WHITEFISH – Tinseltown will converge on the ski town of Whitefish this month as shooting begins on an independent “unromantic” comedy set in a beach-themed coffee shop staffed by bikini-clad baristas.

Sound incongruous? The producers of “The Thin Line” think so, too, and they’re convinced the absurdity of the low-budget film will appeal to a broad audience and strike a comedic chord.

“One of the things that I love about the movie is the incongruity. A beach-themed coffee shop in a mountain town? It was sort of a happy accident,” said Billy Thompson, who is overseeing the film’s casting and music, and recently moved to Whitefish from San Diego.

Since 2007, Thompson has visited Whitefish to work as musical director for various Alpine Theater Project productions. During one production, his brother, Neil Thompson, the film’s writer and director, paid him a visit from Los Angeles and was “captivated.” When it came time to choose a location for “The Thin Line,” the brothers settled on Whitefish, which will be prominently showcased in the film.

“Whitefish will be playing itself,” Thompson said. “The only thing not authentic to Whitefish is the beach-themed coffee shop, but everything else will be set at Whitefish locations with Whitefish scenery. If we get distribution like we hope, it will benefit Whitefish.”

So too thought the Montana Film Office, which provided a grant to the production crew, while local businesses and hoteliers are helping to accommodate the crew in exchange for the exposure during shoulder season in the resort town.

“It will be mutually beneficial,” Thompson said, pointing to the popularity that Forks, Wash., gained after the “Twilight” films and book series were set there.

They’re casting local talent, as well as actors from Los Angeles, and will be hiring production crew members locally to fill out the ensemble of roughly 40 employees, he said.

It’s also cheaper to shoot the film in Montana than in Los Angeles and, coupled with tax incentives from the state and the Montana Film Office grant, the low cost appealed to the filmmakers, who are working with an “ultra-low budget,” Thompson said. The budget was too low for Hollywood studios to consider producing it, so the brothers decided to produce it as an independent film. A third Thompson brother, Eldon, co-wrote the script.

Jay Thames is the producer and Eric Powell is the editor, while Neil Thompson will be making his directorial debut on a feature film. In 2009 he directed a short film, “Thorns,” using the same production team.

Filming of “The Thin Line” begins April 22 and runs through May 10. It’s an 18-day shoot, and the crew will work 10 hours a day, six days a week.

“The Thin Line” opens with the unsuccessful and darkly comic suicide attempt of the film’s 24-year-old protagonist, a strikingly beautiful woman named Jessica. She leaves her city life to escape the clutches of her abusively domineering father and pregnant 15-year-old sister, who, she learns, has been sleeping with her boyfriend, precipitating the dissolution of the latest in a series of failed relationships.

She goes to work at the Whitefish coffee shop, The Bean, where the baristas wear bikinis and daisy dukes. There she meets Robert, a dark, brooding, misanthropic malcontent and coffee shop regular, with whom she falls in love, despite actively disliking him. Through her relationship with Robert, she discovers a path toward self-discovery.

“The story is about Jessica discovering her independence,” Thompson said. “It is very much a movie about women empowerment, even though it takes place in a beach-themed coffee shop. There’s something for everyone.”

Thompson said the film will be submitted to Sundance and other film festivals, and is hopeful that it has the potential to be the next low-budget, independent hit, a la “Little Miss Sunshine” or “Juno.”

“We are confident we can achieve it,” he said.

Locals interested in casting or production can learn more about submissions online at gastonic.com/casting.

Reach Tristan Scott at @tristanscott, at tristan.scott@missoulian.com or at (406) 531-9745.

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