It looks like any office lobby in any corporate high-rise - a receptionist's desk with computer and keyboard, a few chairs for visitors to wait in while leafing through generic coffee table books. But Doug Stapleton has sinister plans for this place, oh yes. Last weekend it transformed into the setting for his upcoming short film, a thriller entitled Deadline. ‘Tis the season for a good spooky tale, I say.
Stapleton has taken over sections of Tacoma Financial Center's 10th and 13th floors for several days to shoot the latest in a rapidly growing body of work. (You might have seen his Take 38 at the Gig Harbor Film Festival earlier this month.) Another familiar face on this production belongs to actor Wonder Russell, who co-starred in recent Tacoma Film Fest entry This Is Ours. In Deadline she plays Jessica, a career-driven employee at an advertising agency. One night Jessica works so late she finds herself in a big building all alone ... cue the wind and lightning ... ORISSHE???
Easy answer: Nope!
But uncovering the identity of Jessica's creepy follower ain't as easy. As screenwriter, Stapleton labored to keep his script's final reveal a secret throughout the audition process, and only clueing in those who actually made the cast. He didn't even crack under my notorious investigative grilling, a technique which quickly turned to whining and pleading.
"This is kind of scary," Stapleton admitted at one point during our interview. He wasn't referring to my tears of frustration, but rather his memory of crossing a dark and deserted underground (no, subterranean - much scarier) parking garage one evening after working at Expedia some years ago. According to him, "That's where the whole idea (for Deadline) came from."
So did another notion - the one that saw him as a full-time filmmaker. So Stapleton made it a reality, eventually leaving the corporate world with all its forbidding garages behind, and founded Photo Finish Films in 2009. Traces of his former life still occasionally make an appearance, like in the training videos Stapleton produces for businesses or passion projects such as Deadline.
Yet he doesn't mind stepping into unfamiliar territory. The director has traveled a good distance from his home in Kirkland to shoot for the first time in T-Town. The extra cost in gas has proved worthwhile: "It's a beautiful downtown," he notes. "It's pretty quiet, especially on the weekends, (so when) recording audio and dialogue that's a nice thing."
Brewing up a little cine-mischief downtown helps when several crew members have their own connections to Tacoma. The recent credits of Deadline's first assistant director Rick Walters include Committed and Listen, while his production partner in crime Chris Taylor (Goons, Henryk) will serve once again as director of photography.
Stapleton anticipates an early 2013 completion of his film, but doesn't want to rush and skimp on quality.
"There isn't a certain deadline that I have to meet." He laughs. "Pardon the pun."