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Island graduate to film movie scenes on Whidbey
The story has been etched in Joseph Itaya’s mind for 10 years.
The story of two brothers spending a summer with their uncle in a rustic cabin on a remote island. A summer spent uncovering secrets about their grandfather and the mysterious island. Secrets that lead them on a hunt for their grandfather’s lost fortune in a race against time and sinister forces.
Itaya’s story is captured in a screenplay he wrote for his master’s thesis at the University of Southern California. The whole time, his thoughts wandered back to a rugged yet serene landscape place dear to his heart about 1,200 miles up the Pacific coast.
“Absolutely, Whidbey Island was on my mind,” he said.
In a little over a month, Itaya’s story will be coming to life around Whidbey Island.
Itaya, a 1996 graduate of South Whidbey High School, will fulfill a dream by directing his first feature film around his old stomping grounds.
The film, “Lost & Found,” will begin production on Whidbey Island in early September.
It’s an independent, low-budget film that will be shot mostly in and around Coupeville and on North Whidbey.
Although some of the actors being courted are recognizable names, the movie’s big star, according to Itaya, is Whidbey Island.
“It’s a magical location, a magical landscape,” Itaya said. “I wanted the world to see how mysterious, how thrilling and how beautiful it is.”
Itaya, 33, has spent the past 10 years in Los Angeles making films, commercials and music videos.
“Lost & Found” will mark his feature-film debut as a director.
His screenplay was a 2013 finalist for “Best Dramatic Screenplay” at the International Family Film Festival in Hollywood.
“I’ve read the screenplay,” said Sherrye Wyatt, tourism and film liason for Whidbey and Camano Islands.
“I almost feel like Whidbey Island is a character in the story itself. The whole island is key to the story.”
The news that a group from Southern California was scouting Whidbey Island in May to shoot a feature film was a ray of sunshine for Wyatt.
She’s worked with Washington FilmWorks and Itaya to make filming on Whidbey as seamless as possible, helping them line up the proper permits, secure lodging and assist with more detailed scouting.
She’s currently looking for an older mansion on the island to be in the film.
Washington FilmWorks is partially funding the movie. Other funding is through investors and pledges at a website called www.kickstarter.com
Itaya didn’t give a dollar amount, but acknowledged that making a full-length feature film is a expensive venture.
He is joined by three other producers with varying degrees of experience in production and acting on bigger budget projects: Kim Selby, Scott Bridges and Eric Brenner.
“It would mean the world to me if a piece of the financing came from the community,” said Itaya, who can be contacted through the movie’s website at www.lostandfoundmovie.net
“A film like this is a labor of love. It’s been a mission of mine and now we have an army of family and friends both on Whidbey Island and Los Angeles here giving every resource they have to go off and make this movie.
“Why? Because this is a story that is absolutely worth fighting for. It’s a story worth living for, hoping for and wishing for.”
Itaya said there will be opportunities for extras from the island to appear in the film. Filming is expected to take place the entire month of September.
Locations will include downtown Coupeville, Fort Casey and Fort Ebey. Cornet Bay will be one of the North Whidbey locations.
The movie is an island adventure and “fish out of water” story set in modern day with two brothers, Andy and Mark Walton, ages 15 and 11, spending the summer on ficticious “Walton Island.” By uncovering a secret about their grandfather, they also uncover trouble.
Itaya explains in the synopsis that at its heart, the movie is “an examination of family, of brotherhood, of ways that money can drive us apart, but how love can ultimately bring us back together.”
Itaya can relate. He is the oldest of five siblings from South Whidbey, including three brothers.
Itaya was heavily involved in the performing arts as a pianist, singer and actor as a youth before he reached a turning point in his life and decided he wanted to use storytelling through film and not just music as a means to express himself creatively.
He graduated from high school at 16, and earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Washington at 19.
Ultimately, he fell in love with the idea of doing “something I knew nothing about” and left for Los Angeles to begin a career in filmmaking. He started a production company and has directed, composed or produced more than 30 films, mostly commercials and industrial films.
“Lost & Found” is his baby.
“It’s been quite a long journey to get to this point,” Itaya said. “Making a film like this artistic endeavor requires a massive team and requires a lot of money and a lot of collaboration.
“It’s a big undertaking. I came from the world of when you wanted to record a song, you just recorded a song. Making a film is an entirely different undertaking. It’s just massive.”
He said his association with Selby, among others, has taken the project to a whole new level.
“The reason I was attracted to the screenplay from the beginning was Joseph,” Selby said. “I just fell in love with the story. It’s a great story about angst, redemption, love and heartache. It’s about discovering the treasure everyone is searching for, which is the treasure within.”
The plan is to film the entire movie on Whidbey Island.
Although it’s not uncommon for commercials to be filmed on Whidbey Island, full-length films don’t come around very often.
The last big production for any length of time was the 1998 Hollywood big-budget movie, “Practical Magic” featuring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman. That was filmed largely in Coupeville, creating a stir on the island because of its star power.
Although this is an independent film, Wyatt still senses the excitement.
“It’s been a year in the making,” Wyatt said. “It’s been a dream of his for many years. He wrote the screenplay himself, is directing himself. He’s gathered a team of talented people in the industry in Los Angeles. It’s a collaboration. It’s not just something he started in May.
“The screenplay won an award in December and it’s being passed around. Scripts are being looked at. They’re casting it. There’s some excitement in Hollywood about it.
“I think it could be a very big deal for us.”