Arts and Entertainment

Kirkland filmmaker takes on suspense genre in new film

Kirkland filmmaker Doug Stapleton. - Contributed
Kirkland filmmaker Doug Stapleton.
— image credit: Contributed

After a late night of work in 2007, Doug Stapleton headed into the parking garage at Expedia’s Bellevue offices. Upon entering the nearly empty garage, two things struck him. The first was a sense of uneasiness — the feeling that he wasn’t alone. The second was, eventually, inspiration.

Flash forward to the present day. Stapleton quit his job at Expedia, earned a certification in film production from Bellevue College in 2008 and now works as an independent filmmaker while running his own production studio, Photo Finish Films.

And despite opening his studio just two years ago, the lifelong Kirkland resident has quickly incorporated himself into Seattle’s vibrant, tight-knit film community while emphasizing the necessity of local filmmaking.

“I want to produce my films locally, hire a local crew, work with local actors,” he said. “That’s important to me.”

Stapleton, 40, completed his first short film last year, the Mafia movie “Take 38,” and is now at work on his second, which he’s writing, directing and producing. Entitled “Deadline,” it was inspired by that disquieting walk to his car five years ago. (His fears, fortunately, were unfounded.)

Though his experiences sparked the concept for the movie, which centers on a woman forced to spend an unnerving late night in an abandoned office, he said his film’s general plot is universal.

“It’s really about how we as individuals manage our fear and what scares us,” he said. “It’s not a horror blood-and-guts type movie; it’s more of a suspense thriller. It’s got a Hitchcock kind of feel to it — lots of red herrings and twists and turns.”

To finance the film, which is still in its fund-raising phase, Stapleton started a campaign with Indiegogo, a funding platform. So far, he’s raised $4,700 of his $10,400 goal. He said that while finding money is always a struggle for independent filmmakers, he’s confident he’ll raise enough by the July 29 deadline. It also helps that he has the support of the local film community, whom he’s impressed with his leadership skills and business acumen, acquired through his years working in sales at Expedia.

“He hires the best people for the job, people who have the best credentials, and then gets out of the way to let you do the job for him,” said Aaron Levin, who worked as Stapleton’s casting director on “Take 38” and is a 51-year veteran of film and theater production. “Whether he’s new to the business or not, he’s someone you want to do your best job for, and there’s not many people who function like that.”

Russ Kay, an actor in “Take 38,” was similarly enthusiastic about Stapleton’s directorial skills, most notably his ability to strike a balance between taking charge of a project and letting others do their jobs.

“(Some directors) don’t want to take any input — they have a vision and they want to stick to the timeline and keep it moving along,” he said. “That wasn’t the case with Doug at all. He’s very organized. You don’t find that very often in film shoots.” Such high praise is encouraging for Stapleton, whose late start in film doesn’t faze him.

“There’s no one way to get to become a filmmaker,” he said, “and I think that my past career in business has only benefited me, because I can take the creative side and the business side. Film is very much a business.”

It’s an approach he’ll continue to take as he begins filming “Deadline” in late August as well as when he starts on his future projects: a series of web videos and a full-length film, both of which will be produced in Seattle. For more information about Stapleton’s films or to donate, visit

Andrew Gospe is a student in the UW News Lab.


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