Actor Ethan McDowell, LHS grad, returns to Lovell for film festival

A lifetime love of movies has taken a former Lovell resident and Lovell High School graduate to the silver screen – and he’ll be in Lovell tonight (Thursday) to talk about his experiences as the sixth annual Hyart Film Festival opens.

Ethan McDowell, a 1998 graduate of Lovell High School, stars in the science fiction film “RZ-9” – the first feature length film to be shown at the festival. The 90-minute movie will be shown during tonight’s science fiction session along with short films “Schnitzel” and “Phoenix.”

McDowell also plays a leading role in the newly made science fiction film “Space Command Redemption,” continuing to build his acting resume. And it all began in Lovell, where McDowell lived for around seven years after moving with his family, father and mother Jon and Kim McDowell and brother Tyler.

Ethan McDowell
Ethan McDowell

“I’ve always loved movies,” McDowell said during an interview last week from Los Angeles. “Even in high school my buddies and I made a film as a book report for LB Kummerfeld’s class based on the short story ‘The Lottery.’

“Looking back, it (the film) was absolutely ridiculous. It was horrible. But it was a lot of fun.”

He also recalls a walk-on bit part in the Mustang Follies one year.

After two years at Northwest College, McDowell earned a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology and exercise sports science at the University of Wyoming, graduating in 2003.

During his senior year at UW he took a beginning acting class as an elective and said he did well in the class.

“The teacher said if I wanted to do something serious with it (acting), I should pursue it,” he said. “That was kind of neat to hear.”

McDowell moved to California and was working in the Antelope Valley area near Lancaster and Palmdale north of Los
Angeles when a friend of the family said the local community theater needed some stage help. He was happy to help as a stagehand.

“As I watched the actors they looked like they were having a great time,” he recalled. “Then a lady approached me and said they needed a cop and a waiter for ‘Guys and Dolls.’ I got involved with that play and even met my wife, Athena, who is an actress.”

McDowell continued to act, playing Jethro on stage in “The Beverly Hillbillies” – his first leading role. At that point, he had been bitten by the acting bug, and he and Athena decided to move to Los Angeles to pursue acting.

At first, McDowell mainly worked on and in short films, making some of his own and acting in others. He has worked as a producer, writer, director, editor and cinematographer, his work history shows, even acting with Athena in a couple of films.

At least two of his films have been shown at the Hyart Film Festival – “KnockDown DragOut” and “West Divided” – acting in the first film, a western, and making and acting in the second, which was set in Yellowstone.

“It’s a matter of getting your feet under you and figuring out how the business works,” he said. “When I made my own films it was a learning experience. I learned a lot from the production side. I enjoy directing and writing and producing, but it’s really a lot of work.

“Doing a film on no budget is a great learning experience, but if I were to get into directing again I’d do a lot more with pre-production – hashing out the script and casting. Right now I’m mainly acting.”

‘2020’ and ‘RZ-9’

About four years ago, director Iain Carson approached McDowell about a project to make a graphic novel come to life in the form of a short film, thus promoting the graphic novel. McDowell joined the project and “2020” was made, a science fiction film about a future civil war during which super soldiers known as Erasers pursue “terrorists.” McDowell played one of the Erasers.

“After we shot it, it had some successes at film festivals (including the Action on Film festival in Monrovia, Calif., and best science fiction film at last year’s Hyart Film Festival). People were responding,” McDowell said.

A man who works for a distribution company approached Carson and crew about making “2020” into a full-length feature, “so we went to the drawing board and made it happen,” McDowell said.

“RZ-9” was born, released just two months ago.

“We put ‘2020’ in the middle and stretched it at both ends for more depth with the characters and to see more of the heart instead of just guns and action,” McDowell said. “We used the same crew of friends, just got a lot more of them involved. It’s great to see friends up on the big screen.”

McDowell said “RZ-9” takes place after a terrorist attack demolishes L.A. during a future civil war. The government enacts martial law and sends Erasers after the rebels. A drone operator disagrees with how the government is responding, and when his name appears on a wanted list, he flees to the hills with his sister. McDowell plays an Eraser sent to track the pair down.

‘Space Command’

About three years ago McDowell filmed and submitted a taped audition for a new sci-fi project entitled “Space Command.” Over the next several months some 1,200 audition tapes were submitted. McDowell made the first cut, then the final 20, but was left out of the top five.

He figured it was a great experience to make it that far, then got an email from the writer and director Mark Scott Zicree, who asked him to audition for the part of Jack Kemmer. He went to the “call-back” and auditioned on the set of another science fiction movie, which he said was “a neat experience.” After another couple of months Zicree asked him to a dinner meeting with his wife, telling McDowell he was one of two finalists.

“After the meeting he shook my hand and said, ‘We think you’re the guy,’” McDowell said. “From that handshake he said, ‘What are you doing next weekend? I want you to go to Comic-Con in San Diego to be on a panel where we reveal the cast.”

The crew went to work making the movie, which McDowell said is the first of six planned films or could be made into a TV series. He said he was thrilled to be able to work with actors the caliber of Doug Jones from the series “Falling Skies,” Bill Mumy of “Lost in Space” fame (Will Robinson) and Robert Picardo of “Star Trek Voyager.”

“Space Command Redemption” is undergoing post-production work, and McDowell will attend Comic-Con 2015 in San Diego July 8-12 to promote the movie. He will also start filming his latest project, “The Letter Red,” as soon as he gets back to California from Lovell.

Is his career taking off?

“We’ll see. It’s a fun process,” he said, adding that festival director Jason Zeller’s vision to start a film festival at the Hyart is “an amazing idea” and that he is excited to attend.

As for Zeller, he said he’s been hoping to lure McDowell to Lovell for the festival for years and is “very happy he’s able to find time in his schedule to come.”

Zeller is pleased to host McDowell, who will be available after “RZ-9” tonight to visit with festival attendees and answer questions.

“I’ve been watching his films for years and they’ve gotten better and better,” Zeller said. “I have really high hopes that when Ethan McDowell shows up for the film festival (in the future) people will flock to it because he’s a big name actor.”

By David Peck