Friends touch on difficult themes with first full-length film
by: COURTESY OF EXTERIOR FILMS, The “Gray Area” film actors on location, with co-producer Kasey McCabe (foreground, right) and director Chapin Hemmingway standing behind the monitor.

Like documentary filmmaking, independent films can be a risky proposition.

'There's a significant challenge coming up with a story that people can get emotionally invested in,' says Tyson Balcomb, producer of 'The Gray Area,' an independent film by four Portland-area natives that opens its one-week run Friday, June 18, at the Hollywood Theater.

'So much works goes into the writing, 'seeing it' before you shoot it, coming up with a story that people can get invested in without losing them halfway through.'

Balcomb, 25, a graduate of La Salle High School who attended Seattle University, teamed with three friends to make some films, and 'The Gray Area' stands as their first foray into full-length features. The others - director Chapin Hemmingway (Catlin Gabel/Emerson College), co-producer Kasey McCabe (Lake Oswego/OSU) and executive producer Will Inglis (Lakeridge/Oregon) - are also 20-somethings, and the group is trying to forge an independent film career together.

They have a production company, Exterior Films ( 'We'd like to establish ourselves as players in the independent community,' Balcomb says.

Filmed in the Portland area and Manzanita, 'The Gray Area' is about three young men who try to comprehend the untimely death of their best friend and, in their grief, they discover he may have died under suspicious circumstances. It's got a drug-and-alcohol addiction theme and 'it's based off an amalgam of situations myself and Chapin have experienced,' Balcomb says.

Balcomb says the quartet made the film for about $45,000, a significant budget leap from their previous production, 'Last September,' which cost $17,000.

Among the actors: Gavin Bristol was featured in both 'Twilight' and 'Extraordinary Measures'; Morgan Lee and Jesse Henderson are featured in Gus Van Sant's 'Restless'; Bristol, Ian McMilan, Benjamin Farmer and Meredith Williams have all appeared in TNT's 'Leverage'.

'The Gray Area' plays at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Friday, June 18, 3, 5, 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday, June 19, and Sunday, June 20, and 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, June 21-24, at Hollywood Theater, 4122 N.E. Sandy Blvd. Admission is $6.50. For more info, go to

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