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A former Valley resident comes home with ‘laugh-out-loud’ entry in the Northampton International Film Festival



Wednesday, November 26, 2014
When Pete Yagmin was a young boy, growing up in Easthampton, he wanted to make movies. Now, after 15 years living away from the area, Yagmin is preparing for a visit to the Valley, and he is bringing his new short film, “Dark Roast,” with him.

Yagmin, 38, now living in the Boston area, will show “Dark Roast” Oct. 10 at the 18th Annual Northampton International Film Festival, where it is an official selection. The film festival, taking place between Oct. 10 and 12, brings independent films from as far away as New Zealand and as close to home as the Pioneer Valley, to Northampton. Films include features as well as documentaries.

“Dark Roast” is a supernatural horror-comedy about the Grim Reaper who falls in love with a mortal and finds out he is just like every other guy she has dated.

Yagmin was born and raised in Easthampton and attended the culinary arts program at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School, graduating in 1994. He says he enjoyed the creative aspect of cooking, but eventually decided to switch to technology and, later, marketing, both fields he considers to be creative. He works as a senior creative technologist and principal web developer at Blue Vase Marketing in Beverly, but, through it all, he says, he never lost his love for the movies.

“I ended up writing my first story-script in third or fourth grade,” Yagmin said in a recent phone interview. “It was a Jason and Freddy [Kruger] story. Not like a Jason versus Freddy, but just a story in which these two characters meet.”

As Yagmin grew older, the idea of working with movies fell by the wayside he says, until his interest was sparked again when he saw several film projects listed on Kickstarter, the online global crowdfunding website. Yagmin donated, and became an executive producer, for three films: a stop-motion animation, “Manufactured Love,” about a robot trying to manufacture a semblance of his former love; a documentary, “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” an exploration of the horror and independent film industry in the New England area; and “Psychotica,” a story about a college student who is manipulated by his substance abuse counselor into going on a homicidal road trip. Yagmin said through those projects he met film producers, directors and actors, which reignited his interest.

The idea for “Dark Roast” came to Yagmin in November 2013 as he was watching the TV show “Supernatural,” about two brothers who hunt for demons, ghosts, monsters and other supernatural beings. During the show, he says, his mind wandered and he thought up scenarios that were supposed to be scary, but ended up being funny.

“I started thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if a guy was sitting down with the grim reaper?’ ” Yagmin said.

Yagmin wrote the first draft of his three-minute-long film in just a couple of hours, basing his Grim Reaper on the laid-back character of The Dude in the film “The Big Lebowski” and the Adam Carolla character of Death on the TV show “Family Guy.”

After showing his first efforts to his wife, Courtney, and friends, for support and approval, he continued to edit the script. Within two months of its completion, the movie was already in production, which Yagmin describes as “a whirlwind.”

“The whole process was very surreal,” he said.

Off and running

Filming commenced in January 2014, with a five-person production staff, including Bryan McKay as cinematographer; Andrea Wolanin as co-producer; A.J. Rahn and Trinity Patterson as production assistants; and Dan McGahey as sound mixer/boom operator, along with three actors and several extras.

“Dark Roast” took about six hours to film, and three months to edit.

“Everyone involved — this was a side project for them,” Yagmin said. McKay is a freelance photographer and journalist; Wolanin and Rahn both work at WGBH, a PBS member station in Boston; Patterson recently graduated from the Museum School of Fine Arts and is traveling the world; and McGahey is a Mac specialist for Apple.

Thanks to the volunteer labor, Yagmin says, he was able to keep production costs low, about $200, which came out of his pocket.

“The bulk of production costs was for some equipment (storage media, tripod, etc.), which I’ll eventually use for other productions, and feeding extras,” Yagmin said.

Yagmin entered the film in 29 festivals, and, to date, it has been officially selected seven times. It was also nominated for Best New England Film from the Massachusetts Independent Film Festival.

From the beginning, Yagmin says, it was the Northampton International Film Festival and the Massachusetts Independent Film Festival that were most important to him.

“I said, ‘If I can get into those I don’t care about anything else,’ Yagmin said. “To be able to leave home and create something influenced by that and bring it back and share it with the arts and culture community that influenced me, is something really, special to me.”

Gabrielle Chanel, a member of the Northampton International Film Fest Board of Directors says the festival receives between 160 and 250 submissions every year. A five-member board of directors decides which films will be shown.

“Generally films are based on our immediate reaction,” Chanel said in a phone interview. “I think collectively everyone thought [“Dark Roast”] was a cute take on relationships; it made us all laugh out loud.”

Yagmin says response to the film has been overwhelming.

“It’s so humbling. I’m very flattered every time that anyone would think that this silly little idea I had one evening, that they want it in their festival,” Yagmin said. “It’s thrilling every time.”

Yagmin says he is currently brainstorming a web series about the grim reaper and the devil, titled “Luce and Grim.”