Devil’s advocate: A Thousand Island takes a wicked turn in new Amazon film
HAMMOND — An island off Chippewa Bay is the star attraction in a horror film that has arrived on Amazon Prime.
The rocky retreat of Elm Tree Island has been in the Yates family for more than 70 years. Current owners Cliff Yates and his wife, Alba, always thought it’d be a good setting for a film.
The Yates spend the summer months on the narrow island, which is about 100 yards long. It has been in Cliff Yates’s family since the 1940s.
“Devil’s Island” was filmed in August of 2020 on the island by New Zealand Son Films, a father and son team that since 2015 has created feature films and television series for Amazon worldwide. “Devil’s Island” is the 12th film made together by Sean King, and his son, Taylor, age 26.
The tag line of “Devil’s Island”: “When a young woman inherits an island from her grandparents, she discovers the locals are hiding a dark secret.” It’s available worldwide on Amazon.
Mr. Yates is a native of Caledonia, Livingston County. He spent 35 years as a police officer; five with the Livingston County Sheriff’s department and 30 years in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
“During that time, I was also acting and doing stand-up comedy,” Mr. Yates said in a phone interview from his home in Florida, where he and his wife, Alda, moved to 18 months ago following retirement. Mr. Yates retired as a sergeant. Alda also retired from the Los Angeles department, as a deputy sheriff. They both have roles in “Devil’s Island.”
While in L.A., Mr. Yates once auditioned for a film being made by the Kings.
“They cast me in the role,” Mr. Yates said. “I played a hit man. We developed a relationship. I said, ‘You know, I have this island we spend summers at. I think it’d be a great location for a movie.’”
We heard about it then,” Sean King said. “And Cliff would also Facetime us from the island, saying, ‘Guys! You gotta come and make a film here!’”
“Pre-COVID, we came up with this script and we were in the works to make it happen,” Mr. King said.
But once the pandemic hit with full force in the spring of 2020, that plan had to be adjusted.
“When COVID hit in March, we thought there was no way COVID would still be around in August,” Mr. King said, recalling 2020. “But sure enough, it was.”
So, the movie they planned to make had to take a different track.
“The film we made was not the film we intended to make,” Mr. King said. “There was about 30 pages and two thirds of the cast cut out of the film because COVID was COVID and we had to get down to a small little film.”
The Kings and the film team arrived in August of 2020, landing at Syracuse Hancock International Airport.
“There were literally people there to meet us as we got off the plane to make sure we were going somewhere where we could quarantine,” Mr. King said. “We said, ‘Ya — we’re going to an island.’”
Scenery and spiders
It was the first time in the Thousand Islands area for the Kings and the film team.
“It’s a really amazing place,” Mr. King said. “I think for a lot of people, they didn’t even know it existed.”
Taylor King said he was impressed by things other than the scenery.
“I’ve also never seen spiders so big in my life,” he said. “One got in the house one night and you could hear the footsteps of the spider.”
The film team was also challenged by the weather, Taylor King said.
“Any given day you’d wake up — and what the weather plan was — it was not what it was actually going to be for the day, or half way through the day,” Taylor said. “And it happens quick. The sky would go dark and start to rain, and then it’d clear up and it’s just be gone. I’ve never seen weather change that quick before.”
As the team got ready to film, the Kings had to replace the film’s lead actress.
“She was having COVID problems back in L.A.; the problems it was causing with finances, her relationships, and where she was living.”
The lead actress who was cast for “Devil’s Island, Kat Alexandra, didn’t even know about the film 48 hours before being hired.
Another actor in the film, Kristjan Sokoli, is a native of Albania and played for four teams in the NFL: Seattle Seahawks, Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints and New York Giants. He played college football at the University at Buffalo.
The crew only had nine days to shoot on Elm Tree Island.
“Usually, our average shoot days is 30,” Sean King said.
Because of such restrictions, the “big ending” planned in the original concept for the film could not happen.
“So we did an ending that leaves more questions than probably answers,” Sean King said. “But this is true of any film you make. You have to make the film that you’re given on that day and it never is the film you intend to make. It becomes a version of the film you intend to make.”
A sequel is a slight possibility.
“It depends on how well it does,” Sean King said. “It’s actually doing pretty well. We’re not particularly happy with it, because we know what we intended to do.”
But they could come back to the Thousand Islands for a totally different project.
“I think if we went back to make another film, it would be fun to do maybe a romantic comedy, or do something exactly the opposite of what we did so we’re not repeating ourselves,” Sean King said.
But one side effect of the making of “Devil’s Island” was a change of location of where New Zealand Son Films is now based. It was previously based in Los Angeles.
“Because of that film and my wife being there with us on that trip, we ended up moving to North Carolina,” Sean King said. “She was like, ‘We need to move somewhere where there are some trees and nice people.’ But she didn’t want to have the New York winter, so we moved here for two years to North Carolina while we’re waiting out to see what’s going to happen in L.A.”
The father-and-son film team alternate tasks when it comes to duties for their projects, with the pair taking turns writing and directing. Besides California, they’ve also filmed in Nevada, Arizona, Scotland and Bogotá, Colombia.
“It’s just wanting to entertain,” Taylor said of his inspiration. “More prevalent in our lives, especially with COVID, is that people just need to escape for a little bit. So, if we can be some part of that where we can entertain people for an hour, and hour-and-a-half, or however long, we’re doing our jobs.”