Taking a much needed break from his latest film, “August Falls,” scheduled for release in the spring of 2015, one of Placerville’s favorite sons of the theater, Joshua Porter, dropped into town recently for a family visit.
Porter, who produced the murder-mystery drama, also is busy getting ready to direct two new professional feature films, perhaps shooting one of them in Old Hangtown.
Now 36, Porter lived in Placerville from the age of 9 into his late 20s, attending El Dorado High School.
“I call this home,” said Porter, who was visiting his parents, Charles and Nancy Porter. “I needed a break after shooting for a whole month in the Bay Area. But I’m really happy with how the film turned out.”
“August Falls,” which follows the path of a woman who believes her son’s “suicide” was actually murder, includes a cameo appearance by Porter playing a policeman, “Officer McClain.” Porter’s dark and dashing good looks are suited to the officer’s uniform, right down to the handlebar mustache he grew for the part.
“The mustache is really pretty scary,” smiled Porter, sitting down for an iced coffee and croissant at Centro near the Belltower. In addition to producing “August Falls,” which is directed by friend and collaborator Sam Hancock, Porter is eager to begin shooting another ambitious film this fall that will star … Placerville.
“I realized Placerville will absolutely be the setting when it comes to ‘To Find A Monster,’ if I have my way,” said Porter, referring to a film that he cowrote with Matthew Donaldson. The story line involves two kids who decide to shoot a horror film, becoming the youngest ever to do so, and involves all the pratfalls — and personal victories — that occur along the way. Although the youngsters are filming horror, “To Find A Monster” will be rated PG and is a film for everyone, according to Porter.
“It’s a light, family film,” he said. “Placerville would be perfect for the setting. I always wanted to use Placerville in a film, but it never really materialized until ‘To Find A Monster.’”
Porter has been working with El Dorado-Lake Tahoe Film Commissioner Kathleen Dodge, who has helped Porter in the past in making headway in the industry. The commission assists filmmakers in choosing El Dorado County for shoots, among other services.
“I absolutely love Kathleen Dodge,” said Porter. “She has been so good to me. She is a goddess and a very good friend.”
Dodge is a fan of Porter’s work as well, and said she would love to see “To Find A Monster” come to town.
“It’s a fabulous family film, and I think Josh is amazing,” said Dodge. “I think this film would be wonderful for El Dorado County and Placerville especially. It has so much heart and would be focusing on our community.”
Porter’s plans for shooting “To Find A Monster” need to come together soon, however, as it takes three to six months “to get everything lined up,” he said.
“To Find A Monster,” in Porter’s words, “is about two nerds in the 1980s in their last year of innocence, before high school starts.”
And yes, one of the nerds was patterned after him, Porter acknowledged with a grin.
“The two grab their camcorder and start making a horror movie. It’s sort of a cross between ‘Goonies’ and ‘Stand by Me,’ two films that I watched back in the ’80s.”
“To Find A Monster” stars Alanna Ubach, whose past roles include playing a sorority friend of Reese Witherspoon’s character in “Legally Blonde.” Ubach also is co-producing the film.
Porter said two youngsters cast in the lead roles, one 12 and one 13, “are absolutely incredible.”
“They’re going to be stars,” he said of Robbie Tucker and Jackie Radinsky. The director added that Sabrina Carpenter, who plays their young friend, also promises to be a crowd pleaser.
Porter knows about actors of a tender age becoming successes in the traditionally tough movie industry. All he has to do is look in the mirror to be reminded.
Beginning at age 14 with the lead role in a Theater El Dorado production of Eugene O’Neil’s play, “Ah, Wilderness!”, Porter’s career took off over the next decade. His credits include the critically acclaimed stage version of “A Few Good Men,” in which he played military lawyer Lt. Daniel Kaffee. He also has appeared in several commercials in California and was featured in the 2001 General Motors ad campaign, “Then and Wow!”, published in national and international magazines such as Time, Newsweek and Country Living.
Since graduating from the New York Film Academy in 2005, Porter has directed, produced and written several films, including “Garden of the Disappeared,” “Hatched,” “In the Eyes of a Killer” and several commercials, among others. In 2011 he directed and produced the award winning short, “Yeller,” which was named Best Film by the Sacramento Film & Music Festival. Porter directed the music video “Lengua de la Muerte” in 2012 for the San Francisco rock band The Illness.
In addition to gearing up for filming “To Find A Monster,” Porter is in preproduction for a sports family drama, “The First Out,” which he will be directing.
Pretty impressive for a young lad who at age 14 landed the starring role in a Placerville play put on by what today is known as Imagination Theater.
“I was in the eighth grade when my mom suggested I try out for the play after she saw an ad for Theater El Dorado,” Porter recalled. “I tried out, then walked away with the lead role, playing the character Richard Miller, who was 18.
“I was tall for my age.”
Interestingly enough, Porter wasn’t the only name associated with that 1993 play who went on to enjoy a show biz career. “Ah, Wilderness!” was directed by Michael D. Jackson, who recently directed off, off Broadway in New York and fellow actor Michael Beatty has been working with the Disney Channel, Porter was happy to report.
Jackson, who also wrote plays during his 14 years in New York, moved back to California in May, working with the California Musical Theater Education Department this summer and set to direct productions for Christian Brothers High School in Sacramento this year.
He recalls directing the young Porter when he starred in “Ah, Wilderness!”
“Josh did a great job in the end, but I quickly realized that by casting a 14-year-old to play an 18-year-old fighting for the love of his girlfriend was asking a lot and I had my work cut out for me,” said Jackson. “Josh handled himself quite professionally and cared a great deal about doing a good job. There were a number of teens in the production and I treated them all as if they were experienced adult actors and just expected that they would all rise to the occasion, which they did.
“There was a romantic scene with a kiss that I imagine was probably very nerve-wracking for Josh as well as for Melissa Craib, who played the girlfriend. Only recently she told me that the stage kiss in ‘Ah, Wilderness!’ was her first kiss.”
Whether it was Josh Porter’s first kiss is unknown, but he did reveal that this autumn he plans to wed in Tahoe, a fact that has added to the hectic pace of his life in the midst of producing “August Falls.” But it has been well worth it, Porter said.
“August Falls” is a heavy son of a gun, heartfelt and beautiful with the grieving process and the way she (the lead character) deals with it,” Porter said. “It’s about a woman who gets word her 20-year-old son August has fallen to his death and the police say it was suicide. She and her son had been estranged, and when she goes there she decides to live in his apartment and she makes acquaintance with his friends, gets into his world.
“She eventually learns it’s not suicide, and that places her into a dangerous situation that threatens her own life.”
Porter said the story written by his friend appealed to him immediately.
“I read the script, written by Sam Hancock, and knew I had to do it.”
Porter urged all young would-be filmmakers who have an urge to create their stories to jump right in.
“If someone wants to make a film, make it, that’s my message,” he said. “Get out your smart phone, camera, what have you and go for it.”
His friend Jackson, who also grew up in Placerville and graduated from El Dorado High in 1986, said he is also encouraged that young adults want to pursue careers in entertainment, and the former Theater El Dorado director reflected again on the success of the “Ah, Wilderness!” team.
“I think it’s wonderful that Josh is making movies in the Bay Area,” he said. “I’m also happy to know he’s pursued a related field since the days of ‘Ah, Wilderness!’ Another younger cast member of that production, Mikie Beatty, who played the younger brother is now a working actor in Los Angeles. Melissa Craib works as operations manager at Chapel Hill School of Musical Arts in North Carolina. Randal Frizado, a Ponderosa student at the time who played a traveling salesman in the production, went on to a career in the theater and is now the company manager of the Fulton Theater in Pennsylvania. It’s interesting that ‘Ah, Wilderness!’ was part of the inspiration for that group of kids to pursue careers in the arts.”
A career in filmmaking, while rewarding, can be daunting and even exhausting, given the nature of production schedules, according to Porter.
“We shot for a whole month on ‘August Falls,’ and that’s after two to three months of prep work,” he said. “There’s not a ‘typical’ day during shooting, it’s all the time, always there.
“And that was combined with me moving out of my place and putting things in storage and getting ready to get married!”
Porter said his days during shooting ran from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m., or from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., requiring 12-hour workdays where “you wake up and continue doing things,” with hardly a break in between.
“Now that the final pieces are in place, ‘August Falls’ will make it easier to pursue other projects,” said Porter. “It gives you that pull, the fact that your accomplishments are making waves in the industry.”
Porter said his parents are proud of his accomplishments and, of course, love to have him come home when his busy schedule allows. Asked whether Charles and Nancy are particularly excited about the upcoming release of “August Falls,” Porter smiled.
“My parents are very proud,” he said. “They’ve always been proud of me.”