LYNNWOOD — Independent films are difficult to complete.
That’s what a former Whidbey Island man will tell you. He should know.
Joseph Itaya’s movie “Lost & Found” — released by Sony Pictures and opening today at the AMC Loews Alderwood Mall 16 theater for a limited run — has been in the works for a long time.
In fact, Itaya, 37, started dreaming about the movie when he was a teenager on South Whidbey.
“Lost & Found” — an adventure feature that already has picked up some film festival awards for best family film of 2016 — was inspired by the island, Itaya said. It premiered Dec. 27 at The Clyde theater in Langley.
“That was really special for us,” Itaya said by phone this past week. “To come full circle and be at home to show the movie. I grew up watching movies at the Clyde, so it’s the coolest thing.”
“Lost & Found” is about two brothers who are sent to spend the summer on an island, where they embark on a treasure hunt to restore their family’s lost fortune.
“Great stories operate on different levels,” Itaya said. “It begins with an adventure, but it involves something much deeper than what the characters initially understand.”
The movie is a Hardy Boys and “Goonies” mash-up, and, in a digital age, a bit old-fashioned, said Itaya, who co-wrote, co-produced and directed the film.
“The story parallels my life a bit,” he said.
At age 10, Itaya moved with his family from Seattle to Whidbey Island. There, life was much different.
“We were city kids, and then pretty much all my brother and I could do was hop on our bikes and head down the country roads or get lost in the forests. It was spooky, because you never knew what you might find.”
After graduating from South Whidbey High School, Itaya earned a degree in music at the University of Washington and his master of fine arts degree in film, cinema and video studies from the University of Southern California.
Since then, Itaya has produced more than 100 commercials, music videos, documentary and narrative films. His work has appeared on broadcast television, in theatrical release and film festivals around the world. Itaya is the founder of Muse Academy of Arts in Santa Monica, where he teaches courses on film, virtual reality, screenwriting and music.
Timing is important in independent filmmaking, he said.
Itaya did a Kickstarter social media fundraiser for “Lost & Found.” He wanted to make the film on Whidbey, but found a friendlier financial situation in Ontario, Canada.
Film is the most difficult of art forms, Itaya said, primarily because you “need an army of people to get it done.”
“It’s all about money, the weather, the crew schedule and signing actors,” he said. “We were pushing the train as hard as we could in 2012, but it just did not come together. We still needed one great actor. This is the place where most independent movies fall apart.”
The fortunes reversed when actor Jason Patric (“The Lost Boys,” “Rush,” “Sleepers”) showed interest.
“I pitched my fanny off to Jason,” Itaya said. “It was intimidating because Patric is so well respected.”
Patric plays the alcoholic uncle of the brothers who come to stay with him on the island.
“He was amazing,” Itaya said. “A method actor, he got the emotional essence of each scene and just stayed there, staggering around, angry and intense.”
Cary Elwes (“The Princess Bride”) plays a sinister real estate developer and Celeste Desjardins portrays his lovely daughter.
The brothers are played by Justin Kelly (“Degrassi: The Next Generation”), a younger actor from Toronto, and Benjamin Stockham (“About a Boy”), whose parents wanted him involved in the project.
“Justin is the brooding brother and really the star of the movie,” Itaya said. “Benjamin is the bright, enthusiastic, nerdy little brother. Together they had great chemistry.”
In total, Itaya spent more than a decade trying to get the movie financed and made.
“It was my thesis project from USC film school. I have spent more of my life on this movie than anything,” he said. “When I started I had no idea how tough the odds were. Around 7,000 independent films are made each year and only a tiny percentage ever see distribution.”
“To receive the recognition of Sony Pictures was nothing short of a miracle.”
Rating: PG, for subject matter
Showing: Alderwood Mall