Official Trailer: Empty Spaces
You probably haven’t seen the 2016 comedy-drama “Empty Space,” written by Olympia native Paul Boring.
But lots of other people have, and a lot of them — including festival judges and audiences as well as movie critics — liked it.
“I was pretty surprised by the reception,” Boring told The Olympian. “People laughed at the right times.
“It got two or three audience choice awards, which I consider more important than getting a judges’ award.”
The film, available on Amazon, iTunes and On Demand, follows an insecure young man, Tom (Merrick Robison), who moves to a small Midwestern town in a futile attempt to hide from life and other people. And yes, he does meet a woman, Lilly (Elizabeth Stenholt).
The plot sounds familiar, but the characters and dialogue set it apart, landing the film spots in 17 film festivals from Buffalo, New York, to Tupelo< Mississippi, to Gig Harbor and winning it seven awards, including two audience-choice nods.
UK Film Review’s Chris Olson called it “a sublime coming-of-age tale” focused on the kind of outsiders largely ignored by Hollywood — small town, blue collar and, in the case of the obese Tom, not conventionally attractive.
“ ‘Empty Space’ is hardly what one could call a stereotypical ‘meet cute’ love affair,” George Heymont wrote in the Huffington Post. “But it has a tenderness at its core that (director James) Choi uses very well to win a viewer’s sympathy.”
The film, also produced by Choi, even had a theatrical run in South Korea.
All this despite a $10,000 budget, a 14-day shooting schedule, and a crew of four, if you include Choi, whose 2009 “Made in China” won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Feature Film at the 2009 SXSW Film Festival.
It’s also the film debut for lead actors Robison, Stenholt and Madysen Frances, who plays Rebecca, a troubled teen who comes to rely on Tom.
And the script, a collaboration with Judith Krant, was Boring’s first to make it to production. The screenwriter, who moved back to Olympia two years ago, wanted to tell a story about finding love in a small town.
“I’ve always had a passion for small towns,” he said. “I also thought it would be the coolest thing to meet your significant other in a small town. It’s not very likely, but I always thought it would be cool.”
And by small, he doesn’t mean the size of Olympia, where he grew up, attending McLane Elementary and Capital High School. (He finished high school in Chehalis, graduating in 1993.) Over the years, he’s spent time here visiting his parents, Mike and Sharon Boring, who now live in Arizona.
Set in the fictional Protection, Illinois, and filmed in Shannon, Illinois (population 757), “Empty Space” got its start in Rochester, Washington (population 2,388), where Boring lived for a time after his 1997 graduation from Spokane’s Whitworth College.
“I based it on Rochester,” he said, “and in the film, it actually kind of looked like Rochester.”
While living in a house owned by his grandmother (as Tom does in the film), Boring noticed the comings and goings of an elderly neighbor.
“I would sit out on the porch, and this guy would walk by each day, down to the tavern and have a beer and come back,” the screenwriter recalls. “He didn’t talk. I would say hi and he wouldn’t say anything.
“I tried to imagine if he had somebody else in his life — a girlfriend, a wife — and it started making me think about the odds of finding somebody in a small town.”
Those wonderings led him to scriptwriting. “All of the sudden, I started having scenes in my head,” he said. “I would jot down dialogue. I wasn’t even thinking about writing a screenplay, but I had all these scenes and all this dialogue. That’s when I started.”
These days, the former journalist (and onetime newspaper carrier for The Olympian) is continuing to focus on screenwriting with an eye to future collaborations with Choi and Krant.
Among the scripts he’s working on is one about three middle-school kids, all new in school, who find refuge in one another.
“They instantly bond and … form their own clique, obliterating school hierarchies,” he said. “I’m excited to get deeper into these characters and the story.”