EAGLE RIVER, Alaska — Eagle River is more than 2,000 miles away from Hollywood, but for a week or so this summer, the two places felt much closer.
In the middle of August, the movies came to town. Led by Alaskan writer and director Charles Baird, a small crew of actors and filmmakers recently shot two feature films in Eagle River, recording scenes in the parking lot of the Eagle River Shopping Center, a private home on a lake and other places throughout the community.
The first film, “Telltale,” is a modern retelling of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” Baird said. The second film is a psychological thriller called “Shattered.” Eagle River turned out to be an ideal location to shoot both, the director said.
“We’re actually cutting 40 percent of the cost by doing them back-to-back,” Baird said in between takes one overcast afternoon. “It’s going really well.”
By the second day of shooting “Telltale,” Baird said, the cast and crew were already almost 35 percent of the way through the entire movie. They’d spend five days on it, take a day off and then start filming “Shattered” a few days later, the director said. The final work will debut at a local venue like the Bear Tooth Theatre or the Alaska Experience Theatre, his said.
Like many of his films, Baird’s latest productions involve a shoestring budget and fewer than a dozen people, from actors to assistants to producers and directors, Baird said. He said he expects his two latest movies to turn profits almost immediately.
“Anyone can go out and do this if you plan it out and have a good team,” he said. “It does not take a lot of money.”
On set at the Eagle River Shopping Center August 9, cast and crew moved into position while people came and went from the coffee shop behind them.
“Quiet on the set!” someone yelled.
A motorcycle roared past on the Old Glenn Highway. An assistant lifted the slate and snapped it closed and the scene began.
While a trio of castmembers played out a tense interaction on the sidewalk, Alexa Schnoblen, an Eagle River High School graduate and an actress in the film, watched from the parking lot with the other crewmembers. The hometown production of “Telltale” is her first, she said.
“I always did acting and theater in high school, and have had a passion for it, but it was never something I was able to find a way to do on my own,” Schnoblen said.
After meeting Baird on a Facebook page devoted to photography, she snapped up a role in his latest film. The experience has been “phenomenal,” she said.
“It’s nice being able to shoot movies in the town where you grew up, especially when it’s small — you don’t really see this very often,” she said.
The fast-paced production requires cast and crew work 10- to 16-hour days, Schnoblen said. She particularly enjoyed the Edgar Allan Poe-inspired stunts. One character would be “chopped up”; others would be killed in similarly gruesome ways.
“I’m going to get buried alive,” Schnoblen said. “It’s going to be awesome.”
Baird began making movies seven years ago, producing everything from documentaries to horror films and thrillers, he said. Telltale is the tenth film he’s produced and the second he’s directed, he said. It’s one of nine slated for production this year alone, according to the director. Business is booming, Baird said.
“Amazon’s changed everything,” he said, wrapping up a final scene.
Sold via the massive online retailer, Baird’s films turn steady profits for months after their release, he said. The reliable revenue streams attract private investors to help fund a busy ongoing production schedule; after “Shattered,” Baird and his crew said they plan on shooting another five or six movies by the end of the year.
Alaska’s film subsidy program ended years ago, but with the help of online audiences and internet markets, the state’s independent cinema scene is still alive and well, Baird said.
“The entire industry has changed in the last five years,” he said. “Life is good.”