Pittsfield-native filmmaker reaches funding goal for sci-fi short ‘Frontier’

Last we checked in with Stephen Parkhurst, the Pittsfield-native filmmaker currently living in Astoria, NY, he had just completed his first feature film “Roommate Wanted,” a low-budget oddball thriller hybrid filmed in Bangor. As “Roommate Wanted” found funding success through Kickstarter, Parkhurst is giving crowd sourcing another shot with his next project “Frontier,” a short sci-fi film that has already hit its Kickstarter goal of $2,000, and is seeking its stretch goal of $3,000.

I recently caught up with Parkhurst to discuss “Frontier.”

Q. What do you hope to accomplish with the stretch goal? What would it mean for the production?

A. The unsexy truth about indie filmmaking, especially these days, is that the vast majority of the budget goes into food and transportation. I’m extremely lucky to have a hugely talented group of people giving up their time, skills and equipment for this film, so for me, it’s really important to ensure they’re not spending their own money on stuff like food, gas and lodging. With the initial goal being met, I can do that. The stretch goal will allow us flexibility to really give the production everything it needs, especially a professional sound mixer, some nice, fast prime lenses and hopefully a few more lights.

Q. Tell me about the premise of “Frontier”?

A. It’s a UFO conspiracy story about a secret government facility being built in northern Maine. The film revolves around two very different characters finding common ground in their mutual distrust of authority. The two leads are Caroline, a young, ambitious, fast talking New York journalist, and Richie, a paranoid, older small town hermit. On the surface, they’re on opposite ends of the spectrum, and the fun is in seeing them discover their similarities in the face of a common enemy.

Q. How did it come about?

A. I’d written the first few pages of what was going to be an hour long TV pilot script several years ago. I knew I wanted to direct a short film this summer, but was struggling to come up with anything worthwhile. Finally, out of desperation, I went back to some of my old writing, rediscovered this, and ended up adapting the cold open of the pilot into a short film script.

Q. What are your expectations for “Frontier” as a short film? Do you see yourself returning to this story or these themes, or maybe elaborating on this in any future work?

A. In an ideal scenario, the short would act as a proof-of-concept for a TV series. An HBO exec sees the short and leaves a burlap sack of money on my doorstep to produce the series. I’m kidding of course. That would be nice, but it’s just a tad unlikely. Realistically I’d like the film to make the festival circuit, win some awards, and act as a calling card for more professional directing gigs in the future.

Q. What are your biggest science fiction influences?

A. This list could take up the rest of the article. “Frontier,” even though it most resembles an episode of “X-Files,” actually owes a lot more to “Twin Peaks.” Film-wise, I’ve always loved the sci-fi films that were, sometimes unintentionally, reactions to their times. The alien and UFO films of the ’50’s that played off our fears of communism and the nuclear threat were so full of dread and moral preaching, while the early Spielberg/Lucas era had a real sense of wonder and hope in the wake of the moon landing. The ’80s and mid-’90s eras are still my favorites, because there’s still that Spielbergian sense of awe, but people really started to play with the genre and create amazing mashups with other genres, mixing it with horror, war films, even some comedy. Guys like Verhoeven, Carpenter, Besson, Ridley Scott, Cameron, they’ve all contributed hugely. Also, every time I rewatch “The Thing,” I’m more convinced that it’s pretty much a perfect movie. I’m actually a little disappointed with sci-fi today because there’s so much doom and gloom. I like a good apocalypse film as much as anyone else, but it’s sort of overwhelmed the genre. I miss the more hopeful, aspirational parts of sci-fi.

Q. How do you think advancements in technology and low budget filmmaking have helped sci-fi filmmakers who previously needed a budget?

A. I think low budget sci-fi filmmaking is in a really cool place right now. The tech is powerful enough that people can create really beautiful films, but they still have to emphasize the storytelling and characters. Probably the most famous recent example is Gareth Edwards, the director of the new Godzilla movie. He got his break with “Monsters,” a low budget alien film that had really good special effects, but couldn’t afford to drown the film in them. If you have $100 million, it’s really easy to throw that all into really cool looking robots or aliens and not focus as much on the people or the plot. I think low budgets are actually the saviors of the genre right now, because it’s so easy to cause sensory overload with the big budget stuff. It all looks the same, it’s a boring cacophony of noise and bright, shiny objects.

Q. What are some of the differences between creating a short and a feature?

A. The preparation is more or less the same. With that said, there’s a palpable sense of relief as I plan out the shooting schedule. Since I only have 13 pages, I can focus on making sure the scenes are fully covered. We’ve got some time to play around and get creative, rather than just sprinting toward the finish line, like I have in the past.

Q. What’s next after “Frontier”?

A. I’ve had some luck with Youtube comedy videos, and I’m exploring options for expanding my presence there, while also hopefully moving into more freelance work as a director.

For more on Parkhurst and his production company Can Opener Studio, visit facebook.com/canopenerstudio or youtube.com/sparkhurst. For more on “Frontier,” or to contribute to the funding, visit the Kickstarter page at http://kck.st/1ngYJwU.

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