"Up Country" tells the story of three friends who are left stranded in the North Woods with nothing but each other to survive.
A still from “Up Country,” a film by Waldoboro native Lucas McNelly. The film will have its world premiere at The Waldo Theater on Tuesday, June 6. Credit: Courtesy of Lucas McNelly

A fishing trip gone horribly wrong will play out on the big screen, as filmmaker Lucas McNelly premieres “Up Country” at The Waldo Theatre on Tuesday.

After finding himself back in his native Waldoboro in the early-aughts, McNelly, now a Damariscotta resident, started kicking around ideas for a film that could be put together on a miniscule budget. The result was “Up Country,” a story of three friends who hire a guide to take them fishing in the northern Maine woods. The story goes sideways, however, when the guide steals their gear, leaving the men stranded in the middle of nowhere with nothing but each other.

A detailed outline and a $5,000 Kickstarter campaign later, McNelly recruited a small cast and crew to film the movie at his family’s hunting camp in Aroostook County.

“I’ve always known that would be a good location for a film like this, so it was always in the back of my mind,” McNelly said. “I structured the story around this location and the landmarks nearby.”

Portraying the unfortunate trio of friends are actor and R&B singer Kieran Roberts, well-known indie favorite Jonny Mars and Tyler Peck, a Boston-based actor who has since made the move out west.

For the vital role of the thieving guide who is none too pleased to drag tourists to his fishing spot, McNelly cast someone a little closer to home – his father, Jeff.

 “Up Country” was both a joy and a nightmare to make, McNelly said. Between daily rain, a sick boom operator and an accidental run in with bear hunters, shooting the film had its share of obstacles, which led to creative solutions.

“Just like any film, we had to adapt to things on the fly and in some ways it’s easier in the middle of the woods — there’s no traffic, there’s no neighbor mowing their lawn — but also you’re in the middle of nowhere, so if you have an issue with your batteries or equipment gets wet, you’re kind of screwed,” McNelly said. “But you can literally walk 20 feet, and it’s a new location, which is helpful.”

Filming wrapped in 2010 and was followed by a long editing process.

“On a project like this, there’s no money to spend four months or whatever editing full time. So you have to work on it around other things,” McNelly said. “We were set to premiere at a festival, and I was looking into flights to Philadelphia to finish the sound mix when we got bumped from the festival. So the sound mix had to go on the back burner in favor of paying gigs.”

When McNelly lost the computer with Final Cut Pro 7, a now-discontinued video-editing software, he feared the film was gone. It wasn’t until the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic that he was able to resurrect the footage and finish the film over a decade later.

The Waldo Theatre is the perfect place for the premiere of “Up Country,” McNelly said.

“I’ve always wanted to screen it at The Waldo,” McNelly said. “I grew up in Waldoboro and I love what they’ve been able to do to restore the theater. I think it’s essential to have a place like that in a community. I would love to screen all of my films there for years to come.”

One of those future films will be “Maine Noir,” which centers on a woman and her daughter who get a fresh start after moving into a house they inherited in Waldoboro. After someone breaks in one night, they discover that not only is there $3 million hidden in the walls of their new home, but someone wants their money back.

McNelly wrote the script and fundraised for the film in 2021 with plans to film in September of that year. Delays and personnel changes have shifted the shoot dates, and McNelly hopes to film this summer if the pieces come together.

“We’re pushing the boulder up the hill,” McNelly said. “We’ll get there.”

“Up Country” will screen at The Waldo Theatre at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 the day of the show. For more information or to purchase tickets, go to thewaldotheatre.org.

This story appears through a media partnership with The Lincoln County News.