,” stars Viggo Mortensen as a father of six who is devoted to teaching his children how to live and survive in the deep forests of the Pacific Northwest. The production was shot in and around the Seattle area and employed 248 Washington workers during approximately six weeks of filming. The film is due to release next year.

However, due to the limited funds in MPCP, a number of projects were denied last year, impacting the amount of film work done in Seattle. According to a recent article on Seattlepi.com, the incentive program remains one of the smallest in the country. Then, on June 29, the filmmaking community took a hit, when Senate Bill 6027, to incrementally increase funding for MPCP over the next few years, failed to be included in the state Legislature’s final budget.

Financial challenges

The independent film community, however, continues to shoot in the area, with a variety of projects — from music videos and web series to full-length feature films — with funding from such crowdfunding platforms as Kickstarter and Seed & Spark, as well as grants, private donations and volunteering.
“I think the challenges of shooting in Seattle are often financial,” Woods said. “I’m originally from New York, and there seemed to be a lot more

resources for artists. There is the reality of trying to survive in an expensive city, which can make it difficult to pursue filmmaking full-time. Also, I feel like I have seen the rise of a more cohesive film community since I started making films in 2006, but it can still seem harder to access than other large urban areas.”

One of the projects Woods is currently working on, “Free Range: Where Heritage Meets Hope,” is a rockumentary-style film (shot predominantly in Raymond, Wash., and Seattle) that chronicles the experiences of singer/songwriter Jessica Marie Porter, a member of the Chinook Indian nation.
Filming for “Free Range,” which has been funded from a Kickstarter campaign and several grants, will finish early next year and start screening in summer 2016.

“Seattle is an important part of ‘Free Range,’” Woods said. “When the protagonist, Jessica Marie Porter, wanted to access more financial and educational opportunities than were available in her hometown, she came to Seattle. Her travel to the city reflects a common story of journeying to large urban centers for the opportunities that are present, but her tribal tie to Seattle is also rooted in history.”

Local talent

Seattle talent is also a big part of the upcoming supernatural horror feature “Scarlet Grove,” written, directed and co-produced by Todd Downing, a filmmaker in Seattle for more than 20 years who is currently based in Port Orchard, Wash. The film, currently in pre-production, stars Seattle-area actors David S. Hogan (“Z Nation”), Angela DiMarco (“Grimm”) and Rachelle Henry (“Escaping the Prophet”).

“I shoot films here because of the amazing level of natural beauty and diverse locations, which is also why I live here,” Downing said. “I’ve found the benefits to shooting in Washington, aside from breathtaking locations, to be a skilled and dedicated workforce, world class on-camera talent and supportive communities. I just wish our state legislators saw the value in a competitive film incentive program like Oregon has.”

The feature-length film “Lying Posture of a Lion” also utilizes Seattle’s natural landscape with stories distilled from personal nightmares and meditations, notes writer, director and executive producer Andre Sanabria.

“The film traces the journey of Ulysses, a man with a nebulous past, desperate to orient himself in a world that seems not quite his own,” he said, adding that principal photography is expected to be wrapped by mid-August.

Also, this August, the short film “Insufficient,” will be shot in various locations around the Greater Seattle area. The film — written, directed and co-produced by Hel Gebreamlak — is about a queer couple of color consisting of a transgender atheist (played by Vanessa Cobbs) and a devout Catholic woman (played by Sarah Carroll).

“Folks should expect to see a really authentic story that is true to its characters,”  Gebreamlak said. “As a queer woman of color filmmaker, I have always been drawn to storytelling that centers people in the margins of society without exoticizing or diminishing difference. We definitely have a film here that does that.”

Other Seattle projects currently in the works are the web series “Strowlers,” the story of a Seattle librarian named Whit, who discovers a little girl with magical powers, by Ben Dobyns, Phil Brucato, Samara Lerman and others; the horror feature “Raw Meat,” about a killer with no skin who goes after couples in love, co-written by Tonjia Atomic and Bill Oberst Jr.; and the horror feature “Ayla,” produced by John Portanova.

“Why wouldn’t you want to make a movie in Seattle?” Gebreamlak asked. “Now, all we need is for our state’s incentive structure to catch up with our neighboring film hubs Portland and Vancouver, and I guarantee you the film community here will be able to really show the world what we can do.”

JESSICA DAVIS is a Seattle-based arts writer. To comment on this story, write to CityLivingEditor@nwlink.com.