Local producers getting national attention for short films

He may not live in Hollywood and he didn't go to film school, but Zeek Earl isn't letting that keep him from following his dream of making movies. And his hard work seems to be paying off.

"We are very, very independent, self-taught, local film makers starting to get attention at the national level largely due to the Internet," said Earl.

Working out of his Phinney Ridge home, Earl and his partner Chris Caldwell are immersed in their next big project - a sci-fi short titled "Prospect."

"The film takes place on another planet," Earl said.

Two years ago, when the duo launched their own video production company, SHEP Films, Earl said they had no idea how successful they would become.

"Film making really was just a hobby for us. Neither my partner nor I went to film school. We made enough money to buy camera equipment, had a crew of five, and we made the first film with only about $3,000, which is not a lot of money in the industry," said Earl.

That first film - "In the Pines" - not only earned them a spot at the 2012 South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference in Austin, Texas but also quite a following.

"It was a big step going to SXSW. Before that point we were really operating entirely in our own world. To have our work validated by the national community was just huge," said Earl.

Earl and Caldwell's film tour didn't stop there; the two took their short to the Palm Springs International Shortfest, the Atlantic Film Festival, Hollyshorts and several other festivals across the country. It was on one of these trips that Earl says they decided to try another film.

"We stated talking about the sci-fi genre and I always wanted to do a movie that showcased more of the 1960-70s eras with space exploration and design. That got us thinking about different worlds and bouncing ideas off each other."

Earl says with Prospect they knew they wanted to produce a different kind of science fiction film, focused on original, handmade costumes - drawing inspiration from a period Earl says isn't very well represented.

"We are very critical of science fiction. We think there are a lot of bad science fiction movies out there. We want to make a sci-fi movie we want to see that takes itself seriously as a film and not just a fantasy. We are turning our backs on CGI (computer-generated imagery) for this, doing all tactile; making the film beautiful is a high priority."

To make that happen, Earl says they knew they needed to increase their budget so they created an online fundraiser using Kickstarter. Their goal is $18,000, and Earl said all of the money raised will go into making the film. Little did they know when they launched their site just how wide received their idea would become.

"We have contributors from all over the place. That's what's so fun about Kickstarter - you put an idea out there and anyone can access it. We have a whole handful of people from Germany, people all over Seattle."

All of the shooting for Prospect will take place in Washington's Hoh Rain Forest and Earl said the location fees will benefit the Hoh River Trust, an organization dedicated to preserving the river and rain forest.

Earl says they are less than $1,000 away from reaching their goal and they hope to start shooting by the summer.