Sehome High grad preps film for Sundance

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJanuary 1, 2014 

Bellingham resident and proud dad Steve Johnson called me at the beginning of December to let me know that his son, Craig, a 1994 Sehome High School graduate, was pleased that the feature film he directed and co-wrote, "The Skeleton Twins," has been accepted for this year's Sundance Film Festival.

Due to stipulations of Sundance, it's only now that I can officially write about this. Craig lives in Los Angeles, so I emailed him asking him for a few thoughts about growing up in Bellingham. He wrote me from New York City, however, because he's pretty busy still working on the film, which is in post-production.

"The Skeleton Twins" stars Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Luke Wilson and Ty Burrell. Craig co-wrote the script with Mark Heyman (writer and producer of "Black Swan.")

Craig also wrote and directed the feature film "True Adolescents," which stars Mark Duplass and Melissa Leo. "True Adolescents" premiered at the 2009 SXSW Film Festival and is available on iTunes and Netflix.

"The Skeleton Twins" is about an estranged twin sister and brother who have close brushes with death on the same day and as a result, re-examine their relationship.

Craig has written two films for 20th Century Fox and was a member of the inaugural Fox Writer's Studio. He has directed numerous short films and was a producer for MTV's long-running television show "Made." He holds a master's in fine arts from New York University's graduate film program, where he was awarded a Clive Davis Award for Excellence in Music in Film. He holds a bachelor's degree in theater from the University of Washington.

Here's what Craig wrote:

"First, I just wanted to clarify the whole 'competition' element of Sundance which can be confusing. The dramatic competition basically just refers to a programming block of about 15 films that are eligible for a number of awards: writing, directing, acting ensemble, etc., rather than one, single final award (though there is a grand jury prize) - if that makes sense.

"The Sundance Film Festival looms in the mind of an independent filmmaker as a kind of Shangri-La: distant, perfect, unattainable. So it was a bit surreal when 'The Skeleton Twins' was accepted for this year's festival as part of their dramatic competition program. Suddenly it was a reality, and I've been trying to soak it in as best I can while my primary feeling is still mostly disbelief. After all, I'm just a kid from Bellingham.

"I was born in raised in Bellingham and I'm not sure I would have become a filmmaker if I'd been born anywhere else. I was so grateful for the Sehome Cinemas 3 (RIP) and for the long-deceased Fairhaven and Picture Show theaters, which all showed offbeat and artier films. That access helped shape my love for odd and interesting films and I'm so thrilled to see that Bellingham has only further embraced film culture as evidenced by the awesome Pickford Film Center compound. Bellingham is truly a film-loving community and not many small (smallish?) towns can say the same.

"Growing up here in the '80s and '90s, the notion of actually making a film seemed impossible. So I turned to theater and performed in productions at the Bellingham Theater Guild and at Sehome High School under the tutelage of the great Teri Grimes (who is still teaching drama at Bellingham High. Hi, Teri!). A love for storytelling grew inside me and eventually took me to New York City and New York University's graduate film school - a long way from the 'Ham.

"But I never forgot my roots and returned to Washington to shoot my first feature, "True Adolescents." And I'm working on a script about little, genetically modified octopus creatures that attack a small Pacific Northwest town named ... Bellhaven.

"Right now I'm madly finishing the film and gearing up for Sundance. Each day I'm feeling a mixture of excitement, anticipation and slight trepidation. But as I dive into all the hoopla that surrounds the festival, one thought will be in the back of mind:

'"Gee, I hope this plays at the Pickford some day."'

TEEN POETRY CONTEST OPEN TO ENTRIES

Whatcom County Library System recently announced its annual "Forest of Words Teen Poetry Contest." Teen writers in grades 6-12 are encouraged to enter original poems at wcls.org/teens.

Winning poets will be published in the teen poetry anthology, "A Forest of Words." Winners also receive a copy of the book and an invitation to a poetry workshop.

Entry period is Jan. 6 through Feb. 14.

Details: 360-305-3600.

Behind the Scenes focuses on the people who make the arts and entertainment world of Whatcom County happen. It appears in Take Five, The Bellingham Herald's entertainment section, each Thursday. Margaret Bikman is the Entertainment News Coordinator at The Bellingham Herald. Reach Margaret at 360-715-2273 or margaret.bikman@bellinghamherald.com.

Reach Margaret Bikman at 360-715-2273 or margaret.bikman@bellinghamherald.com.

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