Independent filmmaker Aria is looking for a petite shady lady to appear in the final scenes of her movie, “Grayport.”
The noir-inspired crime thriller needs “a dark and complex siren, a strong and mysterious woman whose secrets are not revealed until the very end of the film,” she says.
The story is set in the fictional town of Grayport, where retired journalist Frank Blakely (played by Bob Parks of Aberdeen) is helping the local police look into a series of murders. The investigation becomes more urgent when the mayor is killed and obscenely wealthy businessman Cal Hastings (Russell Wiitala of Raymond), who’s tied to a vast criminal enterprise, announces his candidacy for the position.
“It’s a compelling story that’s very much fused with the local culture and the look of the Harbor,” says Aria.
Parks, a veteran of local theater in Aberdeen and Raymond, says he’s enjoying his first film role.
“Movie acting is an entirely different animal. Unlike live theater, if you screw up, someone yells ‘cut!’ and you get to do it all over again until you get it right,” he says. “It’s been a lot of fun being involved in this project, and I’ve learned an awful lot about film. I have a whole new respect for film actors.”
Wiitala, who already has some screen time under his belt with the indie film “Dead Faith,” is putting his acting talents to full use with the villain’s role. “My character is so difficult for me, because he is diametrically my opposite,” he says. “I really don’t know if I would ever play a character like this again. It’s too creepy emotionally.” Still, he adds: “I’m glad I’m doing it. However, I’m also ready for it to get done.”
Katie Closter Wilkerson of Ocean Shores plays TV personality Kitty Kelly, the villain’s would-be love interest (and the film’s comic relief). She had done some acting in high school and college, but nothing since then.
“I auditioned on a whim, thinking ‘I won’t get it, but it’ll be a good experience.’ … But the chemistry was undeniable with Russ,” she says.
As to her role, “I think Kitty was kind of an alter ego that I didn’t know about — very opposite my character, but very satisfying to play,” she laughs.
Other local actors involved in the film are retired police officer Shaun Beebe, of Ocean Shores, as the local cop working with Blakely; and retired Grays Harbor County detective and coroner Lane Youmans as an FBI agent.
“The whole cast has been so above and beyond expectations, and I think that’s another thing from being here in this community,” says Aria, specifically noting how long it had taken to get this far. “People have a sense of pride: ‘We’re part of this team, and we’re not quitting.’ It’s that Harbor grit, I think, that keeps them going. They’re in, they’re committed, they’re pulling their weight — and they’re willing to help with anything, whether it’s cleaning stuff up or building sets or just getting the word out.”
Aria, a Bellevue native who now lives in Aberdeen, is the producer, writer and director. She started this project with the idea of making a short film on the Harbor, about 15 minutes long. But the concept quickly gained support from local government and business figures, many of whom offered the use of local sites and other resources. Inspired, she decided to rewrite her script as a feature-length movie.
She pulled in about $10,000 through a Kickstarter campaign and started work in 2014. “The first couple of years was just trying to get the script nailed down,” she says. “I knew I wanted it to be noirish and take advantage of the rain, and the grit, and the atmosphere. … And because of how much work it would take to do the project, I didn’t want to shoot anything where I didn’t feel like the story was as good as I could possibly make it.”
Since finishing the script and hiring local cast and crew, she’s been filming throughout Grays Harbor County. At this point, she says, they’re down to the last 20 scenes.
The weather hasn’t always cooperated, but “movie trickery” has served to create rain and gloom on some of the Harbor’s uncharacteristically sunny winter days.
And though it’s been a slow process, things have gone smoothly — relatively speaking.
“At each point, it was like hopping from one lily pad to the next lily pad,” says Aria. “I’d go: OK, I really need to find a warehouse (for this scene), and somebody on Facebook would say: ‘Hey, I know somebody who’s got one that we can use for the day.’
“It’s been like this series of happy accidents. And now, we need this last piece of the puzzle.”
Anyone interested in auditioning for the “mystery woman” should email firstname.lastname@example.org as soon as possible. No acting experience is necessary, but the role calls for a woman no more than 5-foot-5, between the ages of 20 and 35. She also must be available for filming through the end of this summer.
“It’s an incredible opportunity for the right actress,” says Aria.