Even though he didn’t have the budget to shoot here, Nick Richey knew his writing-directing debut, “Low Low,” had to be set in Vancouver, where he grew up.
Richey, a Los Angeles-based independent filmmaker, graduated from Fort Vancouver High School in 2001.
“I wanted to honor my time in Vancouver. I still have this fond connection to the city. I love going back to visit,” said Richey, 36, by phone from L.A. before jetting to New York for a screening. “For me it was a personal creative choice that (the movie) had to be set there. A lot of people tried to stop me.”
They warned it would be challenging to make Los Angeles look like Vancouver for his film, which centers on four young women who attended “East Vancouver High” and live in the “Fourth Plain District.”
Indeed, a few palm trees made it on screen. His intention was to scrub them out in post-production, but the cost would have blown the budget.
Nonetheless, the film already has racked up honors from the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival and the Boston International Film Festival.
The Los Angeles Times calls the film “a strong debut for Richey.”
“A lot of fledgling filmmakers make autobiographical movies or lean on genre,” the review states, “but ‘Low Low’ follows a different path, empathizing with the worries and woes of some people whose lives are rarely reflected on screen.”
Variety’s review calls the film “an unflinching portrait of modern teens on the fringes of society.”
Film Threat describes it as a “beautiful coming-of-age story” and “a modern-day ‘Stand By Me.’ ”
Richey landed actress Elaine Hendrix, who played Meredith Blake in the Lindsay Lohan version of “The Parent Trap,” to play Sylvia Reese, who has a complicated relationship with her daughter, Ryan.
Hendrix “was willing to come aboard and take a deep pay cut because she connected with the material,” Richey said.
The film follows four friends through their last 36 hours together at the end of summer. Candace (Montana Roesch) is heading to college, leaving Lana (Kacie Rogers), Willy (Alexis Raich), and Ryan (Ali Richey, Nick’s wife) behind in Vancouver.
“There’s elements of their lives that are autobiographical for me. The four women represent parts of my personality, but they also represent some young women I grew up with — women who were really strong but still had obstacles,” Nick Richey said.
He said he wanted to counter the movie trope of teenage girls betraying each other for a guy.
“It seems so false. The young women I grew up with weren’t like that. They were so strong,” he said. “They weren’t throwing away their friendships with each other for a guy.”
Richey’s break in Hollywood came in 2005, after he graduated from Lewis & Clark College with a degree in economics.
During college, he commuted to Portland from the Vancouver apartment he shared with a friend. He worked at Red Lobster, but also as a host introducing cartoons for the WB television network affiliate serving Portland.
Richey had two months between finishing his degree and beginning a job with Boeing in Kent. So he decided to spend that time crashing with a friend in Los Angeles.
He had been in L.A. just three days when he snagged a role in the movie “Welcome to the Jungle,” to be filmed in Fiji. He contacted his would-be boss at Boeing to share the news, and referred his brother, Ben, for that job. Ben has worked for Boeing since. And Nick has been working on films since.
“Welcome to the Jungle” went straight to DVD, even though it was the product of two Hollywood heavyweights: producer Gale Anne Hurd, who is known for “Aliens” and the “Terminator” series, and director-screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh of “Armageddon” fame.
Undeterred, Richey kept a string of projects going as an actor, writer, producer and director in Los Angeles.
He still visits Vancouver and will be on hand for screenings of “Low Low” on Wednesday at Living Room Theaters in Portland and Sept. 5 at Kiggins Theatre. His parents, Kim and Ryan Richey, live in the Ogden neighborhood. Many of his best friends remain here. He wrote the movie with them in mind.
“If you write something for you and your friends, they will love it, and it becomes more universal,” Richey said. “I knew when they watched the movie, they were going to love hearing about Fourth Plain. It makes me smile, and I knew they would too.”