Inspired by a boat excursion to the San Juan Islands — and a chance encounter with a humpback whale — Los Angeles-based director Alix Hunter’s film-in-progress “The Iron …
Inspired by a boat excursion to the San Juan Islands — and a chance encounter with a humpback whale — Los Angeles-based director Alix Hunter’s film-in-progress “The Iron Ones” centers on a group of teens and their battle for survival.
Hunter’s all-star cast of up-and-coming actors made their way to Port Townsend for 12 days in June, getting immersed in the abundant wildlife within Puget Sound and the community of Port Townsend.
While the Victorian seaport goes under the fictional name of Port Garrison in the film, elements and features of the town and it’s surrounding geography show up throughout, with the town serving as the perfect backdrop for Hunter’s science fiction and horror-infused movie.
“I centered the story with young adult characters and high school students; adults are basically just [in the] background,” Hunter said. “The theme of the film is a story about kids and family and friends and trying to survive.”
The director utilizes her scientific background and prior experience as a nonfiction writer and wildlife documentarian to deliver a story that’s not only terrifying, but a conceivable framework in the sci-fi space, she said.
Beyond her filmmaking prowess, Hunter has written more than a dozen nonfiction books covering a range of topics from food chains in a range of natural environments to space sciences and astronomy to social sciences.
AQUATIC ORIGIN AND INFLUENCES
“The Iron Ones” and its oceanic horror elements were first inspired by Hunter after a memorable boat excursion with her partner a couple of years back.
“We were in COVID when I first worked on this … we decided to leave Port Townsend and go on a trip out to the San Juan Islands,” she recalled.
While on the water, Hunter came across a massive humpback whale swimming near her vessel. It appeared to be fleeing something.
She’d never seen something so enormous up close and thought, “What is making this whale so scared that it’s coming up to us?”
The creative juices started flowing as she developed the idea of centering a survival story with the horror element of what lurks below.
Part of the director’s fascination with sci-fi and the monster movie and classic horror sub-genres stem from her adoration for legendary directors Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and James Cameron.
“What I loved about their movies and work is the way they capture the sense of wonderment; they’re my favorite,” she said.
With “The Iron Ones” and its human versus nature conflict, there’s plenty to draw from the directors, whether through “Jaws” and “Jurassic Park” from Spielberg, Cameron’s “Aliens,” or even the “Star Wars” saga as a foundation of modern science fiction.
Beyond those directors and films, Hunter’s love for gothic architecture and the supernatural greatly influenced her choice to use Port Townsend’s Victorian cityscape as the perfect backdrop.
“For me, I’m a fan of classic horror, suspense-type horrors, like ‘Dracula.’ That’s why I had it put in there,” she said of the Port Townsend setting. “It’s mostly a backdrop to the story, and it becomes a bit of a character of its own.”
Co-producer Elvis Barritt was also an integral part of the production process, teaming up with Hunter for the film.
Any film can be boosted by a beautiful or haunting setting, but what makes or breaks a movie is the characters.
With more than 1,000 actors applying to be in “The Iron Ones” and a rigorous process before final selection, Hunter spent a great deal of effort before final casting selections.
“The cast I got for it I thought was brilliant. I couldn’t be happier as a director, their talent was amazing and they blew me away,” she said.
L.A. actress Cora Cleary was chosen to play female lead Zoe Jonstone, Lukas Charles Stafford was selected as older brother Mack Jonstone, actor and model Bryce Englund filled the role of Scottish exchange student Hamish, Bryley Michael Bell played high schooler Shawn, Matthew Bentsen was cast as a high schooler nicknamed “Rooster,” and Port Townsend resident Argus McEnerney filled the role of J.J.
The director lauded her cast with high praises.
“Cora is amazing, don’t be surprised if she’s the next Meryl Streep,” Hunter said.
As for Stafford, “He was extremely talented and extremely happy and really took his character to the level that we needed him to do,” she said.
She additionally complimented the talents of Englund, Bell, and Bentsen, but perhaps the most surprising performance was that of local 10-year-old McEnerney.
“The biggest surprise of all, which is someone the whole town should be proud of, was Argus McEnerney,” Hunter said.
After reaching out to the Key City Public Theatre in search of a young actor, she was put in contact with McEnerney.
The young hotshot thoroughly impressed the cast and crew with his professionalism, showing up to set fully in character with the entire script memorized word for word.
“Some people in this world believe in reincarnation; he must be an actor from another time period,” Hunter said, commending his maturity at such a young age.
Currently, the film is going through the rigorous post-production stage of development, with Hunter estimating that “The Iron Ones” will be ready in six to nine months.
The movie will have a PG-13 rating, allowing for the crew to produce a film that keeps the vital sci-fi and horror elements while remaining family-friendly, she said.
“I’m completely ecstatic with the whole movie so far, because the acting was exceptional,” Hunter said.
To learn more about “The Iron Ones,” Hunter, and the all-star cast, visit alixhunterstudios.com/The-Iron-Ones.htm.
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