When Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly finished their last film, the documentary “The Way We Get By,” they decided to try a rather unusual tack for filmmakers. Before distributing it nationally, they screened the film — an unflinching but tender look at Maine’s troop greeters, and what it’s like to grow old in America — in Maine. To their shock and delight, it was a huge success.
“It was around the same time that one of the Harry Potter movies came out, and at the theater in western Maine, our film was beating it in box office numbers in a huge way,” said Gaudet, an Old Town native. “Screening it here really allowed us to screen it across the country. It was unbelievable. It really meant something.”
It proved to Gaudet and Pullapilly that Mainers were willing to rally around something that portrayed their lives in a meaningful, truthful way. So when they decided to go forth with their next project — a full-length feature film set in Aroostook County, titled “Blue Potato” — they went full bore with involving the community in the production.
Starting this weekend, the filmmakers will hold the first of five casting calls for “Blue Potato.” The Bangor call is set for 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, June 23, at the Gracie Theatre at Husson University. It will be followed by casting calls on June 30 in Portland, July 6 in Houlton, July 7 in Presque Isle and July 14 in Van Buren. In all, they hope to cast Mainers in the majority of the smaller parts in the film, as well as source volunteer help and other assistance for shooting, which will be begin later in July in Aroostook County.
“We want to involve the community in every aspect of this film,” said Pullapilly. “If people see what goes into it and are a part of it, whether it’s performing or otherwise, they feel ownership of it. We want this to be a film for Mainers.”
“Wherever we screened [“The Way We Get By”] movie in the country, there would always be at least one, if not many people in the crowd, who would say ‘I’m from Maine!’ or ‘I love Maine!’” said Gaudet. “I really don’t think you see that kind of pride and love in other parts of the country.”
“Blue Potato” is the couple’s first fictional film, based on a script the two wrote in 2011. They spent a large part of 2010 driving around Aroostook County, looking for locations for shooting and getting a feel for the land. The film is called “Blue Potato” because one of the farm locations selected for filming actually harvests blue potatoes.
“I think we’ve seen just about every town in The County,” said Pullapilly. “Since it’s the first national feature film to be shot there, we felt obligated to really dig in and get to know it.”
“Blue Potato” tells a coming-of-age story about two teenage boys, fiercely loyal best friends, who will spend one last summer working the potato harvest before deciding what to do with their lives upon graduating high school. Should they stay in The County, with its close-knit communities, verdant farmland and geographical isolation? Or should they strike out for a city in search of opportunity?
“It’s a very unique opportunity to tell a story that’s very universal, but has a specific resonance in Aroostook County, since I think a lot of kids growing up there go through that decision,” said Gaudet. “It touches on so many things — relationships, rural life, growing up. It’s a perfect setting for a coming-of-age story.”
As The County isn’t exactly Hollywood, the pair have had to get creative when it comes to certain things. For instance, actors usually request trailers in which they stay when they’re not up for a scene. Movie trailer rentals do not exist in Aroostook County. So Webb’s RV in Bangor has offered to let “Blue Potato” borrow a few RVs to stand in. Community members have stepped up to offer actors places to stay in different towns. And when “Blue Potato” needed help in arranging casting calls, Bangor Savings Bank offered its services to find locations and promote.
“That’s exactly what we’re talking about, when we talk about how amazingly supportive Maine has been,” said Gaudet. “It’s very, very special.”
In addition to this Saturday’s audition in Bangor, further calls are set for 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, June 30, at the Abromson Center on the University of Southern Maine Campus in Portland; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, July 6, at the Houlton Southside School; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, July 7, at Wieden Auditorium at the University of Maine at Presque Isle; and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, July 14, at the Van Buren District Secondary School. For information, visit http://sunnysideupfilms.com/.