SCRANTON – In front of the camera, Blakely native John Kilker is bringing to life his story of how one man overcomes fear to unlock a part of his mind that gives him superpowers. Behind the scenes, he’s unlocking the potential of a new breed of filmmakers and crew members from northeastern Pennsylvania.

Kilker, 39, began filming Monday on “The Paragon Cortex.” The story follows Val Durant, a secluded attorney who hasn’t left his home in years with the exception of precisely planned trips.

Durant falls one night after attending an unexpected party, hitting his head and unlocking a part of his brain that gives him incredible powers that he can use only in the confines of his home. The cortex is surrounded by parts of the brain that register fear, Durant learns, inhibiting his abilities.

“Just like ‘Shaun of the Dead’ is a romantic comedy told against zombie beats, this is a story about a guy who needs to connect to the world told against comic book beats,” Kilker explained.

The Water Gap Pictures film is financed entirely through private equity and is being produced by Christian Huennebeck and JVW Inc. CEO Joe Van Wie.

Shooting will take place at the former Holy Rosary School in North Scranton, a private Wilkes-Barre townhouse, Global Truck and Parts Export in Archbald, Comics on the Green, the former Capitol Records Building in Scranton, Blu Wasabi in Dickson City, and Stirna’s Restaurant in Scranton, among other locations in the region, according to Van Wie.

With local scenery providing a backdrop, many of the nearly 60 crew members providing transportation, lighting, and grip services to the film are also from the area.

“We went above and beyond our means to hire local production companies,” Van Wie said. “We felt that if we were making films here, the money should be left in the community.”

With 20 days of production planned over the four-week shoot comprised of six-day weeks and 12-hour days, the goal is make a great film and offer professional experience to those interested in the industry.

Kilker said he doesn’t want people from the area to have to wait for a “bombshell” moment like he did when he learned years ago that you can make movies for a living. The opportunity was never truly realized until he attended and later graduated from the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts.

“It’s hard to state just how important it is (to hire local talent),” Kilker, a Green Ridge resident since 2008, said. “My entire life, there were always people that for whatever reason said, ‘We’ll give you an opportunity.’

“Because of Christian and my and Joe’s experience in making movies, we’re running this in the same way you would run a $200 million set. It’s less crew, but it’s the same professionalism being brought to it. Anyone who leaves here will not be clueless and that, to me, means the world,” he said.

As a college student, if he had been given the opportunities that he’s now creating in the area, Kilker said, “I would have been all over it like a fat kid on a cupcake.

“To share that with the area that has raised me and treated me incredibly well, there will never be enough ways for me to say ‘thank you.’”

Those thanks go out to local vendors and businesses offering services and locations to film “The Paragon Cortex” and to local elected officials who have offered overwhelming verbal support. No government funding, Kilker said, has supported the project.

The importance of the experience certainly isn’t lost on Kevin Regan and Marissa Von Laibach.

Regan, a 24-year-old Old Forge resident who is serving as the script and continuity advisor, learned of the off-camera opening through a friend.

“It’s awesome,” he said of his first time on a live set. “It’s basically getting up early every day and loving what you’re doing. I’m having a blast.”

Regan was recently accepted into USC’s program for writing for screen and television, a move he’ll make later this year with the eventual goal of selling scripts for film and television. He’ll walk into class with more experience than most.

“This gives me the best perspective of the film industry that I could possibly have,” he said.

Lackawanna College educator Andy Kurilla informed Von Laibach, 20, about the local film project.

“Thanks to him, I’m here, and I’m very happy about that,” she said.

A 2009 graduate of Webutuck High School in Amenia, N.Y., and current Peckville resident, Von Laibach said she was surprised to hear about productions like “The Paragon Cortex” happening in the area. She operated a boom mic on Wednesday while working with an international crew drawing talent from Scotland, Germany, and other countries to gain once-in-a-lifetime experience as a student.

“I feel like I’m really helping out. I’ve never gotten any other opportunity like this… to be a part of something that’s going to be really great in the end.”

Local support meet & greet
Vendors and individuals aiding production of ‘The Paragon Cortex’ include The Clarion Hotel, Scranton; Production Inc., Stirna’s Restaurant; Kris Jones; Blu Wasabi; and Global Truck Parts.

WHAT: Meet the cast and crew of ‘The Paragon Cortex’

WHEN: Fri., March 23, 5-7 p.m.

WHERE: The Clarion Hotel, 300 Meadow Ave., Scranton

INFO: Interact with writer/director John Kilker, producer Joe Van Wie, and all available cast and crew members of the film currently being shot in northeastern Pennsylvania.

Chris Hughes
Go Lackawanna