Local documentary maker turns camera to a romantic comedy

Greg Chaney, a Juneau filmmaker, is used to telling the stories of others through his documentaries. He’s made “Journey on the Wild Coast,” which is about a couple traveling under their own power from Seattle to the Aleutian Islands, and the “The Empty Chair,” which tells the tale of Juneau’s Japanese-American citizens who were interned during World War II, along with the city’s response. But his latest film, “1 ½ Days,” is no documentary at all ­— it’s a romantic comedy with a Southeast Alaskan twist.

“I wanted to do something interesting, and I wanted to see what the local community could do,” Chaney said.

Chaney wrote “1 ½ Days” during late spring/early summer of 2016, and then gave it to others in the film community to read and share their thoughts.

“For writers, it’s write what you know. For independent filmmakers, I’d say write what you own,” Chaney said. He wrote the script around locations he knew he could use, like his cabin and boat, or easy to use places with a permit like Perseverance Trail.

“It’s not the best script ever,” he admitted, stating it does follow the basic formula of romantic comedies. “I just wanted to make a compelling story that holds together that we could film in Juneau.”

“1 ½ Days” tells the story of Kokona, a Japanese tourist who is trying to escape an abusive relationship, and John, a Juneau man who is trying to find the courage to follow his dreams. After meeting on the downtown docks, the two grow close as they learn more about each other in an effort to dupe Kokona’s boyfriend into believing they are secretly dating, and John introduces Kokona to the Alaska way of life.

Chaney didn’t hold auditions for the movie. He just asked people he knew to take part. Jeff Hedges, a Juneau man who is member of the Screen Actors Guild, was slated for the leading man. Kiyomi Fukazawa, whom Chaney met at a screening for “The Empty Chair” and who is also a SAG member, was cast as the leading lady; she is the only non-Juneau resident to be part of the film. He even cast Bruce Laughlin, a local pilot with a bush plane, as himself.

The first casting problem came when he couldn’t find anyone to play the part of the villain, Kokona’s boyfriend, Brian.

“I’d give people the script and they’d read it and go ‘No, I don’t want to be that guy.’ I was like, oh, this is really hard — everyone wants to be the good guy,” Chaney said. “Oddly enough, we created a character so unlikable that nobody wants to be that person. But Connor Lendrum, who worked at Kindred Post at that time … he was willing to do it.”

Getting the film up and running took a lot of doing. There were permits to get to film at certain locations, rentals of high-end digital cameras, and coordinating availability between cast and crew (which amounted between 15-20 people). Also, to pay the actors, rent the equipment and other expenses amounted to $7,000.

“If we were going to do this, we wanted to do this ‘right.’ We weren’t going to try and dodge any rules and that becomes very complicated very quickly.”

Because of all the prep work before filming, when Hedges got into a serious motorcycle accident four days before filming, it nearly “iced” the film. Chaney had to find a replacement and fast.

“Bryan Crowder, he took up this huge challenge at the last minute,” Chaney said. Crowder, who has done plays with Perseverance Theatre, only had a short space of time to learn all of Hedges’ former lines, which he did wonderfully, Chaney said. He even did all his own stunts.

“I really needed [Fukazaka] and the lead actor to at least have a good working relationship. But it was better than that,” Chaney said, mentioning how they would prefer to practice their lines together. “They got along great.”

The filming happened over four days in late July. By the time the shooting period was over, everyone was “toasted,” he said, himself in particular.

Chaney used three cameras simultaneously for the shots (occasionally even a drone for distance shots), so if he just wanted more angles to choose from, he’d have them.

“I wanted to film it sort of like a play. The actors would know their lines for the whole of the script before we started. Then we would have at least three cameras filming. They would have three people walking backwards filming, and then you’d have somebody guiding them and we’d have a sound person … so we had four different microphones and three cameras following the action,” Chaney explained.

From writing the script to organizing and then filming took about three months. The next phase, post-production, has been longer.

“There is lots of time spent in the editing room,” Chanaey said, and with a full time job as the lands and resources manager of the City and Borough of Juneau, he can’t spend all day editing. “Filming is exhausting and intense and delightful, and editing is more like … very solitary.”

The joke is that many independent films die in post-production, Chaney said, explaining the editor has to keep going through old footage and fixing various problems.

But most of the editing is done and he already has a viewing draft complete.

The movie will premiere at the Gold Town Nickelodeon Theatre on Feb. 1 at 7 p.m. for the cast and crew (the public is invited too). Chaney said the showing is free but donations are requested to help cover the cost of renting the theatre.

“The only way we made [“1 ½ Days”] possible was because people in Juneau volunteered their help and their equipment and props. It’s a real testament to the community and the creative power … and the group of people we have.”

To see a trailer for the movie, go to: vimeo.com/199279557. For an interview with Crowder by Chaney, go to: vimeo.com/199282581.

• Contact reporter Clara Miller at clara.miller@morris.com.

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