Arts and Entertainment

Arlington native costars in independent film

From left, Arlington native Mike Merz costars with Coral Malean, Danny Nelson and Andrew Bell in “Rivertown,” an independent film shot in Snohomish County. - Photo courtesy of Wasted Talent Films
From left, Arlington native Mike Merz costars with Coral Malean, Danny Nelson and Andrew Bell in “Rivertown,” an independent film shot in Snohomish County.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Wasted Talent Films

SNOHOMISH — Arlington native Mike Merz knows what it’s like to grow up in a small town in Snohomish County, so when he saw his chance to costar in an independent film set in a small town in Snohomish County that would pay tribute to that experience, he was happy to sign on.

“Rivertown” was filmed in Snohomish and Monroe from late May and early June through late October and early November of this year, with a cast made up of a number of actors with whom Merz had acted on stage during their years together at Everett Community College.

Merz graduated from Arlington High School in 1996 and has continued his studies in political science and public policy since then. Like his fellow cast members, he found himself juggling his shooting schedule not only with his own job, but also with those of the rest of the cast and crew.

“We had people who were trying to fit in shoots between waitressing and attending college and hockey games on weekends,” said Merz, whose younger brother Jake and fellow AHS graduate, Dustin Blomquist, also took part in the film. “Some of us were coming from as far away as Spokane.”

Merz laughed as he acknowledged that the making of “Rivertown” was far removed from how many might imagine the production of a stereotypical big-budget Hollywood movie, with the most notable distinction being the fact that the film’s production company is still raising funds for the post-production editing and marketing of the movie.

“In one scene when our characters were eating breakfast at a restaurant, the production couldn’t afford to buy the meals there, so we ordered pancakes from McDonald’s and were filmed eating them at the restaurant,” Merz said. “You really have to stay within a filming budget when it’s not much of a budget to begin with.”

Merz praised the businesses of Snohomish and Monroe for accommodating their production so much. In particular, he thanked the owners of Fred’s Rivertown Alehouse in Snohomish for “letting us shoot there all day long, whenever they could,” a friendly community spirit which Merz sees reflected in the story of the film itself.

“Rivertown” is a comedy set in a fictional Snohomish County town that writer Danny Nelson and John Baunsgard, who produced and directed the film, intended to be an amalgam of several small towns in the county. Merz found the community that’s portrayed in the film both familiar and welcoming.

“I’m a small town guy,” Merz said. “What’s so great about living in a small town is its sense of family. All the neighbors know each other. When I buy my groceries in Arlington, I meet parents who had my dad as a teacher to their kids. A lot of these communities are changing. Marysville is completely different from what I remember when I was growing up.”

Merz plays one of four co-owners of a failed pawn shop in Rivertown who are staging a garage sale to pay their expenses when a trio of college students from the big city pass through town and become stranded there. As a theater performer since high school, Merz found moviemaking to be a very different art from staging a play.

“I didn’t have to change costumes in five seconds,” Merz laughed. “I’ve done multiple roles in a lot of plays and the thing with stage productions is that the show must go on, whether you flub your lines or not. With movies, though, it has to be perfect because it’s being preserved on film.”

While Merz appreciated the relative luxury of being able to shoot multiple takes of his scenes, he chuckled as he conceded that actors don’t do independent films such as “Rivertown” to get rich.

“You really have to love what you do, and everyone there really did,” Merz said. “We were all very committed and I think the film will come off really well as a result. It’s been one heck of an experience. The production company is already planning another film after this one, and they’ve learned a lot about how to do it.”

Those who wish to contribute to the completion of “Rivertown,” or to watch a trailer for the film, may log onto www.kickstarter.com/projects/wtf/rivertown. The film’s production company is Wasted Talent Films, at www.wastedtalentfilms.com, and it’s set to submit the completed film to several film festivals, including the Seattle International Film Festival.

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