Pictured is the normally-clean shaved Ralph Smith, left, playing Gary, and Tacoma actress Veronica Bauer playing Dawn, right. Photo by Amanda Kohler

Pictured is the normally-clean shaved Ralph Smith, left, playing Gary, and Tacoma actress Veronica Bauer playing Dawn, right. Photo by Amanda Kohler

Buckleyite finishes filming first movie on the Plateau

Ralph Smith’s movie, “Runaway”, is about a teenager who finds a mentor in a homeless veteran after she decides to take off on her own.

It’s always fun to see your hometown on the big screen.

That’s one of the reasons why local actor, and now director, Ralph Smith decided to use both Enumclaw and Buckley as backdrops in his upcoming film, “Runaway”.

Smith, whose talents can be appreciated in the 2015 TV series “Man in the High Castle” pilot episode and the upcoming movie “Language Arts”, said that the COVID-19 pandemic was a perfect time to shoot his script, which he wrote almost a decade ago.

“It was like somebody finding some sort of treasure,” Smith said of re-finding the script he wrote years ago, which happened as he and his wife were packing to move from Maple Valley to settle in Buckley earlier this summer.

The movie’s protagonists are Dawn (played by Tacoma actress Veronica Bauer) and Gary (played by Smith). After a horrible day of fighting with her best friend and being a typically angsty teen, Dawn decides to run away, thinking it would be better for her to live her life the way she wants to, rather than conform to the rules and structure set by those around her.

On the streets, Dawn gets on the bad side of a street pimp and has to find shelter — that’s how she meets Gary, a homeless veteran, who takes Dawn under his wing.

“As an Army veteran, the thing I really wrote into this character and into the script is that when you come out of the military, your oath doesn’t end,” Smith said. “You have that life-long sense of, ‘I need to protect the innocent and take care of the people around me.’”

Homelessness isn’t new to Smith, who experienced a brief bout when he was a teenager and nearly faced homelessness again after his first divorce, which was how he ended up moving to Washington in 2012.

Smith is also a father, and takes his role as protector seriously.

“For me, especially with all the stories about the exploitation of minors — the Epsteins and Weinsteins and stuff like that — I really wanted to bring some attention to that, and also bring attention to the homeless issue among veterans,” Smith continued. “I’ve met many a veteran that has been down that path.”

According to the U.S. Department of housing, there’s an estimated 40,000 homeless veterans in the country; the Polaris Project, which focuses on abolishing the systems that allow child trafficking to occur in the U.S., said they helped more than 22,000 survivors in 2019 alone.

Smith said whatever proceeds the film makes will be split between the cast, crew, and organizations that support survivors of child trafficking and veterans experiencing homelessness.

If you couldn’t already tell, “Runaway” isn’t a comedy, and if Smith does his job right, there will be tears.

But he also wants to make sure people, especially dads and daughters, recognize the lessons he’s trying to put in his film.

“Dads with daughters, anybody who has ever experienced homelessness, any military veterans, teenage kids who are at that point where they’re like, ‘I hate my parents and I hate being home, I hate being at school, it might be easier on my own’ — I want them to really look at this and say, ‘Wow, it’s a scary world out there, and things like this are actually going on.’ To stop and think about it,” Smith said.

When filming is finished (which was supposedly the end of August), Smith hopes the premier will be at the local Chalet Theater in January.

If you go, you may recognize a few shots from around town — namely, the alley behind the police station, the front of the Headworks Brewery building, and, most visibly, the Chalet itself.

Smith said he didn’t want Enumclaw to be the setting of the film, so he tried to avoid shooting very obvious landmarks (with the exception of the Chalet).

Still, “I’m sick and tired of Seattle and Tacoma getting all the attention,” he said, noting that it was far easier to film on the Plateau, where there are friendlier people and fewer crowds.

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