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Originally published August 15, 2012 at 7:02 PM | Page modified August 16, 2012 at 9:53 AM

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Three 'Old Goats' from Bainbridge gain nationwide attention in film

An interview with filmmaker Taylor Guterson, whose movie "Old Goats," made for $5,000 on Bainbridge Island, has become the darling of the film-festival circuit.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie interview

'Old Goats'

Opens Friday at SIFF Cinema at the Uptown, 511 Queen Anne Ave. N., Seattle; 206-324-9996 or www.siff.net. Guterson will lead a Q&A after 4:45 and 7 p.m. screenings Friday. The film also will open Sept. 7 at Bainbridge Island's Lynwood Theatre. "Old Goats" is 91 minutes long and is not rated (for mature audiences; contains strong language). For more information on the film, see www.oldgoatsthemovie.com.
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The first thing local filmmaker Taylor Guterson says he told his "Old Goats" cast and crew, back when they started filming on Bainbridge Island in 2009, was that quite possibly, "no one would ever see the movie." He was, it turns out, quite wrong.

A charming, low-key comedy about three retirees coping with the mysteries of life, love and the Internet, "Old Goats" has been winning over audiences at film festivals around the country since its debut last year. Guterson, who made the film for less than $5,000 (with himself and a friend as crew, and an all-volunteer cast of locals), said he initially figured he'd just show it to the community of Bainbridge Island, where the film was shot over a period of about seven months.

"I'm not really an optimist. I don't like to set my expectations too high," said Guterson, 31, a Bainbridge native and cinema-studies graduate of the University of Washington. But friends and family who saw early cuts seemed to enjoy the film, so he submitted it to some festivals, not sure what the outcome might be.

"Old Goats" has since screened at film festivals in Atlanta, Seattle, Palm Springs, Napa, Calgary, San Francisco, Idaho and Port Townsend, winning awards and playing to packed houses. On Friday, it opens for a run at the Uptown — which could well lead to wider release. David Skinner of Seattle-based ShadowCatcher Entertainment, which this year became the film's executive producer, said that the AMC chain has expressed interest in the film, and that his company is committed to finding its audience. "We're hoping that the (Seattle) theatrical release will generate word-of-mouth so we can get it out nationally," he said.

All of this still seems like a pleasant surprise to Guterson, who said the film came from an unexpected opportunity: a recession-era layoff, from his video job at Washington Mutual. Having dreamed of making a feature film since visiting the set of the 1999 film "Snow Falling on Cedars" (based on the novel by his father, David Guterson), he now had the time — and he knew just who he wanted in his movie: Bob Burkholder, Britton Crosley and David VanderWal.

Guterson had met the three men on previous short film projects and was struck by how funny they were together. "I had such a good time with them, I thought, why don't we take some of these ideas and do a feature film?" he said — adding that it wasn't so much that he wanted to make a film about older people but that the people he wanted to make a film about just happened to be older. "There they were, and I wanted to make a movie, so I just crafted a story around them."

Inspired by the films of Alexander Payne ("Sideways," "About Schmidt"), Guterson came up with a fictional story that felt like real life. The three men, all with little acting experience, quickly learned to improvise from a scripted outline.

"They're like stand-up comedians — they're always on the spot," said Guterson.

Sometimes, he said, the men would get so caught up in their on-screen conversations that they seemed to forget the camera. He's careful to note, though, that while the movie characters share first names and character traits with the real-life Bob, Britt and Dave, the men aren't just playing themselves — "a lot of skill and ability" went into the actors' portrayals.

And that $5,000 budget? Much of it went toward ferry fares to the Bainbridge shoot and refreshments for the cast and crew. (An angel investor later paid for professional sound mixing at Seattle's Bad Animals.) Making a film with limited resources required constant creativity: In one large party scene, Guterson said, he had only a small number of extras available but had them change clothes throughout the shoot, so he could use the same people in the backgrounds of different camera angles.

Guterson speaks gratefully of the numerous Bainbridge residents and merchants who offered locations, the cast and extras who worked for free, and many who went the extra mile. Benita Staadecker, who plays Britt's love interest in the film, became the movie's unofficial publicist — tirelessly handing out postcards advertising the film, traveling to Palm Springs "on her own dime" to walk up and down the movie queues talking up the film.

Guterson is reluctant to speculate on the film's future, saying that it depends on how the Seattle run goes and that, regardless, the experience has been "a lot of fun." (So much fun, in fact, that he's already finished shooting a second film — also starring Bob, Britt and Dave and, he says, "a little darker.") For now, he's enjoying Q&A's with the "old goats" — Bob was tickled to be asked at a recent screening if he's still single — and reflecting on the experience.

"It just presents them as they are," he said of the characters, summing up the film's appeal. "I think it's an honest slice of life — just those three, in the community where they live."

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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