Category Archives: News

Leaving the Stage Behind: Adapting a Play for the Big Screen


IMG_7210Director Bret Fetzer brought the one-man monologue My Last Year With the Nuns to moviegoers with great acclaim. He reflects on his experience in this essay.

By Bret Fetzer
Photos by John Jeffcoat

Making a movie is like running an obstacle course, and the first obstacle in the path of My Last Year With the Nuns was obvious: I was crafting a film out of Seattle performer Matt Smith’s theatrical
monologue — one man talking for an hour and a half. While there are several successful films of someone alone on a stage talking, they’re mostly stand-up comedy, not long-form storytelling. Moreover, I didn’t want to just document a stage performance; I wanted to find a way to make this experience cinematic.

There were three examples I could think of: Spalding Gray’s Gray’s Anatomy, Mike Birbiglia’s Sleepwalk With Me, and Josh Kornbluth’s Haiku Tunnel.

 Director Bret Fetzer brought his one-man monologue from stage to screen.

Director Bret Fetzer brought Matt Smith’s (pictured here) one-man monologue from stage to screen.

Both Sleepwalk With Me and Haiku Tunnel tried to create a kind of hybrid movie, going back and forth between a typical multi-character scenario and the central character talking directly to the camera. But neither one quite gels, largely because in a monologue, a significant event can happen in a single sentence; but when you turn that monologue into a multi-character narrative, that event has to be a scene that can’t match the wit and concision of that sentence. The strongest elements of both movies were when Birbiglia and Kornbluth turned to the camera and talked. This convinced me it was crucial to stick to that.

Gray’s Anatomy is a more interesting case. Like Swimming to Cambodia and Monster in a Box, Gray’s Anatomy stuck to Gray’s monologue, but director Steven Soderbergh took Gray off the stage into a variety of odd settings—the one I remember most has Gray in a chair on some kind of conveyor belt, moving slowly across the screen. The result is visually intriguing, but doesn’t do much to support Gray’s voice; in fact, I’d argue the visuals work against the rhythm of the storytelling—and in storytelling, rhythm is crucial.IMG_7423

So I wanted to make the camera as nimble and fluid as Matt’s words. Matt talks about kids he grew up with, and the nuns and priests who made their lives difficult, but his stories are just as much about places: The shack where the newspaper boys played and fought, the church where Matt was a negligent altar boy, the ravine where secrets were kept and runaways hid, the classroom where a spelling bee became a tool of punishment. So I decided to make these places as significant as other actors would be.

Almost every time Matt’s stories shift to a new location, so does the movie—sometimes multiple times within each episode. These locations not only frame the stories (or perhaps “ground them” would be a better way to put it), but the shift from setting to setting gives the movie a visual rhythm that’s in sync with Matt’s verbal rhythms. I hoped the effect would be lively, playful, and perhaps give the audience the sense that they were entering into Matt’s memories as he told these stories. The reviews of My Last Year With the Nuns suggest that I succeeded in leaving the stage behind.

My Last Year With the Nuns is currently available via Vimeo-On-Demand at

Bret Fetzer has been writing screenplays, plays, and short stories for over 30 years. His plays have been produced around the U.S., as well as a production in Chile. His short stories have been published in a variety of literary magazines and collected in Petals & Thorns and Tooth & Tongue. He’s written film reviews for Seattle Weekly, The Stranger, and He has been the Artistic Director of Annex Theatre, the theater editor for The Stranger, and a vacuum cleaner salesman for the Kirby Company. He wrote the narration for the documentary Le Petomane: Fin-de-siecle Fartiste. He has previously directed a handful of short films; My Last Year With the Nuns is his feature-film debut.

Northwest Film Forum Enters New Leadership Era

Line Sandsmark and Courtney Sheehan. Photo by Julio Ramirez

Line Sandsmark and Courtney Sheehan. Photo by Julio Ramirez

By Mary Erickson Associate Editor

Seattle’s Northwest Film Forum has entered a new phase of executive leadership, joining two positions of artistic director and managing director into a co-leadership structure. Courtney Sheehan will serve as artistic director, and Line Sandsmark will assume the managing director position; they have been serving in these positions in an interim capacity since July 2015. Both will jointly report to the Board of Directors.

For a smaller-sized organization like the NWFF, this structure makes sense. A single executive director position often gets overwhelmed with the different hats they’re expected to wear, and there’s a need for a large team in order to delegate duties. In the NWFF’s case, according to Sandsmark, the support structure isn’t big enough to adequately support an executive director. Having two positions jointly cover the leadership role is more efficient and, as Sandsmark notes, “improves cross-departmental collaboration” within the organization. “We feel this is a natural evolution to serve in these positions,” says Sheehan. “This allows us to be nimble, flexible and adaptable.”NWFF_5 (2)

The NWFF aims to broaden its involvement and resources for its community, both geographically in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood and for the wider cinema-going audience. “We are continuing to look for ways to bring people together around film,” says Sheehan. In addition to regular film programming, the NWFF is also focusing more on larger scale live events and community conversations. It is also emphasizing accessibility to a broader audience, through the films themselves, through filmmaking tools, and through film education. “We are exploring how film can serve the community,” notes Sheehan. For example, for 10 days in January 2016, the NWFF hosted its annual Children’s Film Festival, screening films from all over the world. Part of the NWFF’s improved access and outreach involved bringing this festival to the Carco Theatre in Renton, Washington.

The NWFF is also providing opportunities to the community in the form of two production projects. Citizen Minutes is a community video initiative that presents conversations via short video. These shorts are presented both online and as weekly newsreels prior to screenings at the NWFF’s cinemas. The second project is Cue Northwest, a partnership with a local record label Brick Lane. The project will provide a $5,000 budget for a filmmaker in residence to produce a film inspired by an EP record. The inaugural round will screen the film at the NWFF’s Local Sightings Film Festival in the fall of 2016.NWFF Marquee_Image courtesy of NWFF

While the programming vision moves forward, so too does the vision for the facility itself. The NWFF has been at its current location in Capitol Hill for 11 years, and the space is in need of some updating to accommodate its current and future constituency. The NWFF has recently been awarded funding from 4Culture, the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture, along with other funders, to enable renovation of the lobby and building façade. “We’ll be expanding the lobby to accommodate more activity,” says Sandsmark, “and we’ll be able to replace the temporary marquee that was installed in 2004.”NWFFlobby (2)

As the NWFF moves into its 21st year, the organization continually finds ways to thrive and make itself relevant. “We’re highlighting the idea of community and collective experience through film, education and artistic support,” says Sandsmark. She acknowledges that the road is tough for arts organizations, but she sees rejuvenated support from the community. Theater admissions were up 10 percent in 2015, and membership numbers hover around 1,000 members. The community-oriented focus of the NWFF echoes throughout its programming, events, education and even its leadership.

Learn more about the Northwest Film Forum at

Digital Nitrate Brings Filmmakers Together

Justin Griffith and Cheyenne Shaw in a scene from Nobody’s Hero, produced by Digital Nitrate.

Justin Griffith and Cheyenne Shaw in a scene from Nobody’s Hero, produced by Digital Nitrate.

Photos courtesy of Digital Nitrate

A new film collective is making its mark on the Portland metro film scene, and it’s diving into several different genres and platforms. Digital Nitrate was founded in 2015 by Matthew Merz, a local filmmaker with a drive to develop a film incubator in the region.

One of Digital Nitrate’s spotlight projects is Solus, a time travel-themed web series that evokes a dystopic, melancholy vibe reminiscent of French science fiction. The series was originally developed by fellow Digital Nitrate member Nate Losinger, who shot four original episodes in his garage, acting in four different roles and engineering his own CG for the series.

Solus is being rebooted under the Digital Nitrate banner with six episodes and redesigned CG. “We’re very excited to get the show out there,” says Merz. A new episode of Solus will be released every other week in Winter 2016, with the first season utilizing five actors and the second season calling for about 20 actors.

Matthew Merz’s career in media production solidified in the mid-2000s with a Portland-based public access TV show called Drinking with Darren. The program, which Merz produced, featured the host visiting breweries and pubs in the region. As the TV show gained notoriety, it expanded to include a weekly appearance on the former KUFO radio station at 101.1 FM in Portland.Digital Nitrate_Solus_image courtesy of Digital Nitrate

Merz also expanded his own projects, working on documentaries and features over the next several years. As he worked, he began to recognize the need for increased collaborative efforts in the local film community. In 2015, Merz and some of his collaborators launched Digital Nitrate, a filmmaking collective, with the intention of pooling talent and resources to ensure that the collective’s media makers would have consistent work. “We want to be able to make three or four pictures a year so everyone can have a job year-round,” says Merz.

The collective has seven screenplays at some stage of development, with location scouting starting on Galactic Rush, an homage to ‘80s teen movies. Aesthetically, the film will feature three landscapes: the rolling hills of Central Washington, palm trees, and a seaside town like Astoria. “Teenagers miss color. They live in a world of endless war with nothing to inherit,” comments Merz. “They’re looking for a brighter future.” Merz hopes that this film and others like it will bring color back to the world.

Nobodys Hero featuring Cheyenne Shaw.

Nobody’s Hero featuring Cheyenne Shaw.

Digital Nitrate also recognizes the potential—financially and creatively—of the low-budget horror genre. The collective is working on Malibu Sleepover Massacre, a “Lloyd Kaufman-inspired USA Up All Night-type movie.” Merz says, “There is a loss of psychological fear in many horror films these days.” Malibu Sleepover Massacre, according to Merz, recaptures some of this fear in a psychological twist at the end of the movie. The added benefit, according to Merz, is that “these cheaper budget films help establish our track record.”

“Our goal is to unify people under a single banner,” Merz pledges. “We want to find success for at least one of us.” The hope, of course, is that the entire collective will succeed.

Visit for more information and to watch the Solus web series.

Media Literacy Comes to Bellingham

Bellingham seventh graders fill the theater at the Pickford Film Center’s Doc-ED program. Image courtesy of the Pickford Film Center.

Bellingham seventh graders fill the theater at the Pickford Film Center’s Doc-ED program. Image
courtesy of the Pickford Film Center.

By Mary Erickson Associate Editor

In October 2014, more than 1,100 middle school students visited the Pickford Film Center in Bellingham, Washington, as part of the theater’s Doc-ED program. A year later, the Pickford invited more than double the number of students to participate in Doc-ED, an annual media literacy program that offers screenings, this year focusing on three films: Landfill Harmonic, The Messenger and Becoming Bulletproof.

In October, students from the four public middle schools in Bellingham visited the Pickford to watch films screened as part of Doctober, the Pickford’s month-long documentary film series. In addition, the Pickford had raised enough funds to be able to provide bus transportation to students who needed it.

“Doc-ED was a tremendous success,” says Susie Purves, executive director of the Pickford. “It was wonderful to have the students here and to see them completely drawn in by the film.”

As the Pickford looks to this year’s Doc-ED, it is hoping to expand to the schools throughout Whatcom County. “We’re already raising money for this program,” says Purves. “We’d also love to have someone come forward to help us.”

The Pickford is in the midst of expanding the media education programs that it offers to the community. Twelve classes of area seventh graders are currently taking part in a series of three media literacy workshops administered by the Pickford’s media literacy instructor, Lucas Holtgeerts. In the first workshop, the students are introduced to critical media literacy concepts that teach them to critically identify, evaluate and participate with media. They are introduced to concepts of the author, genre, representation and propaganda, among others. The second workshop involves a documentary film screening at the Pickford in downtown Bellingham. Holtgeerts will then return to the classroom to lead the students in a follow-up session and discussion to apply their critical media literacy as they analyze the film.

In addition to these offerings geared towards middle schoolers, the Pickford also runs the Guerilla Film Project, a three-day filmmaking competition for high school students. This event, held over President’s Day weekend, brings together teams of filmmakers from high schools across Washington State to write, produce and edit a three-minute film. The 11th edition of the Guerilla Film Project will take place February 12-15, 2016.

The 2015 Guerilla Film Project featured teams from Anacortes, Bellingham, Sedro-Woolley, Blaine, and elsewhere. “We are hoping for more schools to participate,” says Purves, “and we’re currently working on doing more outreach.” The Pickford’s education manager, Grace Schrater, is visiting local schools and clubs to raise awareness of the program.

The Pickford Film Center also runs a Children’s Film Festival, which will next happen in March. This festival combines public weekend screenings of family-friendly films with weekday screenings offered exclusively to elementary schools.

These media literacy programs are part of an overall expansion of the Pickford’s commitment to community education. The film center currently runs two theatrical exhibition locations in Bellingham, and it is continuing to broaden its reach and programming.

“There’s an urgent need for media literacy,” comments Purves. “So much of what’s going on in the world has a deep connection with people’s interactions with media. We want to help Bellingham and Whatcom County become a place where media literacy is commonplace and students have the tools to assess media in an educated way.”

Learn more about the Pickford Film Center at


Ahead of Film Independent’s annual Spirit Awards, to be held at the end of the month, the organization recently announced the recipients of three awards, each accompanied by a $25,000 grant.

One recipient was Seattle filmmaker Mel Eslyn, who received the Piaget Producers Award, honoring “emerging producers who, despite highly limited resources, demonstrate the creativity, tenacity and vision required to produce quality, independent films.”

Mel has produced such projects as The One I Love, Touchy Feely and Your Sister’s Sister, among many others.  One of her latest projects,  The Intervention, recently premiered at Sundance.

Congratulations, Mel!

To read the full article, click here.

Media Inc. Welcomes Scott A. Capestany as Staff Writer

Media Inc. is pleased to announce that we have added Scott A. Capestany to our writing staff.

In addition to his award-winning work as a film/TV writer, producer and director, Scott studied Journalism at the University of Washington and has published multiple regional articles in both the sports and entertainment genres.

Scott on the set of one of his latest projects, The Rainforest.

Scott on the set of one of his latest projects, The Rainforest.

Scott’s affiliation and well established partnerships with multiple film festivals and organizations that support independent film make him a fantastic addition to our contributing staff writer team with a solid pulse on the industry’s dynamics and interworkings.

Welcome aboard, Scott!

Return to Twin Peaks

Twede's Cafe in North Bend, Washington, will reprise its role as the Double R Diner in the revived Twin Peaks series. Photo by Michael Martin

Twede’s Cafe in North Bend, Washington, will reprise its role as the Double R Diner in the new Twin Peaks series. Photo by Michael Martin

North Bend & other Washington towns co-star in the revived series, helmed by David Lynch

By Katie Sauro Editor

When it was first announced back in the fall of 2014 that David Lynch and Mark Frost were reviving Twin Peaks for Showtime, fans of the cult TV series were understandably beside themselves with excitement to see Special Agent Dale Cooper in action once again. After all, it’s been 25 years since that last cup of damn fine coffee and slice of cherry pie at the Double R Diner.

But their bubble was burst in April, when, citing concerns over budget (or lack thereof), Lynch and Frost announced they had reached a stalemate with the network.

David Lynch with North Bend Mayor Ken Hearing.

David Lynch with North Bend Mayor Ken Hearing.

Lynch said, via Twitter, that while Showtime might still be pursuing the series, he would no longer be involved as director. “After 1 year and 4 months of negotiations, I left because not enough money was offered to do the script the way I felt it needed to be done,” he said. “I love the world of Twin Peaks and wish things could have worked out differently.”

Cue the collective angry groan of fans everywhere.

But ever the mystery man, Lynch reneged on his statement just a month later, telling the world, “The rumors are not what they seem… It is happening again!”

Filming in North Bend. Photo by Michael Martin

Filming in North Bend. Photo by Michael Martin

And with that, the series was off and running, with plans to film 18 episodes set in the present day and continuing storylines from the second season. The anticipated release date has reportedly changed from 2016 to 2017, but that’s no matter to the series’ devotees because not only have Lynch and Frost returned to create the fictional town of Twin Peaks, Washington, but so have stars Kyle MacLachlan, Sheryl Lee, Dana Ashbrook and Sherilyn Fenn, among many others. Newbies to the cast include Amanda Seyfried and Balthazar Getty.

Of course, Twin Peaks would not be complete without its iconic exteriors, a great number of which were filmed in the small neighboring towns of North Bend, Snoqualmie and Fall City, just 30 miles east of Seattle. It has been reported that many of these locations will reprise their respective roles in the revamped series, including the famed Double R (aka Twede’s Cafe in the town of North Bend).

Mt. Si sunrise with Twede's in foreground. Photo by Danny Raphael

Mt. Si sunrise with Twede’s in foreground. Photo by Danny Raphael

The original series was released in 1990, and tourists have flocked to the region ever since to see where their favorite characters lived.

“Since the Twin Peaks series was released over 25 years ago, it has had a positive impact on North Bend’s economy by bringing tourists to our region to visit our beautiful town,” said Londi Lindell, City Administrator for the City of North Bend. She added, “We hope that the return of the series will produce a whole new following of Twin Peak fans who will also want to visit North Bend and all the beautiful natural treasures in this special valley.”

Londi Lindell and the North Bend team with David Lynch.

Londi Lindell and the North Bend team with David Lynch.

At press time, the production was in the midst of six weeks of filming in the area and, according to Lindell, it was going “very smoothly.”

“We have worked closely with Showtime and David Lynch in issuing all necessary permits to ensure the least amount of disruption to our citizens as a result of the filming activity,” continued Lindell. “They have been wonderful to work with and incredibly courteous of the local residents. Our citizens have been very understanding of minor disruptions to traffic flow and inconveniences associated with the filming.”

Twin Peaksshot for at least six weeks in North Bend and surrounding areas. Photo by Michael Martin

Twin Peaks films in front of the historic Cook Building in downtown North Bend. Photo by Michael Martin

The Board of Directors at Washington Filmworks approved some funding assistance for the project. While executive director Amy Lillard was unable to comment on the specifics, she was able to say that Washington Filmworks “has enjoyed the experience of working with the production.”

Washington’s film incentive program has a $3.5-million annual cap, which was met earlier this year. Attempts to raise the cap during this year’s legislative session were unsuccessful despite an enormous effort undertaken by the state’s production community.

Photo by Michael Martin

Photo by Michael Martin

Sources told Media Inc. that because the production received limited funding assistance, they brought some of their crew up from Los Angeles. However, as with any production filming in state for an extended period of time, Twin Peaks still equals an economic boost for Washington in terms of hotel night stays, meals in local restaurants, and other influxes of outside dollars.

But perhaps if Lynch and his team had gotten a bigger boost from the state, the series would have brought even more jobs, even more filming days, even more prestige to the Washington production industry in a time when it’s still reeling from a legislative loss and in need of some good news.


Rob Thielke: Remembering A Seattle Icon

Brett Stevenson (right) with good friend and TV icon Rob Thielke.

Brett Stevenson (right) with good friend and TV icon Rob Thielke.


Photos courtesy of Brett Stevenson

On August 16, actor Rob Thielke, best known to Northwest viewers as the eccentric “Vern Fonk” in the Vern Fonk Insurance TV commercials, passed away after a long battle with colon cancer. Here, Brett Stevenson, owner of ad agency Stevenson Advertising, expounds on his friendship with Thielke and the legacy he leaves behind:

My friend, Rob Thielke, spent most of his life with the world thinking his name was Vern Fonk. For 24 years, Rob played the character on TV that everyone knows as Vern. Rob died Sunday, August 16, after a battle with cancer. He was just 50 years old.RobBeachedWhale

When I first met the real Vern Fonk, a larger-than-life insurance agent on Stone Way in the Fremont area, he said he wanted to do TV advertising and sent me to his daughter, Rene. Rene hired my brand new ad agency and we dreamed up commercials for Vern’s insurance agency. One of the first commercials required someone to play the role of Vern Gump, a takeoff on the Forrest Gump movie.

One of Vern’s salesmen, Rob Thielke, volunteered to play Vern Gump. I met Rob and Rene at Green Lake with my cameraman, Trent Woolford. Trent and I were shocked to see that Rob had shaved the sides of his head to look just like Forrest Gump. I remember saying to Trent, “Man, this guy is really committed to this little role!”Rob superheroine

What followed was the first of hundreds of commercials that have shocked, offended or delighted Northwest television viewers for over 20 years. The commercials created a large cult following of Vern Fonk fans. It was impossible to go anywhere with Rob, without people yelling, “Vern!” or stopping him on the street for an autograph or selfie. I could tell that Rob loved the attention but was always amazed that so many people recognized him and loved him.

The other part of the Vern Fonk phenomena was the success of the company due to Rob’s performance in the commercials. When the real Vern Fonk passed away in 2006, the company was one of Washington’s most successful insurance agencies. After Vern’s death, his daughter and son-in-law, Rene and Kevin Mulvaney, ran the company until it was acquired a few years ago by a large international holding company, Confie, for millions of dollars. Rob Thielke was appointed President of Vern Fonk Insurance, by Confie, and continued in that role until his death.RobMouthguard

One of the unique things about Rob Thielke was his fearlessness when it came to playing the Vern Fonk role. If the script called for us to shave the letters V. F. (for Vern Fonk) in Rob’s back hair, he did it. If he had to dress in a loincloth like Tarzan, no problem. Rob even wore a fake chin to be Jesse Ventura, and he dressed up like a strange version of Liberace. He danced on cars, shot zombies, and threw giant fake rocks at a Sasquatch like the Six Million Dollar Man. Rob did ‘70s dating videos, was arrested by fake policemen, and sang rap songs like a Hollywood rap star.RobDance

During all of his adventures, Rob’s actor-brother, Joel Thielke, was always by his side participating in every cornball, quirky skit that we dreamed up. There was something about Rob’s presence on the screen. His unusual look and speech patterns were hypnotic and addicting. He developed raving fans among both young and old, both white collar and blue collar television viewers. His uninhibited movements and stares into the camera left you muttering, “What was that?” when the commercial was over. To this day, people “honk when they drive by Vern Fonk” because of the power of Rob Thielke.RobOrgan

There will not be another, and the loss staggers both my mind and my heart. Rob was both the weirdest guy, and the most kind-hearted guy I knew. Giant hugs to his wife Kathy, their five kids, and his brother Joel. Here at the agency, Tim Grand, Shawn Sergev and I will be reeling from this loss for years to come. How can Seattle be Seattle without Rob as Vern Fonk on TV?

Please visit and share your thoughts about Rob Thielke and Vern Fonk. Rest in peace, Rob. We will miss you, my friend.

In Memoriam

Media Inc. readers wrote in with their thoughts and memories of Rob Thielke and what his loss means to the community. Here is just a small selection of those comments.

So very sorry to hear of this wonderful man’s passing. He will be greatly missed. I’ve enjoyed his crazy stupid commercials for years. Even when I was down his commercials could make me laugh. RIP “Vern Fonk”. Honk, honk! – A J

Rob brought joy to sooooooo many people with his whit, crazy facial expressions and wonderful sense of humor. May the FONK be with him!! I will HONK each time I pass his old ofice. – Jeff Ruffner

I love his commercials, seems like a guy you want to have a beer with. this is sad. – David Koppenhofer

Very sad day. Rob was my insurance agent years ago. He always spoke of his family, wife, children and step children, his Brady Bunch. A great guy. I love his commercials, but to just know Rob was an honor. Prayers to his family and friends. Rest in peace Rob. – Bryan Hurley

This is heartbreaking. My sympathies to his family. He always made me laugh. His commercials, his delivery of the message made you remember the product… and HIM! He was very talented and fun. I am so sad for his family and friends. Stupid cancer… Again… a huge loss to everyone. – Trudy D’Armond

Your family is in my thoughts and prayers as you celebrate the life of this very funny and nice man. His commercial always made me chuckle. – Kristine

I am so sorry to hear of his passing. His commercials were so fun, stupid, and hysterical! He will be missed. Good thoughts and prayers to the family. RIP. – Janet

Honk If you miss Vern Fonk – Kristen

The Rainforest Launch Party


Photos courtesy of Capestany Films

On August 29, a launch party for the television pilot The Rainforest was held at 7 Cedars Casino in Sequim, Washington. 12032968_10156053577505183_3511655742726845559_n

The party featured a presentation by Scott A. Capestany, the show’s creator, writer, director and executive producer, as well as cast introductions, live music from singer/songwriter Melanie Dekker, catered food, raffle and gaming.

At press time, the pilot was set to began filming in late September in various Olympic Peninsula locations.

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Beloved Seattle TV Icon Passes Away

Rob Thielke, best known to Northwest viewers as “Vern Fonk” in the fonkVern Fonk Insurance TV commercials , passed away yesterday, August 16, after a battle with cancer.

Thielke starred as Vern Fonk for the past 24 years, becoming a local television icon and a beloved celebrity in the Seattle area and beyond.

His presence in the community and on television will be greatly missed. Look for a tribute to Thielke in the upcoming issue of Media Inc.