Current Stage: Editing / Post-Production
Skagit is an experimental horror film about four friends who leave Seattle for a weekend in a remote, rain-soaked corner of the rustic Skagit Valley. The foreboding October landscape begins to warp their minds, plunging each of them into alternate realities where they must grapple with personal demons, sexual tensions, and a sinister natural world as they claw their way back to sanity.
Skagit follows four young adults from Seattle as they set out for a fall getaway weekend in Washington’s grimly beautiful Skagit Valley. Elsa and three of her oldest friends from Seattle arrive at their destination cabin, but as they explore the surrounding wilderness, it soon becomes clear that the valley has its own plans for the four. One by one, the friends wander out alone and quickly succumb to dark and confused visions of themselves. Trapped in the tangled landscape’s alternate reality, Elsa finds herself fighting for her life, trying to get back to a place of safety in a sinister natural world, while the valley itself attacks her in ways both physical and psychological.
Skagit is a horror film in which an environment is the source of the horror. I grew up in Seattle, and now I live and work here as a filmmaker. Within an hour’s drive of the city are some of the most eerie and beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen, inhabited by utterly unique people. When the Northwest is presented on film, though, it’s often with a sheen of drone-like perfection, which obfuscates both the peculiar attraction of the landscape and the sensibility of the people who inhabit it, or its unusual natural character isn’t referenced at all. This film is a corrective to that mode: Shot entirely on location in the Pacific Northwest, Skagit foregrounds the primeval atmosphere of the Skagit Valley as it molds, terrifies, and eventually destroys the minds of the four friends.
Pre-production was completed over the course of spring, summer and early fall 2018, which included scouting locations with the help of dozens of people who live in the valley.
Local theater director Bobbin Ramsey was brought on as casting director. About thirty local actors were invited to auditions for an initial read followed by group callbacks. Seeing the actors read together was crucial given the ensemble nature of the film and how much of it is driven by the dynamic of the friend group. The director met with the cast members one-on-one to discuss the film and their characters, and we rehearsed throughout October, including run-throughs at the house that served as our main location. We also had rehearsals with intimacy director Cessa Betancourt, who helped create strong, natural, and clear blocking for intimate scenes and directed the cast in discussing their boundaries and growing comfortable with one another physically.
We filmed on location over a three-week period in November 2018, working from a microscopic budget. Editing began after wrapping shooting in November 2018, and we’re now raising money through our crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo until October 20 (available here), simultaneous with the release of our first teaser trailer. The campaign kicked off with a fundraising concert featuring Seattle bands Salt Lick, Velvet Q, Cop Talk, and a screening of the trailer. Our goal is to secure funding for sound mixing and color correction, steps that are essential to completing the film. Throughout this process, I’ve worked with an incredible team, one that represents greater gender and racial diversity than most commercial film projects. We plan to start submitting the film to festivals by the 2020 festival season.
Left to right: actors Keenan Ward (Colin), Rheanna Atendido (Willa), Allen Miller (Christian), and Taigé Lauren (Elsa) on set with director Nick Thompson. / Rheanna Atendido (Willa), director Nick Thompson, and Keenan Ward (Colin) discuss a scene.
The Skagit Community:
Capturing the feeling of the valley and sensibility of the people that live there was fundamental to creating Skagit. To live in the Skagit Valley is to accommodate oneself to year-round gray skies, punctuated by the occasional week or month of brilliant good weather. Surrounded by a lush but forbidding set of foothills, backed by the Cascade Mountains to the east and Puget Sound to the west, the valley’s original inhabitants included the Lummi, Swinomish and Upper Skagit peoples, many of whom still live there. It’s now an agricultural county, known for its rich dairy, berry and flower farms. Many of the people who live there come from families that have been in the valley a long time. Its rural history is evident in the old barns, granaries and homes, and people are proud of the valley and its heritage.
We connected with dozens of residents during the shooting process, and it was their involvement that allowed Skagit to get made. Prior to the shoot, they were enormously friendly and helpful in offering suggestions or scouting locations. During filming, some provided their homes or their land so we could shoot, others offered logistical assistance like housing and meals, and some appeared as extras in the film. Without them, creating Skagit would not have been possible.
Once the film is created, I’m planning to engage the Skagit community with screenings in the valley where they can come and discuss their experiences, as well as inviting them to screenings in Seattle. I’ve already spoken with a proprietor of a theater in Mt. Vernon, Washington, who approached me about holding a screening once the film is complete. Production of the film received coverage on KXA and KRKO radio stations and in the Skagit Valley Herald (article here). Their story was picked up by the Everett Herald and Seattle’s Office of Film and Music, so I’m confident in our ability to secure coverage and venues for these presentations.
Pre-production location scouting: Producers Hailey Williams, Leah Trangen, and Soundperson Kevin Middleton speak with Kathy, the gracious owner of the house that served as our primary shooting location in the Skagit Valley, looking at Padilla Bay from the backyard. Photo taken by the director.
Skagit is the culmination of many of the elements that have driven my other film projects. In my docu-satire series Douglas Fern’s Fact File and in creating a music video for the band Salt Lick’s “Dying to Party,” I employed the poetic capabilities of film to approach some of the themes that I think define life in the Northwest: physical upheaval, anxiety about change, and a deep connection with the natural environment. These are the tensions and issues that concern me most as a filmmaker, and I’ve continued to explore them in short experimental films, including The Cove Path and April Video (which played in local film festivals) and served to expand some of the visual and auditory ideas that became important components of Skagit. A narrative feature grappling with these elements felt like the next necessary step in my development as a filmmaker. I’m proud that Skagit is driven by these themes, and that it makes use of the pure power of film to explore them.
What I hope to achieve with Skagit is broader recognition of the cinematic potential of the Pacific Northwest. Not only does the film spotlight its surreal beauty and eclectic residents, it also makes the environment its own terrifying character. We find ourselves in an unprecedented period of environmental change and catastrophe, which gives Skagit’s environmental approach to the horror genre topical as well as artistic resonance. Climate change and development are impacting the region, dramatically altering the psyche, worldview and culture of its inhabitants. Other parts of the world are already experiencing their own periods of rapid environmental change and dealing with the cultural fallout. At levels personal, artistic and cultural, Skagit is a film that needs to be made and seen now.
“What I hope to achieve with Skagit is broader recognition of the cinematic potential of the Pacific Northwest.”
- Skagit director Nick Thompson
These broader concerns had a direct impact on how we went about making this film. We shot on location on a shoestring budget, with a local cast and crew, paying everyone out of small amounts of funding that came from local backers. The characters were intentionally written to reflect the diversity of the neighborhood where I grew up, Seattle’s South End, and many of the extras and bit parts are played by people we met while filming. We’re honored to announce that we recently received fiscal sponsorship from Northwest Film Forum in Seattle. Our page on their site, with the option to make a tax-deductible donation, is available here. From its conception to its execution, Skagit is a product of the Northwest, and I’m excited to bring it to a larger stage.
Executive Producer Rachel Price on Skagit:
"While the horror genre is certainly having a moment, that was not my motivation for investing in Nick’s film. After talking to Nick and Leah and reading the script, I was completely on board. The characters are authentic, the dialogue rings true, and the story is mesmerizing. It’s gratifying to see more and more filmmaking take place in Washington state, and I think Nick’s film, with its fabulous use of unmistakably Skagit sites, is a marvelous representative of the kind of film that can come from nowhere but here."
A moment between takes during the first week of shooting. Keenan Ward (Colin) talks with director Nick Thompson, his script in an early stage of decay. San Juan Islands in the background.
Location and Filming Details:
Skagit was filmed primarily along the bramble-choked coast of Washington state’s Skagit Valley, a region better known for its benign pastoral center, which happens to be the tulip capital of the United States. But it’s not tulip season, it’s late autumn: the flower fields are mud-brown; the sky is dark with storm clouds; the beaches are draped in kelp.
24 locations in all were used, in Skagit and four other Northwest Washington counties: Whatcom, Island, Snohomish, and King.
50 locations were scouted. An additional 10 locations were used for b-roll.
Filming was completed in 17 shooting days, 1.5 pickup days and several b-roll days, after eight months of pre-production. Prior to pre-production, director/writer Nick Thompson worked on the script for a year.
30 actors were auditioned for the four lead roles, and the 11 supporting roles were cast separately.
"The characters are authentic…and the story is mesmerizing. a marvelous representative of the kind of film that can come from nowhere but here."
– Executive Producer Rachel Price
Taigé Lauren, Elsa – Taigé Lauren is a Seattle-based actor, writer, and performer. She has recorded and performed as a singer/songwriter and acted in lead roles in feature films, shorts, and theatre in the Pacific Northwest. She graduated from the University of Washington with degrees in Creative Writing and Drama: Performance. Currently, Taigé is busy producing her first full-length music theatre show, SEARCHERS, debuting in Edinburgh August 2019.
Rheanna Atendido, Willa – Rheanna Atendido is an actor, singer-songwriter, theatre artist, and a graduate of the University of Washington. She was most recently seen on stage at The 5th Avenue Theatre, Village Theatre, and Seattle Repertory. As a playwright-composer, she has created works for Book-It Repertory, ArtsWest, The Horse In Motion, and Village. Her album, Letters to Whomever, debuted just months before the first public reading of her original musical, Breakup Bench. She’s currently represented by TCM Models & Talent.
Allen Miller, Christian –A recent MFA graduate of the University of Washington Professional Actor Training Program (PATP’18), Allen was born and raised in South Central Los Angeles. Some of his most precious roles he’s played include Monster (Fucking ‘A’), Paul (Six Degrees of Separation), and ALL of the Lovers in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. His off-stage credits include having a loving, supportive family, girlfriend, and a small, tight-knit circle of close friends. His earthly values are shoes, goofy babies, the hood, ice cream, soul food, dogs, and Sour Patch Kids. His future plans include a theatre company of his own and writing plays that live long after he’s gone.
Keenan Ward, Colin –Born and raised in Washington State, Ward is a graduate of Cornish College of the Arts, and has worked locally with Book-It Repertory (Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Uncensored), Fruition Productions (Watermyth), Riot! Productions (Rosemary), Copious Love (Journey West!), and most recently with The Funhouse Family (Funhouse IV). This is his first role in a feature film. He has previously acted in the short film Nevers from trashtaco Productions and in several 48 Hour Film Project entries. In his spare time he enjoys collecting/consuming hot sauce and listening to mashups.
Writer and Director Nick Thompson is a filmmaker and photographer born and raised in Seattle. His recent film projects include a music video for local band Salt Lick, the web series Douglas Fern’s Fact File, a docu-satire chronicling Seattle’s history and rapidly changing cultural landscape, and several experimental short films. His work explores the pure power of film as irrational and concrete communication in dramatic and comic forms. Thompson’s films have been presented at Local Sightings Film Festival, Northwest Film Forum, and Seattle Web Fest, and a book of his photography is available at local bookstores. He is a graduate of the Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA. More about his photography and other experimental film projects is available at nicktfilms.me.
Producer Leah Tragen, also from Seattle, is an experienced producer and editor with a background in anthropology and documentary film. Her recent projects include Vitch, an evocative exploration of the life and legacy of a Jewish caricaturist and mime artist who survived the war performing in Nazi Germany, and Personhood, a provocative film about the "fetal rights movement" and the criminalization of pregnancy in America.
Executive Producer Rachel Price’s most recent film is Stuffed (dir. Erin Derham, premiered at 2019 SXSW). She has also produced the documentaries Julian Price: Envisioning Community, Investing in People (2016), and My Mother Was Here (2018), which was an official selection of the Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival. In addition to being an archivist and film producer, Price is the founder and executive director of Moving Image Preservation of Puget Sound (MIPoPS) which digitizes and makes accessible moving image materials. MIPoPS has recently been awarded National Endowment for the Humanities, National Historical Publications & Records Commission, and 4Culture grants. She is the producer of the animated shorts Birdathlon (2010) and Legend of the Great Auk (2016), both directed by Karen Lewis.
Associate Producer and Assistant Director Hailey Williams is a Washington native. She is a graduate from the University of Washington with degrees in Cinema and Media Studies, Literature, and History. She started her filmmaking career as a Production Assistant on 48 hour film sets, and transitioning to Assistant Director by her senior year of college. Williams has been an Assistant Director for short films such as Coffee, Wine & Orange Juice, collaborated on professional and educational development projects such as Stigma and a PSA about Dyslexia. Furthermore, she has also helped with production management on short films such as Acid Test. Williams now works for an educational philanthropic research organization as part of the Film Team.
Associate Producer Tracey Breese is a New York-based producer raised in Seattle who is dedicated to telling diverse stories of social relevance. She’s produced several narrative fiction short films as well as marketing videos for nonprofits. Most recently she produced and directed her own film, Winter Beach (with a mostly female crew) about womanhood and aging, which screened at New York's Nasty Women Unite Festival. She is a graduate of the New School's Media Studies program, focusing on production.
Director of Photography Alexander Lenzi was born and raised in Frederick, Maryland. Lenzi discovered his passion for filmmaking at an early age, after seeing Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic. He moved to Seattle, Washington to pursue a career in filmmaking. For nearly a decade, Lenzi has been shooting films for independent filmmakers and also writing and directing his own narrative projects. He’s shot four feature length films: The Boy Who Lived Before, Lying Posture of a Lion, The Life of Flowers, and Skagit. A short film he shot in 2018, Push Pink, is an official selection in numerous festivals, including Tel Aviv, North Carolina LGTB, and TWIST. Lenzi draws inspiration from auteur cinema and aspires to make films that provide voices to people who live on the fringes of society.
Production Designer Stephanie Pieper is a production designer and graphic designer in the Seattle area. After studying and starting her career in Los Angeles, she returned home to pursue further creative opportunities. As a born and raised Seattleite, Pieper finds inspiration in her surroundings and strives to share the stories of her community within her work. Her design projects often feature powerful women who have influenced her character and who reflect on the challenges of womanhood. Drawn to businesses with a strong sense of community, she has collaborated with local organizations such as Jubilee Women's Center, Hot Cakes, Fremont Abbey Arts Center, Sharply Apparel, and Olson Kundig. Pieper is excited to be collaborating on Skagit with such a talented team of individuals.
Production Sound Engineer Kevin Middleton is a graduate of the CHID program at the University of Washington. He found his way into production sound recording while at school as a novel way of combining his love for both film and music. He has since worked on films such as Lane 1974, Sadie, Animal Heads, and most recently Skagit. Outside of film, he plays in local rock outfit Salt Lick, and dabbles in experimental drone sounds in his basement. His ever-revised screenplay is finally coming together too, he swears.
Casting Director Bobbin Ramsey is a freelance film and theatre director and casting director based in Seattle, WA. In 2015 she directed her first feature film, a horror film called Dead Body produced by Diving Bell Media and Angel Inc. Productions, for which she won Best Director at the Independent Horror Film Awards. The film premiered at the New York Horror Film Festival and is now available on multiple VOD platforms including Amazon, iTunes, and Vudu. Ramsey was the casting director on the horror film, Skagit, and is the casting director for Washington Ensemble Theatre. Ramsey has done freelance casting for theatres all around Seattle, and has been directing critically-acclaimed theatrical productions at various organizations since 2013.
Intimacy Director Francesca (Cessa) Betancourt is an intimacy director, actor, dancer/choreographer, and teaching artist working in Seattle. Her work is based in social/emotional, social justice, compassion, autonomy, and physical storytelling. She is the artistic director of a recurring storytelling event called "she is FIERCE." Betancourt holds two BAs from Western Washington University in Theatre Arts and Sociology. She is primarily a theatre artist, but recently directed and choreographed Sleepless, a short dance film with Dark Set Films. Her intimacy directing credits include: SIX | FOG (HERON Ensemble - theatre), Two Sisters and a Piano (Theater Schmeater), Skagit (film), The Devil and Sarah Blackwater (Annex Theatre), and Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons (Theater Schmeater).
In addition, the crew includes: Codie Will-Bratton as Gaffer, Nate Sawtell as Assistant Camera, Matthew Rush as Additional Gaffer, Kirsten Zeller as Key Grip, Josh True as Production Design Assistant, Jake Love and Louis Ziob as Grips, Rhett Taylor as Production Assistant, Robin Sadinsky and Loey May Engel as Production Assistants, Ann Hedreen, Rustin Thompson, Jacob Alhadeff, Kelsey Crouch, Belinda Davis, and Piper Olson as Craft Services, Sam Dunnington as Post-Production Assistant, and Luci Mintiero as Post Production Intern.
The additional cast includes Wiley Basho Gorn, Casey Bates, Dahlia Taylor, Sam Gabler-Brown, Quincy Rose Sander, Belinda Davis and Tom Dodd.
Associate Producer/Assistant Director Hailey Williams says, “'I was hooked on working with Nick when he told me that Skagit would have elements of my favorite film director David Lynch. When you watch it, the movie really conjures up the experience of living in your own nightmare. The Skagit Valley is beautiful in real life, but the way Alex, our Director of Photography, captured it is absolutely breathtaking and terrifying. This was my first feature length film that I had the privilege to be the Assistant Director for. The experience was hard, tough, but rewarding in so many ways. I can now say that I am able to AD a feature, and I'm ready to do it again!”