Blaine: HollywoodNear North?

Published on Thu, Sep 16, 2004 by ack Kintner

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Blaine: Hollywood Near North?

By Jack Kintner

If you spot a few people gathered around town in little knots here and there during the first 15 days of November, mostly at night, you may have just stumbled on to a location shoot for the first feature-length movie to be shot in Blaine, “Midnight Money.”

The production and the company behind it, Semiahmoo Films, is the brainchild of two life-long friends from Blaine high school’s class of ‘97, Magnus Gervol and Christopher Onyon. They cut their movie making teeth under the tutelage of high school teacher Rob Gischer in his TV and video production classes which they were allowed to join a year early as freshmen. This latest effort, however, is as far from what they did as kids as a published short story is from an e-mail.

This will be Onyon’s third movie, first as director. Gervol, who co-wrote and is producing Midnight Money, also has experience as an extra in several movies, including Happy Gilmore and the Stargate TV series. He runs Semiahmoo Films’ companion consulting company, Code 4, that the two have spun off as a way of offering their law enforcement expertise to the movie industry: Gervol is a Whatcom County Deputy Sheriff, and Onyon is a 911 dispatcher in Seattle and a Blaine reserve policeman.

“There’s no connection between our work and this,” Onyon stressed, not wanting to be seen exploiting his position, “but we do have law enforcement experience and can write realistic stories. That’s what this is.”

Midnight Money’s budget is small, perhaps $10,000 at the outside, and many people have signed on knowing they’ll get paid only if and when the project makes a profit. But in all other aspects this is a real movie, done with the same basic approach and organized in the same ways used by Darryl Zanuck, for example, in making “The Longest Day” in 1962, a price-is-no-object project starring everybody in which he had the budget to pay for the Navy to repeat the Normandy invasion.
The invasion of Blaine will be on a somewhat more modest scale, though it will be noticed and is just as serious and professional an effort. One hears the words “industry standard” a lot from the two when they talk about their project.

For example, they’ll be shooting with the current industry standard, a Canon XL-1 S digital video and still camera that uses a mini DV system to imitate the look of 35 mm movie film in ways that make it look more authentic to a studio audience. Assistant director Peter Hagan will edit the final version on $10,000 worth of equipment he has access to in Seattle.

The pair co-wrote the screenplay, beginning by submitting ideas to each other until a good one emerged. “It was Magnus’ story idea,” Onyon said, “and at first I’d write it and then we’d go over it and make corrections. It was kind of slow going until one night we just told each other the story, taping our conversation, and worked from that.”
The screenplay is about a drug smuggler named Steve, who after some years of success allows his ego to get in his way, endangering both himself and his friend, a cocaine addict named Matt. “The feature follows both sides of the law in the on-going story of the drug smuggling trade,” said Onyon, “and is purposely a little gritty, with the blue language and directness you find in that world.”

The action takes place within a 24-hour period, so most of the filming will be done at night at locations around Whatcom County, some of them in Blaine. Characters include the male lead, Steve, and the supporting male role of his friend Matt, both in their 20’s, Steve’s girlfriend Rena, his boss Tim, a couple of bikers and a crooked security officer. On the other side are six cops led by Agent Walker, “an experienced border agent close to retirement,” according to the casting call sheet. There are 14 roles plus featured extras.

Onyon learned about all this first hand not only by living in Blaine but by working for the Border Patrol, something that started with Gervol’s uncle and long-time border patrolman Brian Gervol. “He got them inside and got them interested in police work,” said Onyon’s mother, Blaine city councilmember Bonnie Onyon. “Brian taught them about dispatching, and when Chris went to work for 911 in Seattle he already had a resume of someone a lot older.”

His mother said that he and Gervol have been a creative pair since primary school, using the family shower when they did a rip-off of Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” “Even if it’s just a life-long hobby, something he enjoys, it will go somewhere” said Bonnie Onyon, “because you have to be into the industry in a small way first before you can work on bigger films, and in the meantime he’s learning about every facet of the business, including paperwork.”

Auditions are set for September 23 and 30, at the AX Studio, 1416 Bay Street in Bellingham, from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. and then in the evening from 6 to 9. For appointments you can call Onyon at 206/240-1244 or go to his website, www.semiahmoofilms.com.