He agreed to two takes. If his character had to eat cat food smeared on toast for a laugh — no palatable look-alike would do — he’d do it. For the laugh. Two takes.
Twelve times Bill McLean bit down, chewed, winced and darted for the sink.
“I’m willing to do anything for film — literally — to make you laugh,” he said.
The scene is out of “Scooter McGruder,” McLean’s first feature-length film as screenwriter and star, which he plans to premiere in Lewiston this summer, red-carpet style. He’s the titular Scooter, a 40-year-old man in a Boonie hat and mullet living in his aunt’s basement who’s finally decided to get a life.
The comedy is in the final stages of editing and sound. He worked against a May 20 deadline, when filming started on “Back to the Beyond.” In that movie, McLean plays a professor on a team of paranormal investigators poking around a haunted house on Long Island, Maine.
Come June, he’ll act in trailers for the next two films he’s written. One’s a thriller, one’s a cringe-in-your-seat horror flick.
It’s Maine. It’s summer. The filming is in full swing.
Maine has more than a half-dozen feature length movies shooting, premiering or in pre-production over the next few months.
In Rockland for the next two weeks, one New York director is filming a dark romantic comedy with Benjamin “Coach” Wade of “Survivor” fame.
In central Maine, it’s twentysomething angst and car chases.
In Buxton, it’s a murderous ex-husband, a didn’t-I-already-escape-him-once? ex-wife and Wayne Newton. The Wayne Newton.
Up in Caribou, it’s all about zombies.
Oh yes, zombies.
We highlight six films and preview some other coming Maine attractions.
The film: “The House”
The story: Newlyweds thought they were happy. Turns out he’s hiding something.
The people: Director John W. Bosley; starring Christy Bella Joiner
Status: Pre-production, filming this fall
“The House” could be set anywhere. John W. Bosley said he really wanted to show off Greenville. He scouted up here last May.
In the movie, “The big question is, do you believe people can change?” he said. He’s counting on changing leaves for a dose of symbolism. “Maine just looks perfect in the fall anyways.”
Bosley, 30, grew up in Presque Isle — his dad was stationed at Loring Air Force Base — and now calls Michigan home. His company is J.B. Movies and Visual Arts.
For his second feature film, he’s set a budget between $500,000 and $1 million. It’ll depend upon investors whether the entire movie is shot here or just the exteriors, Bosley said.
“It’s a combination, murder, mystery and drama,” he said. A couple’s happy with their life until the FBI knocks on the door. “You start realizing this guy has a past.”
The film: “40 West”
The story: An ex-husband, fresh out of jail, tracks down the woman he already tried to off once. Will a Good Samaritan make things better or worse?
The people: Director Dana Packard, starring Jennifer Porter, Brian White, Scott Winters, Wayne Newton
Status: Post-production; filming wrapped in early May
Their friends have described it as Coen brothers meet David Lynch.
Dana Packard and Jennifer Porter’s new movie “40 West” (he directs, she wrote and stars) takes place in a motel room in Texas. A woman’s car has broken down and a Good Samaritan has come to her rescue, bringing her to that hotel. Suddenly, the ex that tried to kill her five years ago bursts through the door.
“The husband says, ‘Thanks for finding her’ (to the Good Samaritan). Turns out they were cell mates in prison,” Porter said.
From there, it’s game on.
She described it as dark comedy, drama and thriller.
The husband and wife run a theater company at the Saco River Grange Hall in Buxton where they built the hotel room set. It’s the second feature for their Honey Tree Films. (“Mr. Barrington” was first in 2003.)
“We had an amazing crew,” Porter said. “Half of them came from Maine.”
And one came by way of Vegas.
Actor Kris Kristofferson is already attached to another script by Porter. Kristofferson’s agent led the couple to singer Wayne Newton, who slipped in and out for three days to shoot a supporting role.
“He showed Wayne the script, which Wayne really, really loved, so that was that,” Porter said. Newton couldn’t have been nicer, she said.
The community stepped up big time, she said, volunteering to cook meals for 17 days that fed 40 people: “That’s a huge, huge portion of the budget and this saved us so much money and allowed us to put it on the screen vs. in people’s mouths.”
Porter, who’s now composing the score, estimated the “40 West” budget at between $250,000 and $500,000. They hope to have it out in February.
The film: “Scooter McGruder”
The story: Scott McGruder, forever stuck in his teens, and his aunt’s basement, breaks out of his shell and looks for life and love.
The people: Director Jeff Sullivan, assistant director Tiffany McLean; starring Bill McLean (husband and wife from Monmouth), Sarah Nicklin, Wendy Olafson, Vanessa Novak, Michael Best
Status: Premiering this summer
Very rarely is “His mother dies when he’s 16” followed by “Her death will make you laugh.”
Strap in. “Scooter McGruder” is that movie.
Bill McLean wrote the screenplay three years ago and filmed during weekends and holidays last summer. McLean, who started his Freight Train Films in 2009, assembled actors from around New England who agreed to work for gas money and tolls in trade for a stake in the movie being picked up and taking off.
McLean, 42, plays McGruder, stuck in teenhood after his mom’s presumably less-hilarious-to-him passing. Over the next two decades, life doesn’t get easier.
“Most film has one to four antagonists — this film has eight,” McLean said. “He gets crap from every angle.”
One bully: McLean’s son Ben, 16, who plays Freddy the paper boy with a glint in his eye and one dangerous throwing arm.
“He will frighten you in the film. It’s a comedy, but his character is just evil. You’re going to love him,” he said.
McLean shot “McGruder” for $3,200. One friend’s house doubled as two homes, shot from different vantage points. The Greene IGA opened its doors for a grocery store scene. They filmed 45 hours of footage in all, and, he said, it’s not going to waste. During the premiere, he’ll show three alternate endings after the credits, then outtakes and bloopers.
The film: “Ramblin’ Round”
The story: A couple ditches the routine and embarks on a life of adventure, maybe to their peril.
The people: Director Ryan Bennett; stars to be announced
Status: Filming in July and August around central Maine
Ryan Bennett grew up in Pittsfield and for his half-million-dollar feature film “Ramblin’ Round,” he’s come back.
The movie, which expands his 22-minute short film of the same name, is being shot in New York and Maine. The ending will be filmed during the Pittsfield Egg Festival.
“It’s kind of a quarter-life crisis situation,” said Bennett, 24. “There’s car chases and all kinds of fun stuff.”
Bennett, who lives in Brooklyn, won the 2010 Individual Artist Fellowship from the Maine Arts Commission and put that $13,000 prize toward seed money for the movie.
It’s his first feature-length film as writer, director and producer with his company, American Whirlwind Pictures. He’s hoping for a lot of homegrown buzz and support.
“People are much easier to deal with in Maine,” Bennett said. Plus, “It can be a family affair.”
He plans on casting his parents and siblings as extras.
The film: “Isabel”
The story: “A broken-hearted lover/dead-beat father rebuilds ‘a family’ from broken people in his life.”
The people: Director Mark B. Ketola (also known as Jack Skyyler); starring Jon Briddell, Sharon Wright, Joanne Wilson, Benjamin “Coach” Wade
Status: Filming from the end of May to June 12
Director Mark B. Ketola says he chose Maine for “the beautiful lonely quality to the rugged coastline.”
His second feature film, “Isabel,” is being filmed in Rockland in its entirety over the next two weeks. His brother Joel is co-producer, co-director, co-writer and cinematographer. With a budget of about $10,000, they’re aiming for Sundance in 2011.
The film is dialogue heavy, “focusing on relationships, love, guilt and fear of failure and disappointment,” Ketola said. It centers on “a divorcee who never got over his wife, and in trying to make a clean break with his wife, he made that same clean break with his daughter. Twelve years later, the daughter is 20 years old and ill. She needs a place to stay and recover and ends up with her father again. At the same time, the father is falling in love with a woman who’s renting a room from him after just getting out of a bad relationship.”
Benjamin Wade, the outgoing, athletic Coach on TV’s “Survivor,” was interested in the lead but his schedule didn’t work; he’s a co-star instead, Ketola said.
The film: “Zombies Are Coming To Town!”
The story: Brenda is only acting in a zombie movie, right? Those aren’t real zombies around her … or are they?
The people: Director Nathan Oliver, productions manager Deidra Levasseur
Status: Starts filming June 12 in Caribou
Nathan Oliver knows his zombie history cold, and here, it’s on full display. He and Deidra Levasseur, a husband-and-wife team from Caribou now living in Montreal, have given their debut feature maybe the most intriguing title in the batch of Maine summer films.
“The film is a mash-up of modern zombie lore and satire,” Oliver said. “It starts by paying homage to the greatest zombie flicks (‘Night of the Living Dead,’ ‘Zombie’) as well as the ‘great in their own way’ zombie flicks (‘Return of the Living Dead 2,’ ‘Darkness: The Vampire Version,’) then turns into another movie all together when we find out that it’s just a movie being filmed in a place where real zombies just so happen to be.”
Shooting is scheduled for Caribou next month. He did a zombie casting call this spring for extras.
“I wanted as many fresh faces as possible and I wanted as much local involvement as I could get from the folks in The County, both in my cast and crew,” he said.
For many, Oliver said, it’s a good introduction to filmmaking and to him. They’d like to return to Maine and make more movies after this with their company, NO Productions.
“When not looking through the lens at terror-inducing landscapes, the entire state boasts wondrous beauty packed with open-minded locals who want nothing more than to see success within their community,” he said.
Like the new film “Back to the Beyond” did last month, they’ve gone to the Web to try to raise money for the production. Part of the pitch: “Help us make this movie as bloody brilliant as possible!”
We asked filmmakers, why shoot here?
• Ryan Bennett, “Ramblin’ Round”
“It’s where I’m comfortable working. Also, there are a ton of things you can do in Maine. ‘We want to shoot in your field, is that cool?’ ‘Go for it.’ It basically works the way things should work.
“The trick is, the reality is, you can’t really do film just in Maine. There’s no infrastructure for it, it’s like making films in your closet.”
You need to have a foot in both worlds, he said, like Maine as a backdrop, New York as a showcase.
• Mark B. Ketola, “Isabel”
“I vacationed in Acadia National Park as a child, and once I’d started writing the script, I knew immediately I had to film it in Maine.”
• John W. Bosley, “The House”
“It’s loyalty. I feel personally obligated that if things move up for me, why don’t I give it back?”
• Jennifer Porter, “40 West”
“For us, it was that, with this budget, we knew we had people in places and favors that could be called in that with this budget we could still make it look like a big-budget movie.”
• Nathan Oliver, “Zombies Are Coming To Town!”
“If you look back at the best (or worst) horror movies ever made, you always see things in the background that are ever-present in the natural landscape of Maine. In the Southern part of the state, Mainers grow up with images of ‘ancient” Colonial architecture and salty sea-faring types. This locale is amazing when your story happens to involve a ferocious shark or Stephen King demon-villain.
Northern Maine is absolutely superb with its sprawling virgin forests, old downtown stretches and isolated dwellings. These thematic locations make the perfect recipe for the scary natural unknown.”
• Jessica Caldwell, “Lobster” (a 12-minute film being shot in Harpswell this summer)
“We just want to capture the landscape there, it’s the perfect place for this story.”
There are, however, logistics to work out: “We’re shooting on islands with no plumbing and no electricity. I have actors who need to go to the bathroom and eat lunch.”
Short takes on Maine movie news on the horizon
• John Seymore at The Maine Studios in Portland says more details will come next month on a new movie shooting here with the working title, “I, Zombie.” His teases so far: TMS commissioned writer/director Kendal Sinn of Kansas City to write the screenplay. Location scouting is slated for June. The proposed budget is between $1.35 million and $1.5 million.
• At the end of the year, Seymore said filming will begin on “The Book of Haballah,” the first of a planned horror trilogy. In his first feature-length film, Seymore is weaving a story that he’ll shoot and direct around four other works. Think “Tales from the Crypt”-style, he said. (Haballah is a reference to a band of demons.) He’s looking for 12 short films to include.
“There’s one potential major star we’re talking with for the film,” he said. “She’s kind of a horror cult legend.”
• Dick Kane in Sedgwick continues work on his Maine Masters series, 30-minute profiles of influential artists with ties here who haven’t gotten the ink he thinks they deserve (up next: Joe Fiore, Yvonne Jacquette and Beverly Hallam.) He’s also in pre-production on a black comedy-meets-horror called “Last Call at Bloody Mary’s.” The screenplay is by novelist Cathie Pelletier. (Her novels under the pen name K.C. McKinnon, “Candles on Bay Street” and “Dancing at the Harvest Moon,” have been turned into movies.)
“Last Call” is set on a Maine college campus with a “neo-Hitchcock, Rod Sterling”-feel, Kane said. They’re hoping to shoot in Maine next year and are raising funds now for the $1.2 million budget.
• Maine International Film Festival is scheduled for July 9-18 in Waterville. Movies to be announced.
• KahBang Film 2010 kicks off Aug. 6 in Bangor. Building on the music-only, one-day KahBang of last year, organizers have added arts, film and an extra week this year. Josh Whinery, directing the film end of festival, said he’s aiming to show 20 to 30 feature-length films and as many shorts as possible, all around town. The call for entries is still open; one category is Maine on Main to highlight Maine filmmakers. “Neighbor by Neighbor” by Craig Saddlemire, the documentary shot in downtown Lewiston, is one of the films slated to air.
“The way I’m modeling it, we’re looking for the next big thing — the next great director, the next great actor, the next great writer,” Whinery said. He wants people to look back saying, “Geez, they had their first film at KahBang.”
• “The Rivals,” featuring Mountain Valley and Cape Elizabeth high schools, will have its national premiere Sept. 11 on the Smithsonian Network, according to Kirk Wolfinger at Lone Wolf Documentary Group. Look for it shortly after on DVD.
This story has been edited from its original version.