South Portland's Willard Beach saga goes national

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Life at Willard Beach is becoming an obsession for people as far away as California.

And it has nothing to do with dogs.

A group of local filmmakers are finding more and more cable stations are picking up their Internet series of three-minute comedies, “Willard Beach: The Real Story.”

The series begins its fourth season on Wednesday, Feb. 3, on WillardBeach.TV. Episodes will be uploaded every Wednesday until the first or second week of May. The series may also been seen on YouTube and downloaded from iTunes.

Meanwhile, cable stations in California, New York, Pennsylvania and Missouri are among several that have aired the wry, slice-of-life, situational comedy since its inception last spring.

The Willard Beach series is the brainchild of Kate Kaminski and Betsy Carson. The duo has used nearly 20 local actors in 39 different episodes since the first show aired on April 1, 2009.

“When we say ‘The Real Story,’ we have our tongues planted firmly in our checks,” Kaminski said.

Kaminski, a 53-year-old filmmaker who lives in the Willard Beach area, said the growing popularity of the series has producers and cast members thinking big.

“We have all kinds of plans for packaging this,” she said about putting the episodes on DVD and perhaps creating a feature-length show. “There’s life in this project.”

The Web series is not a sitcom in the traditional sense. There are no scripts or lines for actors to memorize. Instead, actors are given a set of personality traits for their characters and are simply put in a situation determined by Kaminski and Carson.

Then, the cameras start rolling.

Actor Keith Anctil, a 35-year-old Portland resident who also acts with The Escapists improv group, said the open format often allows for unexpected comedy and character development.

“In any given situation, the characters are responding naturally to a situation,” Anctil said. “We can give ourselves really fun stuff to play with, knowing how a character is likely to react.”

There are also few boundaries, he said.

“The fact that it’s improvised, there’s nobody there saying you can’t do that,” he said. “In fact, (Kaminski) and (Carson) sort of encourage that sort of behavior on-set, because that’s where the more interesting stuff comes from.”

Kaminski said she believes the project is appealing because of the freedom given to the actors. She described the series as John Cassavetes (a pioneer of independent film making and so-called method acting) meets Larry David (co-creator of “Seinfeld” and creator of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”).

“Everything is created in the moment, which is really exciting to watch,” she said. “So many surprising things happen.”

Kaminski said crews use two cameras to record three takes, which are then edited down into each three-minute episode. Scenes are shot entirely in the Portland area, including Willard Beach, The Q Street Diner, Empire Dine and Dance and Enterprise Records, among others.

Although previous seasons didn’t really have a thread tying the episodes together, Kaminski said the fourth season will seek to establish some continuity. The general arc of the series, she said, is that all of the characters are seeking love.

“It’s really a lot about people trying to hook up and the trials and tribulations that ensue,” she said.

The series plays off the small-town scenario where everybody knows – or is related to – everybody else. That experience, she said, essentially represents life in Maine, which has long been of interest to those from away.

“There’s a fascination with Maine,” Kaminski said. “We wanted to express the interconnectedness of the small town experience.

“And people are hungry for laughter,” she added.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or [email protected]

Sidebar Elements

“Willard Beach: The Real Story” cast members Brent Askari, left, Harris Cooley and Stephanie Doyle.