A young woman in the midst of major life transition visits Eugene only to be transported to a mystical fairytale land. While that sounds not far off from the experience of many visiting Eugene for the first time, it’s actually the plot of Feathers, a short fantasy film written and directed by local musician Megan Johns.
The film is now in production at numerous locations around Eugene, and will be part of Scene in Eugene, an anthology of short films produced by local filmmaker Rick Gates’ production company, Tendrile Productions. Each movie is set in or inspired by Eugene, and the series is expected to premiere on YouTube in early October.
Johns tells me in an email she got involved in the Scene in Eugene project through the Lane County Filmmakers Facebook group, where she met Gates and other members of a vibrant filmmaking community she didn’t even know existed here.
“I’m deeply grateful to have stumbled into this beautiful, growing community of creatives,” she says.
The idea for Scene in Eugene had been rolling around in Gates’ head for some time. “I love this town, and it’s unique in a lot of ways,” he tells me over the phone. Outside of Animal House and a few track and field movies, there aren’t a lot of films set in or specifically done about Eugene.
Gates thought, “Why don’t I start putting together short films about Eugene across a broad range of genres?” It would be a series, because the stories had to be told from multiple perspectives. “Eugene is very multi-faceted,” Gates says.
The first installment, called Live Free or Die, is written and directed by Chelsea Real. The film is about two East Coast brothers, one who lives in Eugene and has integrated into the local counterculture. The other brother, who is more straitlaced, comes to Eugene to see his sibling and visit the University of Oregon.
Like many of the films in the series, Live Free or Die was shot at several locations around town, including the 5th Street location of Brail’s Restaurant and the WOW Hall.
Although several productions were underway before the pandemic, once COVD-19 hit, the cast and crew of each production scrambled to adapt.
“We’re fully masked on all our sets, except when the actors take theirs off and act,” Gates continues. In addition to production logistics, these limitations also affect the performances. “How do you show people in a more intimate situation, relating to each other, when they can’t even get close to each other?” he asks.
Sometimes the solution is to adjust the camera angle, while sometimes it comes down to the right combination of actors, “like maybe a couple people that domicile together,” Gates explains.
“It’s experimental filmmaking,” Gates says. “We’re really trying to see what we can get away with and what we can do.”
On account of the pandemic, Johns rewrote Feathers multiple times, she says, “largely so that it could be filmed entirely outside” with hefty safety-first protocols within state and CDC guidelines and regulations. They include limiting on-set cast and crew to 10 or fewer, social distancing, masks for all off camera crew and staggered call times.
Feathers is partially based on Johns’ real-life experience with carbon monoxide poisoning. Although Johns has been involved in music video production over the years, as well as a few other short film and animation projects, she’s never attempted anything as ambitious as the movie.
As of mid-August, six episodes in the Scene in Eugene series were complete, with several more in various other stages of production. Cast and crew on each set are different, and they’re all volunteers. The short films are shot and edited digitally.
After the series premiere in early October, Gates says to expect two installments each month until the series is complete. He’s quick to point out that these productions are just a few of the many underway in Lane County’s growing film scene.
For more information about Scene in Eugene, follow Lane County Filmmakers or Tendrile Productions on Facebook.