Dunsmuir Hotel is setting for 'Hitchcockian evocative thriller' film

Cassandra Tiersma
Filmmakers Michael Zaiko Hall and Robb Gardner flank Mark Juarez, owner of the Dunsmuir Hotel, which is the setting for an upcoming thriller. Once complete, the filmmakers hope to premiere the film at the California Theatre.

Professional filmmakers are planning to make a low-budget feature film in Dunsmuir, utilizing the Dunsmuir Hotel as a filming location and the film crew’s headquarters.

As an independent location scout and film liaison, Tina Fava was instrumental in facilitating initial contact between filmmakers Robb W. Gardner and Michael Zaiko Hall and Dunsmuir Hotel owner Mark Juarez. She encouraged both parties to pursue the project because she’s always recognized that Dunsmuir would be an ideal movie location.

With the working title “Hotel Dunsmuir,” the movie – which Hall and Gardner describe as a supernatural, Hitchcockian evocative thriller – is scheduled to begin filming in the near future.

“I love camping and hiking around here,” said Gardner, who has an uncle in Mount Shasta whom he visits frequently. He described the Dunsmuir area as a “compositionally picturesque and scenic setting.”

Gardner said the project is something that both he and Hall have wanted to do for a long time. They both admitted to having storyboards for movies set in this area “running in our heads for years.”

Gardner, who has 25 years of experience in the film industry, said he originally “wanted to get into cinematography, then stumbled upon computer animation for big visual effects studios.”

Hall, an award-winning visual effects artist has 15 years' experience. He’s the descendent of a Swiss filmmaker in the 1920s, during the silent movie era. A handful of Ketterer’s films, all with French-language titles, are listed on IMDb.

Hall said his career in the film industry has included working more than five years at Pixar, as well as working in London as a digital artist on the sci-fi film “Prometheus,” (which was the first of the prequels to the Alien movie).

Around the same time Hall was working in London, Gardner was working in New Zealand at Weta Digital, a New Zealand visual effects company, as VFX lighting technical director for “The Adventures of Tintin,” directed by Steven Spielberg.

Gardner said that Hitchcock and the filmmakers of the ’70s had a huge influence on him. And Hall admitted that he was already drawn to the film noir style when he tried to make his first movie at age 16. The two VFX artists met at Industrial Light & Magic, which is the visual effects branch of Lucas Film company.

With a combined total of more than 90 movie credits and 40 years of experience between them, Hall said, “We’re visual effects experts, and we have a very high standard of aesthetics.”

About two years ago, the two filmmakers transitioned away from working for the big visual effects studios to making their own films. Their first collaboration was what they describe as “a very small, experimental” horror movie called “Carrion, which is being picked up by Gravitas Ventures, an independent film distributor, with a scheduled release date of March 31. At that time, “Carrion” should be available to view across multiple streaming platforms.

Another key person working on the “Hotel Dunsmuir” film project is producer Erik Wegner, who has been utilizing social media sites such as Nextdoor.com and Dunsmuir Neighborhood Watch on Facebook ”to connect with the community and to generate a buzz” about the project.

A month ago, Wegner posted in the Dunsmuir Neighborhood Watch Facebook page, “If anyone ... has an older truck they don’t use regularly, it could be on the big screen!” Wegner confirmed that they are still looking for an older ’70s-’80s vintage-style pick-up truck to use on-screen for several days during production.

He also said that he is acting as casting director, and reported that they’ve cast three of the five main parts for the film so far, with “possibilities” for the other two main parts. Wegner added that they “may be looking to cast those parts locally,” and that the Dunsmuir film project “is still very much on target.”

“We are really excited to work with Robb and Michael,” said Juarez, who owns multiple historic buildings in both Dunsmuir and Weed. He said after finally getting all the squatters out of his vacant buildings in Weed, they are now in the process of cleaning up and trying to fix the buildings.

Juarez said he’s close to being able to obtain grants or other funding to fix all of his buildings and expressed his belief that bringing filmmaking to Siskiyou County would help both cities by stimulating tourism and bringing more revenue to the area.

Dunsmuir resident and seasoned actor and filmmaker John Otrin, whose credits as a professional actor span 45 years agreed that anything that brings tourism to the businesses to Siskiyou County helps the local community.

“As a big supporter of the arts,” Otrin said, “I love the fact that Dunsmuir has all kinds of artists, musicians, filmmakers, painters, chefs, bakers, crafts artists, etc.”

Otrin pointed to the value of the work that local filmmakers Paris Petrick, Richard Dinges, Drew Alvarez and others, at Pusher, Inc. and Siskiyou Media Council have already been doing, making films to bring awareness to the Siskiyou County area.

“Bringing awareness to the Dunsmuir community ... I’m all in favor of that,” Otrin said.

Although Otrin’s name had been dropped as a person of note on the current project, he said he’s not involved. However, he noted that Hall, Gardner and Wegner are legitimate, professional filmmakers

“These guys know what they’re doing, and can produce a feature film ... As long as they have the resources,” Otrin said.

About his own current work, Otrin, who divides his time between Dunsmuir and Santa Clarita, confirmed, “I’ve got some projects in the works, as both a producer and an actor.”

Hall said when the “Hotel Dunsmuir” film is completed, they hope to have it premiere at the California Theatre “to generate a collective excitement in the community.”

“There’s so much more than a movie we’re making,” Juarez said.