Small towns hit the BIG SCREEN

November 14, 1999

By Lewis Taylor
The Olympian

CENTRALIA — C. Tad Devlin and his local crew wrap up filming this week on “The Immigrant Garden,” an independent feature film shot in Centralia, Oakville, Chehalis, Littlerock and Longview.

“I’ve been open to rural areas because I think they’re more open to taking risks,” said Devlin, who used to live in Los Angeles and now calls Chehalis home. “I’ve found a tremendous amount of artistic talent here.”

Devlin, a veteran Hollywood producer whose credits include “Sleeping With the Enemy” and “When a Man Loves a Woman” is no stranger to big film projects, but “The Immigrant Garden” presents a whole new set of challenges. The film, which was financed primarily by private investors, grew out of a film production class taught by Devlin at Centralia Community College. The film’s cast and crew is composed largely of amateurs, and, Devlin said, the project has been a learning experience for all involved.

“With a big studio production, if you’re having a problem with someone, you fire them and you’ll have a new crew member after lunch,” Devlin said. “In this environment, you have to work it out.”

Aside from a dropped camera and a two-week overrun, Devlin said filming on “The Immigrant Garden” has gone as well as could be expected. The film is scheduled for release around June.

Caroline Wood, a Longview writer and student of Devlin’s, adapted the screenplay for “The Immigrant Garden” from her award-winning play, which ran for three weeks at the Open Book Theater in NewYork City. Set in Oakville in 1910, the film tells the story of Cecily Barnes, a young woman who becomes pen pals with a reclusive English gardener named Louisse Beauchamp.

“I had seen it produced as a play, but seeing it put together as a film is completely different,” Wood said. “I liked how we were able to do close-ups and capture moments that you couldn’t capture in a play. … I’m very excited about it.”

The final decision to produce “The Immigrant Garden” didn’t come until May of this year. Devlin secured a crew of 18, which consisted largely of his students, and open casting calls were held in Olympia and Centralia. Actors were cast for 12 major roles, and several hundred extras were hired.

Cristiaana Sabella, a professional actress from Seattle who plays a piano teacher in the film, said that working with a relatively inexperienced cast was a refreshing change. “The actors are mostly high school students, and there isn’t a lot of that Hollywood ego,” Sabella said.

Angela Johnson, an 18-year-old from Onalaska who plays the main role of Cecily Barnes in the film, said she felt lucky to be on board for the production. “The experience is worth it,” said Barnes, who had acted on the stage but never in film. “I’ve had to learn to keep healthy focus on my character, and the long hours I did not expect. I’ve learned a lot in a couple of weeks.”

Laura Franz, a 14-year-old freshman at Olympia High School, was one of the 300 extras who took part in the film project. She, too, had never been in a film before.

“I thought it was pretty neat to find out exactly how films are made,” said Franz, who plays a Victorian teen-ager. “They even said, ‘Lights, camera, action’ — I didn’t know they really did that.”

Franz, Johnson and most of the actors and crew members who worked on the film were given deferred payments. If the film does well, they will receive royalties, otherwise they’ll be paid minimum wage for their work.

Deferment was just one of the ways Devlin managed to save money on production costs. The crew built many of their own lights, dollies and other hardware and, by shooting and editing the movie on digital video and then transferring it to film, Devlin will save hundreds of thousands of dollars in production costs.

“$1.2 million for the whole picture is really not that much money,” Devlin said without a hint of sarcasm. “Period films eat up a lot of money. Usually you can add $300,000 to the cost of a film just for period costumes and props.”

With the help of costumer Denise Keegan, Devlin managed to save a good deal of money on period costumes. Keegan, who owns Creative Costumes in Olympia, was able to recreate the early 20th century wardrobe required for the film with her costumes, which she’s been collecting for 18 years.

“I was just going to provide one or two costumes to the lead actresses, but they loved my costumes,” said Keegan, who has vintage costumes dating as far back as 1850. “I decided that maybe this was the time to share some of my stuff.”

Keegan said her first film project had been an enlightening experience. “Glamorous?” Keegan asked with a chuckle. “It was grueling at times and overwhelming almost all the time. It was a lot of hard work but it was gratifying work. I think the glamour comes if the film makes it.”

Lewis Taylor writes about entertainment and lifestyles for The Olympian. He can be reached at 754-5406.

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