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Justin Evans wears many hats, as writer, director, producer

by: GINGER RAVENCROFT - Clackamas High grad Justin Evans previews a shot with actor James Cromwell.Filmmaker Justin Eugene Evans has a message for teenagers who want to make movies: chances are they’ll never have a career in Hollywood.

But there’s also good news: “You don’t need Hollywood. Independent filmmakers can distribute their own pictures.”

Evans is living proof of that, as his first, big feature-length film will be shown at PSU’s 5th Avenue Cinema Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and he will be there for a Q-and-A after each showing. He has inked deals with both I-Tunes and Hulu to distribute his film “A Lonely Place For Dying,” described as a “Cold War thriller.”

Evans has “hopped across the planet,” taking the film to festivals, and that has paid off as “A Lonely Place For Dying” has been an official selection of 46 festivals, been nominated for 51 awards and won 27, including 18 as best picture.

Evans started making films as a teenager. He graduated from Clackamas High School in 1991, where he was involved in the arts all four years, appearing in musicals, singing in the choir and spending nearly every weekend competing as a member of the speech team.

“I went to two national speech tournaments and it was all because of Diane Edgington, who was the most amazing speech teacher,” Evans says, noting that he competed in just about every event available to a high school student.

In what spare time he had, Evans started making films, using skills he acquired from volunteering with

MCTV, a community access TV station, now called MetroEast, based in Gresham.

“I’d grab members from the speech team and we’d drive out into the woods and shoot a movie. I was not terribly skilled, but it was an excellent training ground and gave me a level of confidence,” Evans says.

His work with MCTV led to a scholarship to New York University’s film school, and he arrived on campus having made about 45 short films; he was surprised to discover that many of his fellow students had only made one or two films.

Evans dropped out of NYU in 1995, because he had so many opportunities to start his career.

“It was a combination of an excellent education at Clackamas High School and MCTV that changed my life, and it bothers me that cable access is under funded. It has the ability to create the next generation of film artists,” Evans says.

‘A Lonely Place For Dying’

Evans gained more skills as an art director for a video game company, but then began to focus in earnest on the script for “A Lonely Place For Dying.”

Evans was the film’s writer, director, cinematographer and producer.

How does he do it all?

“Technology made it more possible and I already had the skills in place. I sat my team down and said, ‘I’m going to wear all these hats,’ ” he says.

Once the script was finalized, he began sending it around to agents, and that is how he was able to attract Academy Award-nominated James Cromwell and other well-known actors to the project.

Cromwell received an Oscar nomination as best supporting actor for his work in “Babe,” and he was also nominated for Emmy awards for “ER” and “Six Feet Under.” He is on TV in the series “American Horror Story.”

The plot of “A Lonely Place For Dying,” set in 1972, revolves around two young men. One of them, Ross Marquand, plays Nikolai Dzerzhinsky, the great-grandson of the founder of the KGB.

“He has come to realize that the KGB is corrupt, so he becomes a double agent for the CIA. When his cover is blown, he decides to sell his secrets to the ‘Washington Post’ in exchange for asylum in the United States,” Evans says.

But middle management at the CIA does not want that to happen, so they send a team, led by Special Agent Robert Harper, played by Michael Scovatti, to intercept Dzerzhinsky at the Mexican border. As the two men hunt each other they discover that the sins from their past destined them for this deadly confrontation.

Evans, who lives in Wisconsin with his wife and 6-year-old son, says he feels blessed that the movie has done well and will be showing in movie theaters. As for what he will remember most about the whole experience, that would be the “sheer amount, the bloody backbreaking amount of work” it took to make the film.

He plans to take a least a six-month break. He is also designing a digital cinema projector that will lower the cost of projecting by 90 percent, he says.

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