May 08--Blue waves and a boat in front of Coffee Beach were a beacon for commuters last week that a new cafe had opened in Whitefish. However, no espresso or Americanos were being served at this peculiar beach-themed cafe on the U.S. 93 strip. It was actually a movie set.
The independent film "The Thin Line" wraps up shooting this week after spending three weeks in Whitefish. The former Wendy's restaurant served as the film's primary setting after it was transformed into a kitschy beach cafe with tiki grass in the windows and a surfboard as a sign.
Production manager Allison Whittmer said Whitefish was a great location to shoot the movie.
"Whitefish is unique -- there aren't a lot of communities out there that aren't cookie cutter," she said. "It has a mix of style that is comfortable with individual touches."
The "The Thin Line" tells the story of Jessica, a woman with a history of disastrous relationships who has left her overbearing father and is working in a mountain resort coffee shop. The woman is in love with Robert, a bona fide misanthrope, while being oblivious to the adoration of a hunky admirer, Taylor.
A number of businesses including Montana Coffee Traders, Gardner's RV, DePratu car dealership, the KM Building in Kalispell, Five Star Rentals, the Pin & Cue, and the Great Northern supported the film either through providing products or serving as filming locations.
"This is an environment that you wouldn't think would be conducive for movie filming, but it's great -- a lot of things are less expensive and filming is easier because you don't have to do things you would in big cities -- like shut down the streets," Whittmer said.
Whittmer grew up in Wolf Point and has worked on a number of movie sets across Montana. She got her start working on the 1998 film "The Horse Whisperer." She is proud to show off Montana to not only the out-of-state cast and crew, but also to those who watch the films.
"We can bring Montana to everybody," she said.
Aaron Goodman served as locations manager/production coordinator for the film. Goodman, who grew up in Kalispell, spent time working in the entertainment industry before returning home about a year ago. She works at the Great Northern and when filmmakers came in looking to shoot inside the bar, she offered to work on the film.
"I'm making sure the town is taken care of," Goodman said. "I want to make sure, after they walk away, there is a good feeling. I'm the one that has to live here."
Last week during filming a hand-written sign on the doors to Coffee Beach notified people that the business wasn't a real coffee shop. A number of folks stopped by asking about what appeared to be a new business.
"That means we've accomplished our goal," said Toby Lister, who served as production designer and was in charge of turning the closed restaurant into Coffee Beach.
Lister said many of the building supplies and props for the film were purchased locally. He tapped Bigfork artist Zerah Turbitt to paint a mural for inside the coffee shop. Montana Coffee Traders loaned an espresso machine, which was essential to make the shop seem real and an item the film's low budget wouldn't have been able to afford, he noted.
"It's really important for us to support the local community," he said. "As a filmmaker this is a great place to make a film. It's even better in the off-season because we can grab deals and book hotel rooms. For filmmaking there is no off-season."
Montana Film Office Film Commissioner Deny Staggs paid a visit to the Coffee Beach set. Prior to shooting, filmmakers coordinated their efforts with the state office and were awarded a grant and will take advantage some tax incentives.
Staggs said Montana welcomes projects like "The Thin Line."
"Filmmakers work hard to get their movie made," he said. "We can offer them incentives and grants to see that dream happen. We think of Montana as the ultimate location."
Staggs said movies bring jobs to the state, employing a variety of workers, many of whom spend money locally during the filming. Movies are great marketing tools for Montana as well, he noted.
"It's like mobile manufacturing -- they bring an influx of dollars, and during the shoulder season," he said. "There is a cinematic look and feel to Montana. A film can increase tourism when people see it and say 'I want to go there.'"
Plans for "The Thin Line" include submitting it to the film festival circuit with the goal of distribution being picked up by a major film studio. A showing is expected to be held in Whitefish.
(c)2013 The Whitefish Pilot (Whitefish, Mont.)
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