Jake Tranter is living his dream.
He is the owner of Spiderking Studios, a local film production company. The goal is “to give southern Oregon more film opportunities while essentially functioning as a community theatre but for film.”
Film has been the 21-year-old’s passion since high school. His interest first began with the performing arts. After a few years of acting, he became more involved behind the scenes. A video competition, while he was in high school, gave him the opportunity to act as well as write his own script. From there, his passion grew into making short films with his friends.
The studio, which he started with his friends, was founded in November after Tranter was medically retired from the U.S. Army.
“I’m using the opportunity of getting out of the service to do what I love and focus on my passions,” Tranter said. “I’m getting into the film industry, but I am creating my own film industry here in southern Oregon to create more of an opportunity for people here. There is a lot of untapped talent here in Douglas County.”
Currently, Tranter is focused on the studio’s second feature film called “Death with Dignity.”
“This is going to change the pace for us, I think. It’s a really crazy project,” Tranter said. “There is so much that is going into it. It is really, really ambitious, especially for a small indie company like us. We are extremely low budget and the script calls for a lot of practical effects that we are just going to be thinking out of the box to do.”
The film follows Tyler, a desk monkey who is tired of his mundane life. Tyler decides to test his limits by hiring a hitman to kill him. Throughout the film, Tyler plays a dangerous game of cat and mouse with the trained killer in his quest to add some spice to his life.
Tranter hand-picked his cast. While the studio has held auditions in the past, he already had an idea of who he wanted to play each role. All but one cast member is local. Through connections he has made while building his business, Tranter was able to invite actress Eileen Dietz to join the cast. Dietz is best known as the face of the demon in “The Exorcist” and for roles on soap operas such as “Guiding Light” and “General Hospital.”
“I was just chatting with her while doing camera work for another studio and she was really interested,” Tranter said. “I was able to work things out with her agent, get her a flight up here and got her into a hotel and it has worked out really great.”
Tranter didn’t disclose what Dietz’s role in the film will be, but she is part of a car crash scene filmed earlier this month. Tranter said the stakes are a little higher now that they have included an established actress, but it feels better to receive that recognition from someone already rooted in the industry.
“It feels good. When we were kids, people would just see us as a group of friends just kind of doing a thing. Now, people are seeing it as a real, professional gig and that’s refreshing,” he said.
Peyton Burnett, a fellow Roseburg High graduate Tranter met through the school’s marching band program, was originally slated as an extra before stepping into the role of Rosa, a co-worker of the protagonist who spends most of the film trying to talk him out of his crazy plan.
Rosa is an interesting role, Burnett said. The 20-year-old — who dreamed as a child of one day being a movie star — relates to the bubbly, cheerful aspect of her character, but says Rosa is a bit more put together and level-headed than Burnett is herself.
Further challenges come from Burnett’s physical disabilities. She was diagnosed with a musculoskeletal disease called arthrogryposis at birth. The disease has frozen her joints in place and weakened her muscles. She is unable to use her hands or arms, instead using her head, neck and mouth for “literally everything.” Her disability means really thinking outside the box when it comes to shooting.
“I’m still trying to find my niche in the acting world, but it has definitely been a challenge. In one of the parts in the scene we filmed a few weeks ago, I was supposed to be pulled out of the car onto the pavement, but my body just doesn’t really allow for that,” Burnett said.
We had to cut the scene from when I was in the car to when I was on the ground because it just wasn’t safe to pull me out on film. So safety-wise, it has posed some challenges, but Jake has been really good about working around it.”
Twenty-four-year-old Joey Lee also comes from a musical background. He heard about the film through one of Tranter’s Facebook posts and couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Lee plays the police officer who he says plays against Tyler. Lee played a similar role in the studio’s first full-length film “Limbo,” but he describes this particular character as “dark, mysterious and alarming.”
“My favorite part was definitely the role I played. But also getting to see how everything was done,” Lee said. “There is a lot that I will definitely take from this experience. But moving forward I will remember to stay confident in any other roles I come across.”
Tranter said production is going a lot faster than he originally anticipated. They hope to wrap near the end of October. The hope is to premiere “Death with Dignity,” which he thinks will run up to an hour and a half in length, at Roseburg Cinema in November.
“I think the biggest thing that I want people to learn is to not be afraid to follow your dreams,” Burnett said. “I don’t want to speak for Jake here, but I know he has been looking forward to something like this for a long, long time. Getting to see it come to fruition is really exciting from an outside perspective and I think bringing stuff like this to the community is really good for us and the community.”