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Illustration by Melissa Griffiths

Filmmaking, Alaska-style

'Pelican 2085' draws on community's strengths

Posted: June 14, 2012 - 12:00am
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Patricia Kalbrener  chats with a pirate in the MegaYeti office, located next to the Nugget Mall.    Courtesy of Toni Walsh
Courtesy of Toni Walsh
Patricia Kalbrener chats with a pirate in the MegaYeti office, located next to the Nugget Mall.

In the wake of a catastrophic natural disaster, most Southeast Alaskans probably know where they would want to rebuild their lives: right here. Southeast towns are remote, rich in natural resources, and, perhaps most importantly, full of people who are familiar with the daily give-and-take that makes self-sustaining communities possible.

MegaYeti Productions’ “Pelican 2085,” a debut film project now in the works, explores this idea by approaching community from the outside in. Trek, a 12-year-old boy who is the story’s hero, lives in a future world that’s been dramatically altered as a result of massive solar flares that have wiped out the world’s electrical power systems. Society has fractured, with most people falling into one of two groups: ruthless pirates (Trek’s group), who are fighting tooth-and-nail to secure resources for themselves and their clan, and timid goverment-camp residents, who live in controlled environments and have lost their ability to survive on their own.

Hidden away from both the wolves and from the lambs are the residents of Pelican, who have kept their hold on their humanity and their self-sufficiency by working together. It is into this refuge that Trek arrives, after being separated from his clan. He soon finds himself supported in ways he never knew existed.

But “Pelican 2085,” written by Juneauite Patricia Kalbrener, isn’t just a film “about” community. One of the interesting things about the project is the number of ways in which this idea reverberates through the layers of the filmmaking process itself. The filmmakers, Kalbrener and her business partner Toni Walsh, have gathered a local cast, auditioning scores of enthusiastic and untrained Southeast residents, they’ve drawn on local expertise, and been offered all kinds of help from countless friends and neighbors.

“Even as we’re making this movie about community and we’re talking about all the benefits of community ... the community is totally coming together in all these ways to help us make this movie possible,” Kalbrener said.

And, perhaps most significantly for the community, Kalbrener and Walsh plan to stay in Southeast and establish a film production company in Juneau, thereby making it possible for other storytellers to spin their own tales on Alaskan soil.

Kalbrener and Walsh have so far been encouraged by the public reaction to their movie project, which they hope to begin filming this summer. Kalbrener said people’s willingness to jump in was apparent right from the start, when she began talking about it while bartending at Louie’s in Douglas.

“I was just talking to people about it, ‘This is my idea, this is what I’m doing,’ and people were throwing things out left and right — ‘I want to be in your movie,’ ‘I want to be a pirate,’ ‘I have this space if you want to build sets,’” she said. “People don’t even ask what the story is before they’re like, ‘Oh you’re making a movie? I’ll help.”

Walsh added a more recent example.

“Or ‘Oh, it’s post apocalyptic? I’ve got a bunch of fake weapons that I made for a play.’ I haven’t even told Patty this yet — this guy has a bunch of fake weapons that look real that we can use,” she said with a “what-are-the-chances” look at her partner. “All the potholes and challenges that we have had to deal with, it balances out with all these amazing moments.”

They were also encouraged by the turnout for open auditions, which took place last month (though if you want to be an extra, you should get in touch with them). The auditions attracted a wide variety of locals, most of whom had little to no experience — exactly what they were hoping for.

“We met a lot of people who have never done anything like this before, who just got the itch,” Kalbrener said. “They saw a poster and they’d come in and say, ‘I have no idea what I’m doing here, but I know I want to be.’”

The women are now focused on location scouting and scheduling. The latter is a very complicated task that involves meshing location availability and the whims of Mother Nature with the busy lives and obligations of their many volunteer actors — not to mention their own. Both women have multiple jobs, which must be juggled while making the film.

When they get overwhelmed — and luckily they say they’ve been taking turns with that feeling — they concentrate on the steps of the process, one at a time.

“It doesn’t seem that impossible, when it gets down to it,” Walsh said.

“You’re just working on each step, and all of the sudden it’s accomplishable,” Kalbrener said. “All of the sudden you’re at the next step and you’re thinking ‘Oh, I didn’t know I was going to be able to pull that one off and I just did.’”

The women, both in their mid-20s, admit they’ve taken on a more complicated project than experts advise for a first film.

“Every piece of literature says for your first project, don’t make it really epic, don’t make it with a huge cast, don’t use animals, don’t use children,” Walsh said. “We have animals, we have children ... despite it all, we’re pushing forward.”

“It’s a bit of an action adventure and its a lot to bite off for our first film,” Kalbrener agreed.

Though set in the future, the film won’t employ many special effects — but it does feature some made-up inventions, which Kalbrener created with advice from her “super-hardcore, science-techy-geeky friends.” For example, the pirates have a device that can detect where electricity is being used. This is what they use to find Pelican.

“A lot of the equipment they use is stuff that we have created for the benefit of the story and with the flexibility in mind that it is the future,” Kalbrener said. “Science fiction has that awesome unlimited power.”

Apart from logistical challenges, a major hurdle at the moment is raising enough funds to make the kind of movie they envision. The women have started a publicly-funded Kickstarter campaign that runs through Wednesday, June 20. Kalbrener said the money they raise would go toward transportation needs including boat fuel, and toward food and high-quality film equipment, as well as other needs. If they can raise $100,000, they would also be able to take advantage of a substantial tax break, part of an incentive program set up by the Alaska Legislature to encourage Alaskan films (see www.film.alaska.gov for details).

Anyone can contribute to the project by visiting Kickstarter (www.kickstarter.com) and donating anything from a dollar on up. Kalbrener said any amount boosts the number of contributors to the project, a figure that the honchos at Kickstarter pay attention to in deciding which projects to feature on their main page. Featured projects can reach a world-wide audience, Kalbrener said.

In accordance with Kickstarter’s rules, if the women don’t make their goal by Wednesday, they don’t get any of the money that’s been pledged to the project.

What then?

“No matter what, it’s going to be made,” Walsh said, “We’re going to play it by ear and do what we can with what we have.”

The women are also considering restarting a new campaign, using the marketing knowledge they’ve gained in the past several weeks.

Both women have had a passion for film since childhood. Kalbrener, who grew up in Juneau, attended a few years of film school in Las Vegas, paying for tuition with the PFDs her parents had carefully squirreled away for her. But the money ran out before she was finished. She decided she’d get the rest of her training through hands-on experience – and soon had a couple of amazing opportunities land in her lap. While living in Hawaii with her cousin, she befriended a group of production assistants who were working on the popular ABC television show “Lost” and on the film “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” They recommended her for fill-in work on both sets, and Kalbrener suddenly found herself in the middle of the “crazy anthill” that was a major Hollywood set.

But Juneau has always been home, and soon she was back, determined to make her dreams come true on her home turf. She began writing the story that would become “Pelican 2085” last fall, drawing inspiration for the story from a news report she saw about potentially devastating solar activity some experts predict will occur in 2013. (The premise of the film is not that far-fetched, apparently: www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1313858/Solar-flare-paralyse-Ear...). She chose Pelican for her setting in part because she had fond memories of spending an idyllic weekend there a few years ago, and because she’d heard her dad, a bush pilot, talk about it while she was growing up. She also knew she wanted to work in her appreciation for Southeast into her first film.

“That’s one of the reasons we’re doing this film first,” she said. “Because it encompasses what inspired me as a storyteller and what we love so much about Southeast Alaska. I was born and raised here, and ... there’s something really unique and magnetic and special about Southeast that really pulls people in and keeps them here.”

She was also inspired by the way Juneau pulled together in the wake of the Snettisham power outage.

“It was this moment of, “whoa, look what we can do when we all just keep a level head,’” she said. “Here’s this situation and everybody in Juneau pulled it off with flying colors. It was really neat to see.”

She finished writing the story this past fall, and brought Walsh on board as producer earlier this year. Walsh, who moved to Juneau from Anchorage after college, had also wanted to attend film school, but had put her dreams on hold to pursue more “practical” goals. When Kalbrener asked her to be involved in the project, she knew she had to say yes.

“It was always something I wanted to do, so when she approached me with the film idea I thought, ‘OK this is it. This is the opportunity, I can’t shake it again, I have to do it,’” Walsh said.

The women hope to finish filming “Pelican 2085” within three months, and to continue with another feature film next year. After that, they hope to be able to build up enough raw materials to open the company up as a resource for other local filmmakers

Listening to Kalbrener and Walsh talk about their desire to inspire future local projects is an inspiring experience in itself. When describing their goals, both women glow with the energy of a focused and directed passion, and a commitment to hard work, an energy that seems to burn brighter the more they continue to share it with others in their community.

“It’s really fun,” Kalbrener said of the process thus far. “And kind of what I had hoped would happen if I chose to stay in Juneau to pursue filmmaking — that Juneau would be that creative foundation. And it really is.”

For more on MegaYeti, visit www.megayeti.net. To donate to the film project, visit www.kickstarter.com/projects/1964582664/pelican-2085.

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