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Filmmakers plan to share expertise at Sandpoint institute

Ted Parvin, center, chairman of the Northwest Film Institute, participates in promotional footage for a screenwriting competition in Sandpoint last Thursday. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Ted Parvin, center, chairman of the Northwest Film Institute, participates in promotional footage for a screenwriting competition in Sandpoint last Thursday. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

When Ted Parvin was a young costumer on the 1960 Alfred Hitchcock movie “Psycho,” he took every opportunity to ask questions of the director and learn from a pro.

Now 79, the Sandpoint man would like to teach others what he’s learned during decades in the movie industry, in jobs including producer, director and scriptwriter. Parvin and a group of North Idaho film industry professionals have been working for several years to create a graduate-level film school in Sandpoint.

“The idea is to be able to mentor people,” said Parvin, whose credits include “Around the World in 80 Days,” “The Birds” and “Romancing the Stone.” “There were people who were willing to teach me. I want to pass that on.”

The Northwest Film Institute would be a one-year program with 40-hour weeks divided between classroom instruction and hands-on moviemaking experience. Students would work in a studio stocked with equipment and available around the clock. Tuition would be $26,000 for a year. Shorter, more introductory courses would be offered, too.

Led by Parvin, the institute’s board of directors also comprises Erik Daarstad, an Academy Award-winning documentarian; Paul Castro, a screenwriter and university professor whose most recent credit is 2007’s “August Rush”; Carol Trusz, an award-winning wildlife filmmaker; David Hussey, an independent filmmaker formerly with PBS; Pat Ficek, an entrepreneur turned independent filmmaker; and Mitchell Fullerton, former president of a motion picture marketing company.

“There’s a plethora of writers and artists in that area,” Castro said in a phone interview from Los Angeles, where he teaches screenwriting at the University of California-Los Angeles. “It’s just brilliant. There’s a lot of wonderful imagination and an abundance of creativity in that area.”

Castro, who frequently visits North Idaho, said that with the proliferation of media seeking content, from the Internet to cable to video, there will be “a lot of wonderful opportunities and avenues for anyone graduating” from film school.

The film institute commissioned a feasibility study in 2008 that showed a projected growth of most film industry jobs of about 20 percent from 2006 to 2016 and salary growth of about 11 percent during the same period. The study also showed that film schools received many more applications for admission than they accepted.

The institute originally projected accepting the first students next fall, but Parvin said the recession has been a setback. The group needs to raise several hundred thousand dollars before it can open its doors. Fullerton said about $3 million will be needed to run the school for its first few years, before it becomes self-sustaining through tuition.

In addition to applying for grants and donations, the group has launched a screenwriting competition to raise funds. Screenplays in three categories will be judged by professionals in the industry, with a top prize of $2,500 going to the best feature-length film and additional prizes in other categories. Scripts are not being accepted yet.

The group has identified a Sandpoint building that could serve as the film institute. A former emergency medical technician building across from Bonner General Hospital has space for a sound stage, offices and classrooms, board members said. “The goal of the whole board is to get this thing off the ground,” Fullerton said.

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