Vancouver film company finishes shooting first movie

'Dancing on the Edge' filmed entirely in 'The Couv'

By Mary Ann Albright, Columbian Staff Reporter

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It’s a wrap on “Dancing on the Edge,” a feature-length film shot in Clark County, by local filmmakers and starring local talent. The film, about a teenage ballerina’s struggles with substance abuse, is the maiden effort by Highland Light Productions, a new Vancouver-based independent film company that aims to create family-friendly entertainment while generating jobs and enriching the local economy.

“It’s a hometown project with hometown people all shot in The Couv,” said Alexander “Sandy” MacKenzie, the film’s writer, director and producer and Highland Light’s president and chief executive officer.

Looking ahead

Highland Light Productions has other projects in the works in addition to “Dancing on the Edge.” Future films are set to include “Runaway Hearts,” about two young siblings escaping a meth-ravaged home life, and “Iron Lyncs,” based on the true story of the 1976 Lynden Christian High School basketball team’s unlikely road to victory. Both are written by Yakima journalist Scott Sandsberry.

— Mary Ann Albright

MacKenzie started the company after getting frustrated by film crews that shot in the area but then left without making a lasting contribution to the community.

“I got tired of seeing crews come into town, spend some money, but then leave and take the big profits with them,” he said.

On the Web:

Learn more about “Dancing on the Edge.”

Highland Light launched at the beginning of the year, with a goal of filming six films in Vancouver over the next three years. As part of what MacKenzie calls the Community Arts Re-Investment & Training Program, everyone involved with Highland Light projects is encouraged to donate 10 percent of what they make on the films to local charities.

The company wasted no time getting started. Filming for “Dancing on the Edge” began in mid-February. Locations included the pastoral center at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, Esther Short Park and Steakburger Restaurant & Golf-O-Rama. Save for a few exterior shots, shooting was completed by mid-March.

MacKenzie, 63, has an aggressive timeline for the film. Post-production should take about 60 days, and the Vancouver resident and veteran character actor would like to have a limited theatrical release by early summer. He plans to start small and local, then roll the picture out to more theaters nationwide as demand builds.

First, though, he must raise about $45,000 to cover editing and other costs. The total budget for the film is about $200,000, which is “ultra low,” said MacKenzie, whose credits include the role of Sheriff Delton in the 2003 film “The Hunted,” which starred Benicio Del Toro and Tommy Lee Jones.

Fortunately, MacKenzie has support behind him, including four business partners: Camas’ Tom Zalutko, Vancouver’s Tiffani Fjosne and Longview’s Ken and Daniel Steely.

In addition to working behind the scenes, Zalutko and Fjosne stepped in front of the camera for “Dancing on the Edge.”

Zalutko, 48, plays Darryl Farmer, the father of Corey Farmer, the troubled ballerina at the heart of the film. Fjosne plays Detective Kelfer and has a couple scenes arresting and booking Corey (played by 13-year-old actress Nicole McCullough of Scappoose, Ore.).

Zalutko has a background in pharmaceutical sales, but left that industry to focus on creative writing and complete his master’s degree in fine arts at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Ore. He met MacKenzie at Our Lady of Lourdes, where they both attend church, and decided to come on board with Highland Light Productions.

“Dancing on the Edge” was his first on-camera experience, and he found it to be both positive and challenging.

“I feel like I have a greater appreciation of what actors have to do every day when they’re on set,” he said. “It was thrilling, demanding and a very satisfying experience.”

New career

For Fjosne, it was the beginning of a new career.

Fjosne, 30, who manages Charlies Bistro and La Bottega, had always been interesting in acting, but didn’t think it could be a job. She met MacKenzie at La Bottega.

“I think as kids a lot of people want to grow up and act,” Fjosne said.

After working with MacKenzie, she decided to go into film production. She’ll begin studying production management at the Northwest Film Center School of Film in Portland this summer.

“Dancing on the Edge” viewers might also recognize Emily Abramson. The 18-year-old college student plays Diane Simpson, a character who has a negative influence on Corey and tries to lead her down a destructive path.

In real life, though, playing Diane was an enriching experience, said Abramson, a 2010 Mountain View High School graduate who’s currently a freshman at Pacific University.

Abramson used to study at Columbia Dance in downtown Vancouver, and heard through a friend on Facebook that the school was holding auditions for the film. She hoped to be an extra and never expected to land a larger role.

Abramson had been an extra on the TNT show “Leverage” a couple times, but this was her first film role. She hopes it’s not her last.

“It’s been amazing. They’ve got me hooked,” she said.

“Dancing on the Edge” also opened up a new world for Ridgefield stay-at-home mother and former stockbroker Alisa Rakoz.

Rakoz had never acted before, but she was intrigued after hearing about the film from Zalutko, who she knows through their kids at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School.

“I’m the type of person who, if an opportunity comes around and it’s something that sounds interesting, even if it’s outside my comfort zone, I like the challenge,” said Rakoz, 41.

She plays Corey’s mother, Lucy Farmer. Having a teenage daughter herself helped Rakoz relate to the character, she said.

She enjoyed bonding with the cast and crew, and said she’d be interested in more roles in the future.

“It has been an amazing experience,” she said. “Not a lot of people in their lifetime are ever going to be able to say they’ve been a part of something like this.”

Mary Ann Albright: maryann.albright@columbian.com, 360-735-4507.