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Rockport

Filmmaker finds Thacher Island a perfect place for scary scenes

“Tidewalkers’’ director Greg Stone (left) and sound engineer Jeremy Bond checking out Thacher Island’s North Tower lighthouse  this spring.

Jan Maliszewski

“Tidewalkers’’ director Greg Stone (left) and sound engineer Jeremy Bond checking out Thacher Island’s North Tower lighthouse this spring.

There’s no dock at Rockport’s Thacher Island, so visitors must anchor nearby and row the last 50 yards to shore. Upon arrival, they will find no drinkable running water. If they wander too close to a sea gull’s hidden nest, they very well might be dive-bombed by a protective bird.

But despite these challenges, aspiring filmmaker Greg Stone thinks the island is the perfect place to make a movie about a film crew whose attempt to make a documentary about a lighthouse on a New England island goes awry when a ghostly woman appears and unexplained deaths start piling up.

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Stone spent three days on the island this spring filming a trailer for the project, titled “Tidewalkers,” with a small production crew and 11 actors. He plans to return to the island in June to shoot the entire movie.

“It’s a logistical challenge to shoot out there,” Stone said. Nonetheless, he added, “There’s a certain stark beauty and simple spookiness about the place that makes it perfect for a horror movie.”

The 50-acre Thacher Island is home to the only operating twin lighthouses in the country, built as a response to many shipwrecks. Sitting about a mile from the coast and visible from many spots on the Gloucester and Rockport shores, the island is covered with scrubby grass and trees and ringed with rocky outcroppings. Thacher’s only human occupants are seasonal volunteers who tend to the island and greet visitors.

Stone is not the only filmmaker taking advantage of the area’s natural splendor. HBO is filming a miniseries based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “Olive Kitteridge,” at several locations, including Rockport. The production, which will be filming in the area through next month, stars Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins.

“The North Shore of Massachusetts offers a wealth of cinematic locations, both exterior and interior, that provided the perfect backdrop for creating the small New England community of ‘Olive Kitteridge,’” HBO said in an e-mailed statement.

‘The physical beauty, the welcoming community . . . attract people who are trying to do something that’s artistic in nature.’

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The two projects join a long line of productions that have used the rocky coast and sweeping views of Cape Ann as the backdrop for movie magic.

Since Massachusetts instituted generous film tax credits in 2006, dozens of movie, television, and commercial shoots have been lured to the state each year. Rockport and Gloucester, however, have been a draw for productions both big and small for many decades.

Among the movies filmed at least partially on Cape Ann are the 1937 classic “Captains Courageous;” 1989’s “Mermaids” starring Cher and Winona Ryder; and “The Perfect Storm,” with George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, and Diane Lane, in 2000. More recently, the communities stood in for Alaska in 2009’s “The Proposal,” with Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds.

“The physical beauty, the welcoming community are things that attract people who are trying to do something that’s artistic in nature,” said Lana Razdan, chairwoman of Rockport’s Economic Development Committee.

While Stone is waiting until next spring to continue filming, the production of “Olive Kitteridge” is very much underway. Yellow signs directing cast and crew to the day’s set have been popping up in both Rockport and Gloucester.

Last week, the production shut down a segment of East Main Street in Gloucester. In coming weeks, there also will be filming in a downtown restaurant, Mayor Carolyn Kirk said.

Having the production in the city is a boon during the fall, when tourism activity is starting to fade, Kirk said. She visited the East Main Street set and estimates there were more than 50 crew members at work, she said.

“They’re all spending money; they all have needs,” she said. “It’s definitely an economic boost for the city.”

With its budget of $100,000, “Tidewalkers” is of a more modest scale than some of the productions that have come before it. Stone’s ambitions, however, are sizable.

Once the film is complete, he intends to enter it into independent film festivals focused on the horror genre, with hopes of attracting a theatrical distribution deal. If the movie doesn’t find a distributor, Stone will consider releasing it through an online service such as Vimeo On Demand, which allows filmmakers to upload and sell their work for viewing online or on Internet-enabled televisions.

“The challenge is getting films into the theater,” Stone said. A communications consultant and video producer with a background in broadcast news, Stone first hit upon the idea of producing a horror movie when his longtime cameraman suggested a film-making collaboration. The two brainstormed story ideas, and over the ensuing months Stone drafted a screenplay.

The goal, Stone said, is to make a “classy” horror movie, more Hitchcock and less slasher flick.

For Sydney Wedmore of Rockport, one of the leaders of the Thacher Island Association , making a movie on the island is “an exciting concept.” He’s not sure he relates to the idea of setting a horror movie there, but he noted that the island does have a certain otherworldly quality.

“When you’re out there it’s a different feel, a different time frame,” Wedmore said. “It’s almost an ethereal circumstance.”

Sarah Shemkus can be reached at sarah.shemkus@gmail.com.
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