AUBURN — Madison Caswell is pretty sure she wants to be an actress.
The 12-year-old Orono girl, with tufts of dark red hair and just a smattering of freckles, already has one professional motion picture under her belt. On Friday, she was looking to get movie No. 2 underway, and boy, was she ever in the right place.
Hollywood? Some fancy studio in New York?
No. Minot Avenue in Auburn, huddled inside a long, ramshackle barn with a leaky roof and just enough room for the lights, heaters and five dozen people waiting to launch their acting careers.
Welcome to the first of three days of filming as Portland’s Gum Spirits Productions continues to shoot its chiller, “Anniversary,” the tale of a once-prosperous mill town that hit hard times when industry left.
Sound familiar? The filmmakers wanted people who look like small-town Mainers and that’s exactly what they got.
“We definitely don’t want anybody who is polished,” production manager Bethany Field said when they first started casting. “These are folks who have been cut off for a long time and they don’t really have a sense of what’s hip or cool or even the fact that they should necessarily get haircuts.”
No problem there. Inside the long barn on Minot Avenue, most the aspiring actors looked anything but polished. They huddled in the cold, wearing wool hats and thick coats. Some had wild beards and untucked shirts. There was an abundance of flannel and the steady clomp of winter boots. One wild-eyed man wore a wool Bruins cap. He looked a bit like Jack Elam.
Gum Spirits has been filming all over Maine and the producers say they have found some real gems among all the snow, ice and flannel.
“It’s just been great,” said Aaron Duffey, an actor and one of the producers on the film. “We’ve found some tremendous actors; people who have never acted before; people who completely carried their scenes.”
Most of the men and women huddled in the barn will probably end up with tiny roles, which then may get cut from the film. Some might not appear at all.
“You’re not guaranteed to be in the film,” said Carl Lakari, a crew member who always seemed to have a bullhorn in hand. “Even if you’re here for three days straight.”
Such are the risks of the movie industry, of course. The 60 or so people knew the odds were slim going in.
A woman in her 50s from Rumford said she had tried out for a role when the casting call first went out way back in October.
“I tried out for a speaking part,” she said. “I didn’t get it, but they told me I was welcome to come and be an extra. They said I might get a line or two, who knows? I’ve been psyched for this since the fall.”
Then there’s Madison, the 12-year-old who has already appeared in the 2014 movie “The Girl in the Lake,” after she was discovered by producers scouting out a Bangor hotel.
“They liked her look,” said Becky Caswell, Madison’s mom. “They said, ‘have you ever thought about being in a movie?’ She fell right into it.”
From such serendipitous circumstances, Hollywood starlets are born; everybody knows that. And while Madison was not guaranteed a major role in “Anniversary,” there were rumblings that there might be a place for both her and her mom.
“I’m hoping they’ll cast us as mother and daughter. That would really help her relax,” Becky said. “She’s extremely shy. This has brought her out of her shell and I’m really thankful for that.”
At this, Madison smiles shyly and shrugs. She wasn’t very concerned, she said, about what role she landed. She was just looking forward to doing her part. She was, in other words, appropriately humble.
Not that it was going to be easy. While the talent sat at tables filling out release forms, crew members were rushing around plugging in lights, getting heaters blowing and doing all of that behind-the-scenes stuff we usually don’t get to see. Meanwhile, Lakari just kept speaking into his bullhorn, advising the locals on what to expect.
“This is a Maine-made film,” he told them. “The whole cast, except for one, is from Maine.”
Nods up and down the tables.
“It’s going to be a long three days,” he bellowed. “I really encourage you guys to take care of yourselves. We’re going to be cold. If you’re uncomfortable, you’ve got to let us know. Wear your jackets. We’ll ask you to take them off when it’s time to film.”
The discomforts of filming were diminished, somewhat, thanks to the contributions of Mike and Linda Ward, who live in a house next to the barn. They were providing all sorts of things, from access to outlets, to food and a place where the actors and crew could go to warm up.
“We’re glad to help out,” Mike Ward said. He’s tall and rangy and he has mirthful eyes. He kind of looks like someone who might play a bit part in a movie about an abandoned Maine town.
“If they need an extra,” Ward said. “Sure. I’ll be in it.”
Both of them, actually. Linda was nodding vigorously at the prospect of going before the cameras.
Of course, one should be careful for what she wishes. It’s no secret that “Anniversary” will feature violence and ugliness and horror only thus far hinted at.
“The winter of ’78 was particularly difficult and they got cut off from the rest of the world,” Field said. “They had to make some tough decisions about their survival.”
Are you starting to get the idea?
Not that the dozens of bit actors were very concerned about it. All but a few said they plan to be on hand all three days. Madison and her mother were likewise in it for the long haul.
“We rented a room in Augusta,” Becky Caswell said. “It’s the tail end of school vacation. We’ll make a weekend out of it.”
By nightfall Friday, most of the tedious stuff — the paperwork and instructions — was behind them. As darkness fell on Minot Avenue, filming was ready to begin. Madison watched, listened, waited for instructions.
Was she nervous?
Madison shrugged. “Not really,” she said.
It was hard to tell whether she was telling the truth.
She is, after all, an actress.
Gum Spirits Production’s previous movies include the indie films “Sundowning” and “Three Priests.” “Anniversary” is its first horror film and the first being self-financed. The budget is less than $100,000. Field said the company plans to spend a year in editing before the movie’s release.
A bit more about the movie, from press materials:
“An abandoned mill houses a lunatic who whispers hints about the village elders. Pale creatures are glimpsed at night, howling in the snow. And as the Professor digs deeper he begins to suspect a dark secret, carefully hidden since 1978. They will risk their lives to learn the truth about the town of Whatley, and its origins, at a shocking celebration called … Anniversary.”