Ethan Paisley called it a surreal moment. The Petaluma teen had received a picture that showed the poster of his first film, “The Art of Escape,” on a building in Singapore.
Somehow, the rookie narrative that Paisley had put together a year ago had been selected to play at a film festival across the globe, marking just one of the milestones the 16-year-old has reached in his incipient career.
Currently, Paisley heads Take18 Entertainment, a teenager-run production company based in Petaluma, and has his second feature film, “Point 453,” debuting Jan. 13. But before discovering the beauty of collaboration and an interest in social work, Paisley pursued his passion alone.
The Petaluma native originally began his career in front of the camera before discovering an interest in the technical side of film. He soon began producing his own YouTube videos, which eventually led to creating narrative bodies of work in the form of both short and feature-length films.
Paisley has also studied cinematography at the Marin School of the Arts for three years. By collaborating with like-minded teenagers from all over the Bay Area, Paisley was able to create Take18 — a nod to the fact that no one at the company is over 18 years old — and put his stories, skills and interests to the test. The company also offers services such as head shots for actors, website design, event filming and producing commercials.
From small beginnings, Take18 has proved itself to be a talented company capable of producing a wide range of narrative films. Highlights include “The Egoic Trinity,” a mind-melting short about the human conscious; “(Dis)connected,” which studies a day in the life of four individuals who have become isolated through the use of social media; and, most recently, “Playing the Game,” a short that focuses on human trafficking in the Bay Area.
From the graffitied buildings to the historic downtown neighborhoods and the rolling hills beyond, the natural beauty and ambiance of the Petaluma area grounds Paisley’s somber narratives in everyday life.
The company’s latest feature film, “Point 453,” follows the story of Darren, a boy trying to come to terms with his mental illness even as he is rejected and isolated by his friends and family. The film continues the company’s pattern of bringing attention to social issues through their narrative work.
“ ‘Point 453’ is about humanity and family, and it sheds light on the challenges that bipolar disorder can present,” Paisley said. “But in that, I think it’s kind of universal in the way it shows how bipolar disorder can affect the household, how it can affect us in families, friendships, relationships, and it’s really about spreading awareness for bipolar disorder. But I also think it’s just a movie about life, to sum it up.”
The film will premiere at a bipolar awareness event in San Rafael, also spearheaded by a Marin School of the Arts creator, Rachael Jones. Jones and Paisley have teamed up for a night that includes presentations from nonprofits and local art students, exploring the medium of art as therapy while reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness.
In spite of the somber nature of Take18’s films, finding actors to portray such roles has never been an issue.
“A lot of our work is serious, but the people we work with, they’re usually flexible with anything,” Paisley said. “I think it’s difficult just for us as a team to work on these subjects and talk about them, and I think that’s what allows us to pursue these endeavors, is just that everyone is so passionate and so willing to delve into that.”