There’s something in the water. Something dark, mysterious and possibly hostile. Everybody on the small, insular Maine island knows about it, but nobody much wants to talk about it directly — except one newcomer, who appears determined to figure out what exactly is going on.
That’s the basic premise of “Ragged Isle,” a 10-part Web series that launched online at raggedisle.com on March 9, with a new 10-15 minute episode premiering each Wednesday through May 11. The series was written, produced and directed by a group of Portland-based filmmakers and writers called the Entertainment Experiment, led by the husband-and-wife team of Barry and Karen Dodd, both natives of Waldo County and graduates of Belfast Area High School.
“There’s something mysterious about Maine. I think we all kind of know that,” said Barry Dodd. “It’s pretty ripe for exploring, in terms of writing a script and making a film. We had so many ideas. And we are always looking for a creative outlet.”
The Dodds have been involved in filmmaking for a long time. Barry Dodd, 35, is a New England School of Communications graduate, and is by day a video producer for Fox 23 in Portland. Karen Dodd, 33, studied filmmaking at Ithaca College in New York, and also formerly worked at Fox 23. In 2007, the couple decided to start what became their film production company, the Entertainment Experiment, and collaborated with a group of University of Southern Maine actors to produce “Criehaven,” a two-part drama that also took place on a mysterious Maine island. “Criehaven” competed in SOAPnet.com’s College Soap Opera Contest, and placed in the top five overall in the competition.
Three years later, Barry and Karen couldn’t get the idea of “Criehaven” out of their heads. There actually is a Criehaven — also known as Ragged Island — off the coast of Knox County, just south of Matinicus Island. Criehaven does not have a year-round population, though it does serve as lobster fishing grounds for a handful of families, and there are vacation homes. The fictional Criehaven combines aspects of Matinicus and other Maine islands — with the addition of a few more people, and some nefarious supernatural goings-on.
“We couldn’t stop thinking about where it was going,” said Barry Dodd. “The idea with ‘Criehaven’ was to be as a soapy as we could be, but we don’t really want to make soaps. We wanted to go in our own direction. Let the characters be really interesting people. Let the supernatural aspect go farther.”
The couple decided to revisit the setting from their first foray into serial filmmaking. They called up “Criehaven” actor and writer Rick Dalton and writers Jake Lear and Greg Tulonen, and began storyboarding and writing the script for what would become “Ragged Isle.”
Dalton, originally from the Old Town area and a veteran Portland actor, writer and musician, performed in “Criehaven” as Sheriff Rick Dalton, a fictionalized version of himself, as the island’s only law enforcement officer. He returned to “Ragged Isle” with lots of new ideas.
“Anyone from Maine will know the people in this story, and the places and the ways of speaking,” said Dalton. “It feels authentic. There are no forced Maine accents. It’s made by Mainers, so we know what feels right and what doesn’t.”
“Ragged Isle” falls somewhere in between David Lynch’s bizarre cult classic series “Twin Peaks” and a much darker, more authentically Maine version of “Murder, She Wrote.” The overarching creepiness and otherworldly feel isn’t explicit; it reveals itself in the shadowy lighting, the as-yet unexplained plot twists and the eccentricities of the characters.
The series was filmed on location over the summer of 2010 in Portland, Gorham, Rockland and Bar Harbor. The Shore Path in Bar Harbor makes a cameo in a later episode, as does the Maine Lobster Festival in Rockland. A cast of 22 spent much of the summer driving all over the state to film different scenes, with townsfolk agreeing to let them shoot in public parks and harbors, on ferries and in businesses. On many occasions, people would wander into shots, not realizing they were being filmed. Some of those interlopers remain in the final product.
“We were incredibly fortunate to have people be really open to letting us shoot in lots of different locations,” said Karen Dodd, who served as executive producer of the series. “And we have an all-volunteer cast, who were really game for anything. We made the food. We coordinated shooting. It really was a labor of love.”
The series centers on Vicki Burke (Meghan Benton), a young journalist who takes a job with the island’s small weekly newspaper. Her twin brother, Eric (Michael Dix Thomas), lives on Ragged Isle, and she’s going to live with him. Eric’s friends Paul, Mac and Dirty Bill (Portland’s Ian Carlsen, Madawaska native Dominic Lavoie and Doug Porter, originally of Bangor) are involved in some unnamed shady business involving something in the water. Sheriff Dalton knows something is going on, but he very well may be connected to it. Rachel Moody (April Joy Purinton) runs the bar on the island and is a bit of a gossip. Harrison Shaw (Todd Manter) and his righthand man Louis (Adam Cogswell) are busy freaking everybody out. There’s even a psychic on the island, Madame Clelia (Kathryn Morrison). More characters will reveal themselves as episodes are released. It’s a whole lot of creepy fun.
Moreover, the production quality of “Ragged Isle” is remarkably high. Thanks to the ease of availability of high-quality digital cameras, the cinematography is beautiful. The title sequence alone is a gorgeous piece of filmmaking that’s deeply evocative of the Maine coast. Barry Dodd and fellow camera operator Derek Kimball captured both light and shadow, and utilize those contrasts to their full atmospheric advantage. Barry Dodd has spent the better part of the past six months editing each episode.
“Barry has an amazing eye for setting up great shots. There’s a wealth of great images in it,” said Dalton. “It really helps when you have an innate sense of what to point your camera at. Barry is a really gifted filmmaker.”
Barry and Karen plan to film a second season this summer, to be released at the end of 2011. A third season isn’t out of the question, either. Last week, “Ragged Isle” was chosen as the Indie Soap of the Week by WeLoveSoaps.com, and as the Drama Pick of the Week by IndieIntertube.tv. The first season has to play itself out, however, and the pair still have some finishing touches to put on the remaining eight episodes.
Though they would not be opposed to their creation being optioned to a larger film studio or distribution company, their main concerns right now are increasing the online audience for “Ragged Isle,” and enjoying the process of filmmaking right here in Maine.
“I think it would have to be the right people with the right idea about the show, were we to license it in some way,” said Barry Dodd. “We definitely didn’t go into this thinking about making money. We did it because we love doing it.”
New episodes of “Ragged Isle” will be posted every Wednesday through May 11 at raggedisle.com.