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Port of Coupeville gives nod to movie filming on historic wharf

Filmmaker Joseph Itaya plans to shoot scenes for an independent movie on the Coupeville Wharf in October. He obtained permission from the port Wednesday. - Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times
Filmmaker Joseph Itaya plans to shoot scenes for an independent movie on the Coupeville Wharf in October. He obtained permission from the port Wednesday.
— image credit: Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times

Joseph Itaya didn’t tiptoe around the subject.

The movie producer who’s trying to shoot a family adventure film on Whidbey Island told Port of Coupeville commissioners Wednesday that production will create some disruptions to daily life around the town’s waterfront.

But, as he spoke to commissioners in hopes of gaining approval to shoot major scenes for two or three days at the Coupeville Wharf next month, Itaya said he believes the potential benefits to the town and island would far outweigh any short-term inconveniences.

“A lot of times certain movie groups come in and they’re like, ‘Damn the consequences, we’re doing what we’re doing,’” Itaya said. “Because I am from Whidbey Island and my family is here and will be here for a long time and I care about our community, we are going to be very low impact.”

Itaya won permission from the Port of Coupeville to move forward with his independent film project on the wharf as long as he could amicably work with the wharf’s three merchants as well as with Penn Cove Shellfish, which frequents the wharf to refuel.

It was another positive step toward making a reality “Lost & Found,” a movie he’s dreamed about for years.

Itaya, a graduate of South Whidbey High School who moved to Los Angeles 10 years ago to produce films and commercials, is hoping that production will take place on Whidbey Island in October with most scenes shot in Coupeville.

If everything continues to according to plan, there will be at least two “prominent Hollywood actors” and some notable child television stars on the set.

But the movie is still facing some hurdles.

The film is hinging on deals being finalized with the adult actors whom Itaya didn’t want to name yet.

Time also is a factor with the island’s summer weather winding down. October is considered the last month the movie could be shot this year.

“We still have a couple of big pieces,” Itaya said. “This is, by the way, the nature of independent films. They are huge leaps of faith because things do not click into place until they have to, and that’s been a hard lesson for me to learn. I’m not accustomed to it.”

Itaya knows he can’t sit still.

While actors’ contracts are being negotiated in Southern California, he’s remaining on Whidbey Island to secure locations, recruit local actors and complete a long checklist of other preparations.

He is the writer and director of “Lost & Found” and one of the movie’s four Los Angeles-based producers.

He had Whidbey Island squarely on his mind when he wrote the story of two brothers visiting their uncle on a remote, mysterious island. The brothers are the central characters. They learn that their eccentric grandfather once owned the island and one day vanished, taking with him the secrets to a fortune.

The brothers uncover clues that lead them on a treasure hunt in search of the lost fortune, contending with some sinister forces who are on the same mission.

The movie is about family, brotherhood and how money can be a divisive force.

The film is scheduled to be shot mostly in Coupeville, including Fort Casey.

Itaya told Port of Coupeville commissioners that he wants to have a set built that would include a bait and tackle shop located on the Coupeville Wharf where the picnic tables currently sit. He said his production crew could quickly assemble and disassemble it and he would need two to three days to film there, meaning that particular area of the wharf would be closed to visitors.

As long as he made arrangements with wharf merchants, Port Commissioner Marshall Bronson said he has no objections.

Port Commissioner Mike Diamanti raised concerns about boaters who use the wharf to get fuel, including Penn Cove Shellfish.

Itaya received the go-ahead pending arrangements with impacted businesses.

“It’s a great thing,” Bronson said, “and the wonderful thing about this is it gets a continual name for Whidbey and Coupeville.”

Other movies shot in Coupeville in the past created a buzz and attracted tourists, said Port Commissioner Benye Weber.

Coupeville was featured in Hollywood films, “The War of the Roses (1989),” “Practical Magic (1998) and “Snow Falling on Cedars (1999).”

“We had a lot of people in town and business was very good,” Weber said of the “Practical Magic” shoot. “I could see that this would be an asset to all of our merchants on Front Street and on Whidbey Island.”

Coupeville has been a popular spot for filming in the past several weeks.

A two-person crew from Los Angeles was shooting scenery shots from the Coupeville Wharf for the television series, “Bates Motel” last month.

A large crew for the TV show, “Shut Up and Drive,” recently shot scenes for an episode featuring cars racing near Ebey’s Landing. That episode will air Sept. 29 on Fox Sports 1.

William Bell, owner of the Local Grown coffee shop on the wharf, said the tourist season slows down in October and the movie wouldn’t be a disruption to his business. He welcomes the idea.

“It’s an opportunity for a lot of folks to have 15 minutes of fame,” he said.

Itaya said most things about this movie have been falling into place in ways that have given his production team “goose bumps.”

He pointed to a chance encounter he had while scouting locations. He and his crew visited the Coupeville Wharf and met Mark Saia, the captain for Leisure Yacht Charters.

Itaya and Saia got to talking, revealing Saia’s past experience as a film editor and shooter and set builder in California.

A partnership was formed. Saia wants to help Itaya any way he can.

“When a big project and movie like this comes together, Providence moves or it doesn’t,” Itaya said. “And in our particular case, we have serendipity and God force all on our side. There are so many miraculous things happening everyday.”

 

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