Josh Gerritsen, a professional photographer and director of a new Midcoast-based movie, Island Zero, is excited to be working in Maine on his first movie. That his mother, best-selling thriller novelist Tess Gerritsen, is involved is no coincidence — she wrote the screenplay.
“Two summers ago, I was weeding the garden with my mom and out of the blue she said, ‘We should make a horror movie together,’” said Josh Gerritsen.
You know, the typical things a mom and son chat about.
“And I didn’t know that at the time but she’d grown up watching horror films,” continued Gerritsen. “ It just never came up in conversation. I’ve loved horror movies since I was a kid. Zombies are the most fun, but aliens are the most scary. I think of the movie Alien as a reference film for Island Zero because it was so beautifully done with such unlikely heroes. Just these blue collar workers who happen to be just doing their jobs set in the future.”
Island Zero is set 40 miles off the coast, on the isolated (and fictionally named) Tucker Island. “For some unknown reason, the power cuts out, the ferry stops running and people start to die in these gruesome and mysterious ways,” said Gerritsen. “The townspeople have to get together to figure out who or what is killing everybody. The people who go for help never come back. No one on the island can reach anyone on a radio and they are trapped.”
It’s an ensemble film with five main characters. Laila Robins, from the Showtime show “Homeland” is the most well known of the cast.
And although Tess Gerritsen wrote the script, this is not her first screenplay. In 1993, she co-wrote the story and screenplay for Adrift, which aired on CBS as Movie of the Week.
Josh Gerritson also has a background in documentary filmmaking, but this is his first foray into feature films. “I’m drawn to the slow building tension, not the monsters that just leap out at you, but something that builds to terrifying,” he said.
He moved back to Maine three years ago after living in New York City. Having grown up in Maine, he, like so many people, felt the draw to move back. “After high school, I said what most kids say, ‘I’m getting out of here; it’s boring. But, after spending time in New York, I realized there is kind a magic here. For the Midcoast area, there’s so much culture flowing in. You can be in Maine and all of the culture is surrounding you.’”
Mariah Klapatch, a Camden native and longtime friend of the Gerritsens, is producing the film, which has a self-financed budget of up to $300,000.
“Mariah’s a third generation Mainer,” said Gerritsen. “We knew it was going to be a financial risk, but we wanted to make something that reflected Maine. The tax incentive is less than in Massachusetts, and even though we could have shot there, that’s less important than shooting in the state that we love.”
The film, not surprisingly, has already gotten built-in community support. The majority of the cast and crew are also from Maine. “If we were an LA cast and crew that just flew in and asked the locals can we shoot at your diner? Can we shoot at your inn? It would be challenging,” Gerritsen said.
At the time of our interview, Gerritsen and the crew had only been shooting for a week in the Midcoast. Their locations included a doctor’s office, Camden Harbor, Rockport Harbor and the Swan House, a Camden inn, as well as at a house near Megunticook Market. We met the night before the crew was supposed to spend three consecutive 12-hour days shooting on Islesboro.
“Most of the Islesboro shoot will be at Durkee’s General store, a combined diner and general store,” said Gerritsen. “When you see these scenes, this is when the citizens of the island start to become really concerned, you’ll see this shift in behavior.”
The shoot is only supposed to last 18 days, until the end of March, and finished sometime in September. For Gerritsen, it’s been nothing but a good experience so far. “It honestly couldn’t have gone better,” he said. “Our crew is amazing and our cast is just nailing their performances.”
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org