“You know, there are over a hundred ways you can die from pigeons,” volunteers 10-year-old Vineyarder Zale Narkiewicz. “Sometimes when they poop it has toxins that can kill you, sometimes you just have to breathe it in.”
“Well, that’s really great,” replies California-based filmmaker Gabriel Cowan, “because this movie is all about parasites.”
Pigeon poop? Parasites? Mr. Cowan is the director of The Taken, what he calls a character-driven, psychological, sci-fi thriller, and, over the weekend and until earlier this week, he was interviewing young Island hopefuls for roles in his upcoming film. Zale is one of a many would-be actors given an audience by the 35-year-old director, who hopes to cultivate local talent while shooting on the Vineyard.
When auditioning children, Mr. Cowan prefers to interview them rather than have them read from a script. “With kids I’m looking for focus, look, personality — it’s in the eyes,” he said. Young Mr. Narkiewicz seemed a promising candidate on these criteria. As a bonus, he has some acting experience — he played the Wise Ant in the Island stage production Ants and the Grasshoppers. He is a fan of sci-fi movies and shows like Dr. Who and Stargate.
Mr. Cowan was interviewing at Camp Jabberwocky, where next week the filming will begin. His grandparents had been coming to the Vineyard since the 1950s; his sister and her fiancé are running Camp Jabberwocky, which was key for the filmmaker in landing such a convenient location.
Camp Jabberwocky will be a celluloid stand-in for a heroine’s inherited estate on Cuttyhunk. Sadly, the land is also home to parasitic (non-pigeon borne) pathogens.
Mr. Cowan, a recent graduate of CalArts, also penned the script. The film’s premise is that Cuttyhunk was once a hotbed of eugenic research that went horribly awry. Through the foolish desires of Justin, the heroine’s step-brother, DNA-changing parasites are unleashed.
Like many science fiction and horror films, Mr. Cowan’s can serve as a parable, “What the film is talking about is how becoming the thing you wish you could be can destroy you — just looking at the current political scene, both candidates sold their souls after securing the nomination,” he said, referring to changes in tone and policy both Senators Obama and McCain have adopted since the spring.
He added that the parasite is representative of “a cascade of negativity,” where one bad thing leads to another. Hopefully, however, the film will be more complex than a pat allegory or fable; Mr. Cowan mentioned Guillermo del Toro (Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth) as an example of a director who strikes a balance between horror and compelling character development.
The Taken will be starring some actors who may be familiar to filmgoers, including Richard Riehle (Office Space), Bryan Krause (Charmed) and Robert Culp (The Pelican Brief). Producing are Yousef Abu-Taleb and Amiee Clark.
Mr. Abu-Taleb said the crew of 40, local to the East coast including some from Martha’s Vineyard, would be shooting the film “on a moderate budget with independent financing” through Oct. 14.