Web series shot locally, but viewed across the globe

Tony Casey • Dec 26, 2013 at 9:41 AM

How did Erwin resident Dustin Street come up with the idea for the Web series he created almost two years ago?

He said he was influenced by a recurring night terror he had when he was growing up.

That “monster under the bed” kind of dream, as he calls it, gave him the idea for his “The Stranger” series.

Big Small Town Studios, Street’s production company, features the 16-episode first season of the series at www.whoisthestranger.net. On average, the series racks up around 5,000 views per episode, with viewers coming from across the United States and globe.

With the entire first season filmed and ready to go out via the Internet, the group will take a brief hiatus from “The Stranger” to create a shorter season of a spin-off from one of the characters in the series, called “Mena.”

Co-executive producer Eric Doepel said “The Stranger” is a supernatural horror story with law enforcement elements, while “Mena” will be more of a dark and gritty drama. It is based on Mena’s childhood growing up in orphanages in the U.S. after her Russian parents gave her up for adoption just before being sent back to their home country. Both are fictional tales.

In early January, the crew plans to hold auditions for up to 20 roles, big and small, for “Mena.” As soon as the roles are filled, Doepel said production will start.

Aside from traditional acting positions, Doepel said there are still spots available to help with the production crew. All positions make strong resume-building material, he added.

Sabrina Kitto plays Mena on “The Stranger” and is excited with the opportunity to serve as the main character in the spin-off. There’s pressure she said, but she likes it, and has been working on her Russian accent to make sure everything is perfect.

All episodes are being shot in the Tri-Cities area, with local actors. Since Street was born and raised in Erwin, he said he has utilized connections he’s made over the years to help put the show together.

The Erwin Police Department has been “bend-over-backward” helpful in allowing the production crew and actors to use their offices to shoot scenes, and also to serve as free consultation with the law enforcement aspects of the show, Street said.

The local support doesn’t stop there.

Area business have been extremely helpful, too, Doepel said, nothing that The Plant Palace florist and Hawg-n-Dawg restaurant have let them shoot scenes for “The Stranger” in their establishments.

Below the Plant Palace, Doepel said, is a wonderfully creepy tunnel system with no natural light. The location served as a perfect spot for one of their shoots.

The area is ripe for that kind of production, Street said, and since he started advertising for his shows a few years ago, he’s noticed an uptick in interest.

Street said he hopes he’s part of a cultural shift toward acting and production. Changing technology, specifically the Internet, has helped the opportunities for people like him, he said. It’s no longer the case where you have to be in one of the major metropolitan hubs, like New York or Los Angeles to be a filmmaker.

“Everything has just felt like it’s happened at the right time,” Street said. “I want to see our little operation grow to recognition as a household name, here in this area first, but also on a much larger scale. I want to make a difference in people’s lives with the creative projects that we are now working on, plus those we have yet to begin.”

Help is needed, Doepel said. There was an initial fundraiser before the first season of “The Stranger” was shot, which took in about $5,000. That amount lasted through the first season, but since then, Doepel said they’ve been resourcefully operating on a thin budget.

Anyone interested in donating to the production company can check out “The Stranger” facebook page at www.facebook.com/thestrangeroffical. On the page, you can find a “give” section, which provides instructions on how to donate.

As for anyone interested in joining in the creation of “Mena,” you can get in touch with Street by sending him an email at menaseries@gmail.com.

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