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Starlight Productions hopes to shine a ‘Light’ on local filmmaking scene

March 30, 2009

Marty Wisher and Starlight Productions want to change the way people think about Lee County.

They're embarking on something most would consider an incredible risk: producing a full-length motion picture entirely in Cape Coral.

Whether or not this is a first for the Cape is unknown, but that's part of Wisher's journey. She's traversing a land of unknowns, populated entirely with the possibilities of failure, rejection and disappointment.

But then again, if it works, she might very well have created an entire culture in the process, putting Lee County on the map of profitable, and logical, locations to produce movies.

Wisher and crew have sunk close to a million dollars into their first production. Called "Light," the story centers on a high school kid afflicted with albinism who soon discovers a special set of "powers" that allow him to control rays of light. Of course, the government wants this power for themselves, setting in a motion a tale that is equal parts sci-fi, action and coming of age tale, all set in the Cape.

It's an ambitious project to be certain, one that marks a two -ear journey for Wisher and crew.

She began writing the screenplay after realizing the story she was telling her son was actually pretty interesting.

"The writing was different," Wisher said. "It started as nothing more than entertaining my son - he loved anything superhero. But once I started writing it down, it developed rather quickly."

Starlight Productions is a Cape-based collections of artists - actors, writers, and directors - that have loosely performed together in and around the county for seven years.

The group officially coalesced last September as Starlight Productions when the filming of "Light" got under way, with Wisher as producer, director and actor.

Filming took five months to compete, with principal photography taking place in and around Cape Coral, including Cape homes, I Rigazzi Pizza and Oasis Middle School, which stands in for the film's high school.

The film now moves into its post-production phase, which includes intense editing sessions and development of the computer-generated effects, which the film purports to be packed with.

Much like Wisher, Director of Photo-graphy Tim Gunderson wears multiple hats. He spends most of his days toiling away in the editing room, working the special effects, both practical and digital, trying to piece together a rough cut of the film.

"We don't know what we're not supposed to know," Gunderson joked about Starlight's first production. "It was a gradual warming to the idea for me, because I was a little apprehensive about working with so many kids ... we had 25 kids on the first day of shooting and when we got the first shot in one take, I said, this is going to work."

Indeed, the scenes that have been pieced together and placed online do not represent the filmmakers final vision. They are a rough amalgamation of the forthcoming project: the effects are missing, there's titles or stand-in objects where a magical creature named Max is supposed to be, the scenes are out of context of the overall plot.

But watching these scenes a viewer gets a familiar feeling. They are intimate by default, as the Cape locales lend themselves to something that most can identify with.

According to Wisher, that familiarity is something that should be utilized more often by county leaders. Lee County used to have a film commis-sioner to attract potential film projects, but has since dropped the position. These days, baseball and beaches dominate the county landscape.

"We lost the film commissioner years ago. There's one in Collier County, but that doesn't translate to work in Lee," Wisher said. "It's gorgeous here, but so is most of Florida."

Gunderson said the film has been getting "a lot of buzz" from the current crop of county commissioners, and whenever he has the chance to chat with a board members, he immediately brings up the lack of a film rep for Lee County.

"When you talk to the commissioners, they are immediately interested. It really spurs it on, you immediately get into the conversation and say, 'we don't have a film commissioner,'" Gunderson added.

Whether or not "Light" becomes the siren call for filmmaking in Lee County is still up in the air, obviously, but the project does represent what creative people in Cape Coral, and Lee County, have to offer.

Not only shot and produced in the Cape, the film employed local talent, and will have a double premier in the Cape and then in Fort Myers.

"This really could be a good toe in the door," Gunderson added.

Starlight did look as far north as Orlando and Tampa for actors, but nearly the entire cast came from the local talent pool.

The greatest casting challenge was for the film's lead, a kid named Lucas who is afflicted with albinism.

Wisher and crew went through a lot of auditions, and finally settled on Christian Killian, a Cape youth with albinism.

It was the first time Killian acted in a feature length film. His background was on stage and in choirs.

"It was really fun," Killian said of his experience filming. "It was a lot easier doing the movie than a play. When you're in front of people (on stage), you get nervous for no reason."

The filmmakers found it challenging to make certain the actors, who are mostly kids, were able to balance the demands of their lives with the shooting schedule and not have to sacrifice much.

Wisher made certain she used the actor's parents to her advantage.

"I needed their kids to be so on and in the end it was a blessing to have them (the parents) on set," Wisher said. "We worked around school and commitments. We had great support from the parents.

The hard work from cast crew could pay off in the end. Both Wisher and Gunderson hope their efforts will lead to other film projects, that it will put Lee county on the map as a serious filmmaking destination, that George Lucas or Steven Spielberg stand up and take notice.

Gunderson said, "I want to have a nice product I'm really proud of. I would love to make some money off it ... but regardless of how this is received, we're going to continue to make movies."



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