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Phinney Ridge filmmaker creating buzz online

By Emily Fletcher
As a student at Seattle Pacific University, film was just a hobby for Zeek Earl — a hobby that “snowballed” into Shep Films, a production company founded by Earl and friend Chris Caldwell. Operating out of Earl’s Phinney Ridge home, Shep Films specializes in commercial work that appears exclusively online, but the filmmaking duo also writes and produces short films.
Their film “In the Pines,” a nine-minute short about a young woman who seeks to reconnect with extraterrestrials she previously encountered, premiered at the 2012 South By Southwest festival in Austin and was screened at several other festivals this year. “In the Pines” was shot on the Olympic Peninsula, and Earl said he and Caldwell try to “champion the geography of Northwest” in their filmmaking.
Earl said many people were surprised by “In the Pines’” modest $3,000 budget. Because they didn’t attend film school, he and Caldwell developed many of their methods and techniques “in isolation” and realized they were different than those used by some other filmmakers at South by Southwest. The Seattle film scene is unique, Earl said.
“There is such a relaxed and inspiring feeling to being creative here,” he said, noting that he has no desire to move out of the neighborhood where he “feels at home” anytime soon. When he’s not at his house, Earl said he does much of his work at Herkimer Coffee.
Earl and Caldwell posted “In the Pines” in its entirety on Vimeo about three weeks ago in conjunction with the launch of their fundraising efforts for Shep Films’ latest project, “Prospect.”
Funded through the crowd-funding website Kickstarter, “Prospect” is a gritty, survivalist film about a father and daughter who travel to an alien planet to harvest a new fuel source.
Shep films - Prospect-resized
A scene from “Prospect.” Photo provided by Shep Films.
Inspired by Westerns and shot in the Hoh Rainforest, the short film also will be attached to a feature script, and Earl hopes to eventually make “Prospect” a feature-length film. Although Earl and Caldwell set an $18,000 fundraising goal and were fairly pessimistic about reaching their target, they raised about $21,000 for the movie’s production.
Although his passion is creative filmmaking, Earl said working with commercial clients — primarily small- to medium-sized business — to create stylish, sophisticated spots for their websites is a rewarding job.
More of Shep Films’ work can be viewed here.
Emily Fletcher is a Phinney Ridge resident and journalism student at Dartmouth College.