FACT TV broadens its mission with 'Strange Events at the Vilas Bridge'

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BELLOWS FALLS — Alex Stradling and Mike Smith had an idea to raise community involvement in Bellows Falls.

The two run the local television station, Falls Area Community TV, Stradling as the stations executive director and Smith as the board's president. FACT TV teaches young and old alike how to work in the broadcast industry. The station also films local town events like Select Board meetings. Lately, however, the station has been branching out into entertainment-based shows. From religion talk shows to news, to shows examining horror, FACT TV is expanding its brand.

In November, the station debuted a fictional series. "Strange Events at the Vilas Bridge," is a roughly 49-minute show that feels like a small movie. Only the first episode has been produced and aired, but Stradling hopes to film the next episode in spring.

Stradling said the station worked together to pair experienced actors and crews with beginners.

The first episode stars four teenagers who work together to uncover the Vilas Bridge's supernatural past. The episode has teenagers and adults working all aspects of the production.

Collin Kimball, who plays Kiernan, said that the episode exemplified what it's like to work at FACT TV. Kimball, who is now 19, started working at FACT TV in high school as an intern. The station had done a presentation in one of his classes and he knew the opportunity was too good to pass up on. Now he works at the station full-time.

While he's not usually an actor he said he enjoys it. "I enjoy being in front of the camera more than my coworkers," he said.

He volunteers to perform when the station is running short on actors. Working at FACT TV gives him the opportunity to try on all types of hats. He likes the variety and the experience FACT TV gives him.

"Sometimes it can be boring, like any job," Kimball said. But working at FACT TV, he admitted, is more enjoyable than other jobs.

The "Strange Events at the Vilas Bridge" episode was especially fun to work on, he said. "When you get four teenagers together — an 11-year-old, a 15-year-old, a 16-year-old and a 19-year-old, it's a party."

Kimball said he's excited to help work on the next episode of the production.

Andrew Malshuk, who plays Drew, agreed that the episode was fun to work on. Malshuk prefers working behind the camera. He hangs out at FACT TV frequently.

"It's a great opportunity," he said. The organization has given him countless skills. When he gets out of school, he's certain that his experience at FACT TV will boost his resume.

Kevin O'Connor, a freelancer at FACT TV known as KMO, played one of the few adult roles in the production, Deputy Dan, a dirty, drug-dealing, cop who arrests the protagonists at one point.

O'Connor said he enjoyed the role. He described the project as a, "good learning experience." The team discovered what time of day was best to film, how to manage actors, and how to film on location. He didn't get to interact with the teenagers much, but he described them as a "very tight-knit unit."

He enjoyed it so much that he's writing the next episode of "Strange Events at the Vilas Bridge." The next episode will continue with most of the same characters, he said.

One of his new additions will be a larger role for an adult woman. In the first episode, the main adult female character had a small role as a mother suffering from addiction.

"Some fair play calls for it," O'Connor said of the new role, but said he wasn't adding it simply for diversity's sake. "The character came before the justification," he said.

While O'Connor said he hasn't utilized FACT TV as much as he could, he said it was a good place for people who are willing to take initiative.

The studio has final cut pro and access to cameras. Anyone can come make a show he said, but it takes special training to take the camera's out into the field.

Since he's been working for FACT TV, O'Connor said he hadn't seen the station try anything like Strange Events at the Vilas Bridge. He hopes it helps raise the station's profile and brings the community together. The greater falls community serves as a rich background for production, he said.

"It's gorgeous," he said. "There's all these lovely old buildings."

Stradling said he's looking for community members who want to be a part of the next episode. If you're interested in particpating reach put to FACT TV at alex@fact8.com or 802-463-1613.

Harmony Birch can be reached at hbirch@reformer.com, at @Birchharmony on Twitter and 802-254-2311, Ext. 153.


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