Haunted Sunshine Girl shivered inside her thick knitted cap and sturdy-looking blue cloth jacket as she gazed out at the gray Portland landscape.
Rain and winds pelted the cement and asphalt backdrop around the Hawthorne Bridge as the slender 17-year-old prepared herself to shoot another scene for her first film.
“It’s raining and I’m freezing,” Sunshine said with a determined smile. “This is really exciting, though. It’s a good next step.”
The teenager, who asked that her name be withheld to protect her from online stalkers, started work on the movie in late December. In it, she and her friends try to track down the origins of the occult legend of the black-eyed kids.
The production grew out of her Vancouver-based hit Web series, called “Haunted Sunshine Girl,” which, like the film, is the brainchild of Vancouver producer and director Nick Hagen.
So far, the year-old Web series — made up mostly of two minute videos on small handheld cameras — has gained a large cult following, netting more than 5.7 million total views on the YouTube channel “hauntedsunshinegirl.”
The full length film is a continuation of that series, which is about a girl that moves into a haunted house, Hagen said.
“The exciting thing about this movie is that we already have an audience built in,” Hagen said. “I’m optimistic that it will be successful.”
Hagen, who’s a big fan of horror movies, has long been fascinated with the odd tales of black-eyed kids that have spread across the Internet.
In most stories, a small group of kids with all-black eyes approaches an adult who’s alone in a car or a house. The kids, usually two boys between the ages of 10 and 13, ask for a ride home or to be let in to the house to use the bathroom or telephone.
The adult feels a sense of overwhelming fear before realizing that there’s something drastically wrong with the children’s eyes.
“It’s just kind of creepy,” Hagen said. “These kids coming up to the door and seeming more mature than they are. I don’t know what’s up with that, but I hope I don’t ever run into them.”
While he doesn’t really believe the tales are true, he does find them fascinating, Hagen said.
“They all seem so honest; I think that’s why it strikes me,” he said.
In the film, Sunshine and other actors from the Web series go to Portland in search of these strange kids. The city, both in the legend and the film, is a hot spot for sightings.
“We wanted to make this a stand-alone story that follows our heroine and friends on an all-new adventure,” said Mercedes Rose, mother of the teenager who plays Sunshine and an actress in the Web series and film. “BEKs (black eyed kids) are a new paranormal legend. It’s been out for a only few years, but we kind of liked the mystery of it.”
This will be the first feature film for Coat Tale Productions LLC, owned by Rose, Hagen and “Sunshine.” It’s being shot by Lyon Films, a Portland company.
Coat Tale Productions, which also does the Web series, gathered $11,651 in donations through kickstarter.com for the project, which is going by the working title of “Black Eyed Kids”.
That’s not a whole lot of money to make a film, but the documentary style keeps costs down because filmmakers don’t need a lot of studio settings or special effects — well, except for some rather expensive black contact lenses, Hagen said.
Aparna Parthasarathy, 17, who plays a black-eyed kid in the film, said wearing the lenses is sort of weird but not bad.
“I see little black rings and everything’s a little darker,” Parthasarathy said. “It’s sort of like wearing sunglasses.”
Because it’s a small production, many of the actors also double as crew.
Ironically, in a rainy scene where Sunshine and her friends ask strangers if they’ve seen any black-eyed kids, Parthasarathy — wearing her contacts — is off camera running right behind them holding an umbrella. Hagan and Rose want to keep the look a secret until the film is finished, so they asked that Parthasarathy not be photographed up close.
The production is somewhat different from others that Parthasarathy has been in. Hagen wrote the script for “Black Eyed Kids,” but there are several spots where he lets the actors come up with their own dialogue.
“It’s scripted, but at the same time, we as actors can kind of make it our own, add our own words to it,” Parthasarathy said. “That’s one of the great things about working with Sunshine.”
In the Web series, there’s even more improv. Most of the scenes aren’t scripted at all. Hagen said the spontaneous dialogue gives the production a more lively feel.
Parthasarathy said she’s loved working with Coat Tale Productions so far because it’s small and everybody is tight-knit. She’s also done some crew work on the Web series.
“They’re some of the best people I’ve worked with on set — they really treat everybody like family,” Parthasarathy said.
Rose’s youngest daughter and her exchange student also appear in the film, but Rose asked that their names be kept out of the story due to the same stalker issues that have plagued “Sunshine.”
The teenager has received unsettling private messages on YouTube and Facebook, although Rose screens the accounts before her daughter sees them.
“A couple of them even seem to think they know where she lives,” Rose said. “Not good.”
Rose has been in the film business for many years. She recently played a police officer in Leverage’s “The Boy’s Night Out Job” episode, which aired Dec. 18.
Asked for any inside info on the plot of the new film, she offered a sly smile.
“There may or may not be romance,” Rose said. “We have a third wheel, which is our comic relief, and — hey — we could even kill a character off.”
Hagen expects filming will continue through January, mostly at his house in Vancouver, which is the main setting for the Web series.
He hopes to have the film edited and ready for distribution by the end of winter, although he still needs to find a distributor, he said.
“Those are the guys that can get it out in theaters,” Hagen said. “If we don’t have any luck getting a distributor, we’ll still get it up online and sell DVDs that way, but I’m optimistic.”
Either way, Hagen said he plans to make sure there’s a screening of the film in Vancouver.
“I’d love to do a screening at the Kiggins Theatre, but I haven’t talked to them yet,” Hagen said.