Ethan Johnson is now entering the production phase with his new movie, "Stalkers,” in association with Western Washington University's Film Club. Johnson is new to the independent film scene in Bellingham, but has been interested in filmmaking since he was very young.
“Since I was a kid I was always into it,” Johnson said. “I remember in third grade I was making stop motion lego videos and I compiled a few short ones that were my favorites and asked my teacher if I could show them to the class, and so we set aside a 30 min period of the day where we all just sat and screened my crappy little lego videos.”
Since the days of lego short films, Johnson has always wanted to direct a sci-fi film, but now faces a small budget, something not generally conducive to science-fiction movies.
“For me, it was an exercise in telling a sci-fi story that was extremely practical and low budget,” Johnson said.
Johnson has a few solutions to the budgeting constraints placed upon his indie film, including saving money on props and seeking help from talented community members.
“Almost every prop is borrowed. Chicken Boy, one of the main characters, wears a chicken mask the entire movie,” Johnson said. “That’s just a mask I have already… Costume-wise, I have a good friend who just happens to have previously been a professional theatre costumer. She did Spongebob the Musical.”
Johnson’s sci-fi comedy leans heavily into absurdism in the more comedic elements of the film.
“This stuff that got the biggest laughs was the stuff that I really thought nobody was going to like,” Johnson said. “But people really liked it, so I was glad I took those chances.”
One example of this brand of humor involves a tentacle-shaped dildo.
“These guys are basically ransacking this dude’s house trying to find evidence that he’s an alien,” Johnson said. “At one point they pull out a dildo that’s shaped like a tentacle and slam it into the table and it suction cup sticks and wobbles and they’re like ‘explain this, freak.’”
Susie Purves, the executive director of the Pickford Film Center, is a critical member of the Bellingham indie film community. Purves finds value in the less business-like orientation of indie filmmaking, as compared to its larger budget, more corporate counterparts.
“A lot of people think of film as a business primarily, when they think of film they think of Hollywood,” Purves said. “It’s important to provide a place where film artists can show their work in the manner of which they intended it to be seen.”
Purves is enthusiastic about films made without the interference of executives or focus-tested markets.
“They’re not market-driven,” Purves said. “They’re not Marvel blockbusters where they don’t make the film unless they already know that millions of people will want to see it. Personal independent films are personal ideas.”
Leah Shannon, an actor involved in the film "Stalkers," is also heavily involved in the local indie film community.
“I’ve done some film in the Washington area, I did an indie horror film in Oregon last November which was super fun,” Shannon said. “This year it’s been mainly student films. I’ve got another indie horror going on this summer. It's a really fun scene, I love being a part of that community.”
The film "Stalkers" is being produced by Western’s Film Club, with many members directly involved.
“The more structure to it the better, which is why I'm glad I’m doing this as part of a club,” Johnson said. “I think that has added a lot to it for me, it made it a lot more approachable than if I were doing it as a passion project completely on my own.”
Shannon also enjoys the club’s ability to get its members frequently involved in many projects at a time.
“What’s really cool about the club now is it's really focused on giving a lot of its club members opportunities,” Shannon said.
Shannon encourages other Bellingham residents to support indie filmmaking, as it encourages aspiring directors to start their journey.
“Support indie filmmaking,” Shannon said. “We can’t have the Steven Spielbergs unless you have the Ethan Johnsons of Western, who are just starting off the ground.”
Purves also encourages Bellingham residents to support indie filmmaking, as it often gets overlooked in favor of larger, big-budgeted Hollywood productions.
“People automatically go and see what’s at the Regal,” Purves said. “But people should check out what’s at the Pickford too. Sometimes it's a lot more interesting.”
The WWU Film Club meets every Wednesday at 4 p.m. in room 125 of the Communications Facility. The Pickford typically has showings everyday, with tickets available online on their website or in person at their box office.
Theron Danielson (he/him) is a campus news reporter for The Front this quarter. He is in his second year, majoring in Journalism with a minor in Theatre. His writing interests include sports, radio, and student-led events. He enjoys musical theatre, watching anime, and yelling at the TV while watching sports.
You can reach him at email@example.com or on instagram @therondanielson.