Tinseltown Tacoma: filming in the Gritty City

// Even Seattle filmmakers are coming to Tacoma for its local color and welcoming permitting process

  • Action! Seattle’s Experience Studios filmed a music video about human trafficking called “Where Has Love Gone” in Tacoma. (Photo by Sherie Suter PhotograPhy)

While filming a movie in downtown Tacoma last week got arts watchers all atwitter, local independent film projects are either finishing up or already finding success at film festivals and movie venues around the world.

The Hollywood-backed film “You Can’t Win,” starring Michael Pitt, filmed scenes in and around Old City Hall as it takes on the autobiographical story of hobo-turned-burglar Jack Black. Other scenes for the film will be shot around Seattle and Puget Sound through the summer. Pitt is most likely best known as Jimmy Darmody, the recently killed-off character on HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire,” but other credits include “Funny Games,” “Last Days,” “The Dreamers” and “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” While “You Can’t Win” was gearing up production in Tacoma, a music video shoot was winding down and other film projects with local ties have also recently reached milestones.

The list of local film projects runs on and on since most of the filming goes on without having to get city officials involves. That is because the city’s $50 filming permit is only required if the work would block public areas or close streets, Tacoma’s Film Assistance Manager Kala Dralle said.

“There are a lot of things that go on that I don’t know about just because they don’t need a permit,” she said.

Tacoma created the film assistance program after the movie “10 Things I Hate About You” was shot in and around Tacoma in 1998. Other notable film projects with local ties include “Come See the Paradise,” “The Fugitive” and “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle.”

Flying under the city’s permit radar, Gary Voelker of Seattle’s Experience Studios was recently filming a music video for “Where Has Love Gone?” by Seattle-area musician Lisa Mitts. The video highlights the growing problem of human trafficking in America and the work of a nonprofit called The Defender Foundation that works with local governments and law enforcement around the world to rescue young victims from brothels, forced-labor factories and farms. The video will debut at the release concert in June and will then be used to raise awareness about human trafficking.

And while that filming was going on in Tacoma, local filmmaker Ron Lagman received the news that his short film “Tapat Sa Pangako (Committed)” apparently speaks a universal language even though the eight-minute movie has no dialog at all. The film has been selected to be screened at the Cannes International Film Festival’s Short Film Corner. This year’s slate of 1,955 short films selected for screening span 97 countries for being viewed as some of the best work gathered from around the globe.

The film was shot in Lagman’s house in Tacoma as a fundraising effort for Lagman to shoot his latest film “Lolo,” which means grandfather in the Filipino language of Tagalog. The half-hour movie will tell the story of an aging Filipino man as he fights for federal recognition of his military service during World War II and about his struggle to remind his Americanized family about their roots.

Some 250,000 Filipino men served in the United States military during the war and were promised the same health and pension benefits as the American soldiers they served alongside. But that changed when the war ended and Congress signed the Rescission Act of 1946 that withdrew the benefits they had been promised. Filipino veterans and their supporters have been fighting for the act to be rescinded ever since. “Lolo” might be ready to premiere Veterans Day weekend at the Washington State History Museum.

Lagman was born and raised in the Philippines but is now a member of the 446th Aerospace Medical Squadron at McChord Field.

But wait, the list of local movie milestones continues. “A Perfect Life,” a Tacoma-filmed movie about a homeless man who imagines his perfect life only to have it gone, is being screened at the Seattle Film Festival. The movie was written and directed by Chad Ruin, produced by Ruin, Joe Rosati and Scott Stone and starred Rosati, Ashley Cozine and Scott C. Brown. The movie is now available on DVD, while deals for worldwide distribution, including through Dish Network, are in the works.

The movie “Jesus 4 Less” by Aaron Flett, which took over a storefront across from the Pantages Theater last summer to shoot a parody of sorts about a religious book store, is in final editing and nears its official premiere screening.

Want a look into local films?

The Grand Cinema is proud to present “72 Hour Film Competition Viewing Party” at the Rialto Theater starting at 6 p.m. on May 11. The night will show the works that follow a film blitz by local filmmakers and film lovers who competed in the annual film contest. The rules are simple. Competitors had three days to script, rehearse and film a five-minute movie that included a stock prop and a common line. Anything else was fair game. The night of film screening will show 30 of the films and some award announcements. Tickets are available at (253) 593-4474 or at www.GrandCinema.com. Tickets are $13 or $15 at the door.

The Grand’s main film festival, by the way, was just listed on Movie Maker Magazine’s top 25 film festivals. Established in 2006, the Tacoma Film Festival was created for both international and local independent filmmakers, and works to connect filmmakers with the community. It draws movies from all over the world but particularly encourages filmmakers from the Pacific Northwest.


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