“We’re on a high – a small, little group from Maine beat out some of the big groups in Boston.” That’s South Portland-based filmmaker Rob Nixon, finding some good Maine moviemaking news in these days when such things are almost uniformly on hold. 

Tim Ouillette and Miles Perry filming “Wrong Lanes” at Yankee Lanes in Brunswick. Photo by Garrick Hoffman

Nixon’s film “Wrong Lanes” just made it to the semifinals of the international 48 Hour Film Project, his Maine-crewed King Of Hearts Films’ short knocking off the Boston big boys before falling in the speed-round moviemaking contest’s East bracket. Still, for Maine native and recent Maine “boomerang” returnee, that’s a solid result. Especially considering how the country’s current crisis only made the task’s already stringent rules even tougher. 

Anyone familiar with the 48 knows the deal. Filmmaking teams assemble on Friday night. Each team receives an email with a film genre (for “Wrong Lanes,” that was “fish out of water”), a prop (lightbulb), character (Roger the judge), and a line of dialogue (“What’s going on?”), and then they’ve got, yep, 48 hours to turn in a completed film. That’s travel time, writing, shooting, editing and submitting, all in two clock-ticking days. 

Nobody sleeps, as a rule. 

But indie filmmakers are nothing if not resourceful (possibly a little foolhardy), and Nixon and his caffeinated team did the improbable, with the 7-and-a-half-minute short not only breaking the tape in time, but garnering best film, best actor (for Nixon), best editor (Nixon and Miles Perry), and best cinematography (Tim Ouillette) in the Boston region. That despite the film – about a straight-laced young man (Blake Wright) whose meeting with the scoundrelly father (Nixon) of his girlfriend (Mariah Larocque) goes about as badly as you can imagine – needing a very specific and elaborate location in short order. 

Taking place entirely in the otherwise empty bowling alley where Nixon’s beer-swilling gambler dad is competing in an unsavory contest, “Wrong Lanes” was shot in Brunswick’s Yankee Lanes. It’s a locale that no-budget filmmakers would normally have an impossible time getting, but – thanks to some Maine generosity, a lucky connection and that whole, business-shuttering global pandemic – Nixon and his crew had the run of the place for an entire day’s shooting. 

“It was definitely challenging,” Nixon said of the experience of making an entire film in two days while maintaining social distancing. “But we were lucky enough – sad to say – to be able to shoot at Yankee Lanes because it was closed. Otherwise we’d never get a location like that.”

The film, shot on June 6, saw Nixon and his scrappy and intrepid crew working under even more than usual pressure – “We wore masks when not shooting, and kept six feet when we could” – with their whirlwind efforts reaping them acclaim enough that the same crew is cooking up their first feature as we speak. “We’re hoping to start shooting in the fall,” Nixon said with the optimism we all share about life starting up once more.

For Nixon and his King of Hearts Films (named for his magician father), returning to Maine after sojourns in New York, Nashville and San Diego has been nothing but a positive. “Coming back here around three years ago and trying to get dialed back into the Maine film scene, I was so impressed by how eager everyone is to collaborate, and to jump onto new projects,” enthused Nixon. Plus, unlike the jaded citizens of filmmaking meccas like California and New York, Nixon is grateful for how willing Mainers are to step up and let, say, an indie film crew take over their entire business. (Again, kudos to Yankee Lanes, which donated their lanes and parking lot to “Wrong Lanes” for free, give or take a few promotional shout-outs.) 

As once-and-current Mainer Nixon says, “Maine is the most beautiful place on the planet to film,” explaining that his future filmmaking plans all revolve around seeking out the most picturesque corners of our state to work in. You know, like our gleaming and colorful bowling alleys. As for the 48 Hour Film Project (even though Portland’s chapter closed up shop this season), Nixon is effusive. “It’s film school in a weekend,” said the presumably now-rested Nixon. “No matter their experience, I encourage every filmmaker to give it a try.”

“Wrong Lanes” is  showing for free on YouTube now that it’s out of 48 Hour contention. Check it out, as well as the rest of Nixon’s work on King Of Hearts Films’ Facebook page. 

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.

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