Award-winning director Stephen Kinigopoulos of Running Bear Films is right where he wants to be — at home in Howard County shooting a drama thriller feature entitled "Fishbowl."
Set in a small town filled with secrets, Stephen said "Fishbowl" tells the story of a father (played by Rick Kain) preparing his three teen daughters (Belle Shickle, Emily Peachey and Caroline Coleman) for the Rapture in hopes of reuniting with his deceased wife.
The 28-year-old artist is staying at his parents' home in Ellicott City, where he and his sister and "Fishbowl" co-director, Alexa Kinigopoulos, 25, were raised.
Alexa said she realized making their own feature was really happening back at work in New Orleans, handing a prop gun to actor Scott Bakula, when Stephen called excited to announce that he'd written the script. She left her full-time job working props on the set of "NCIS: New Orleans" to share in Stephen's vision. (When the film wraps, she plans on splitting time between Howard County and her new home in Nashville.)
The concept for "Fishbowl" grew from a photography-turned-video project Alexa set up with three friends in Catholic school uniforms exploring a "struggle between young women, their sexuality and faith."
Alexa and Stephen invited their friend and cinematographer Levi Magyar to a shoot at Howard High School when she was visiting from New Orleans last July.
"We shot footage because we brought Levi," she said. "We made a little teaser [of the same name as the film] and people went nuts on social media."
Alex said her brother is the creative storyteller on the project, she is very stylized as a director and Magyar is an "extremely technical" cinematographer.
Receiving artistic and financial support from a loving family and friends in the industry and in his hometown are making the film possible, Stephen Kinigopoulos said. His grandparents, Jerry and Micheline Rosenthal of Montgomery County, are 50 percent investors; George Kinigopoulos, their dad, is managing partner.
Their mother, Janice Kinigopoulos (a film industry hairdresser and makeup artist) is on set; the siblings credit her as the source of their creative DNA. Alexa said Janice inspired her visual style as a photographer and artist.
"We do not show the colors black and blue in the film and red is used specifically," Alexa Kinigopoulos said. "It's a pastel, floral, earth tone world and I'm loving it."
A graduate of Full Sail University, Stephen Kinigopoulos landed his first film job in New Orleans as a production assistant for "Killing Them Softly" (2012) starring Brad Pitt.
He's worked in art and production departments, as a grip; and as a writer, director, producer and editor of commercials and his own projects, including short films ["Size Matters" (2012), "Based on Rosenthal" (2014) and "Jackdaw" (2015)].
Kinigopoulos directed and edited "The Confidential Informant" (2015), written by television writer and producer George Pelecanos [HBO's "The Wire" (2002-2008) and "The Deuce" (summer 2017)]. A 20-minute drama, "The Confidential Informant" won the Rosebud Audience Award in Arlington, took Outstanding Local Film at the 2015 DC Shorts Film Festival and was the official selection of numerous film and video festivals in 2015 and 2016.
Pelecanos said he's known George Kinigopoulos since the two men were teens. He met Janice Kinigopoulos ("one of the best hair stylists in the movie industry") and Stephen (who said he was a kid "watching the director's dog") on the set of "The Wire."
Pelecanos has been to several "Fishbowl" shoots. Stephen Kinigopoulos, who considers Pelecanos a mentor, said his presence "means the world to the crew."
Pelecanos said he loves watching Stephen and Alexa develop as artists.
"The film is all theirs; it's their vision," Pelecanos said. "I want them to experience all this on their own and they're doing a great job."
Neighbors have likely noticed their filming activity at the home of Allen and Darrell Ridgley on Frederick Road. Stephen said he met the Ridgleys for the first time when he approached them about filming there and was welcomed with "open arms."
On camera, the Ridgley house becomes the home of "Fishbowl" hero Rick Simon, played by career actor Kain [The Purge: Election Year (2016), Miss Sloane (2016) and Jackie (2016)].
"Rick was there for the photo shoot and we kept him on for the feature film," Stephen Kinigopoulos said.
Kain said he first met the young filmmaker through Kyle Crosby, a producer for "The Confidential Informant," for which Kain coordinated stunts.
"Stephen and Alexa are immensely talented," Kain said. "They're people you want to work with."
A resident of Sykesville, Kain said there is "an underutilized talent pool in Howard County."
"Our music and drama teachers are exceptional at our high schools and at Howard Community College," he said.
Stephen Kinigopoulos said the cast and crew are also filming scenes at the home of Ed Sanchez, director of "The Blair Witch Project" (2010).
"This isn't an everyday thing," Kinigopoulos said. "I think the last film that was shot here was 'Cry Baby' by John Waters, so when people hear about a movie being made, they are excited and more than willing to help."
Ellicott City resident Lance Lewman, president of SAG-AFTRA Washington-Mid Atlantic Local, said he was cast in the supporting role of Gary Carter through Pat Moran Casting.
A theater advisor for schools in Howard County since 2002, Lewman discovered on set that he was reuniting with Alexa and her cousin, Zoey Hammer (who is assistant production coordinator); he'd worked with both young women at Riverdale High School. He said he is excited about the film.
"For their first feature film, they are doing beautiful, professional work and I'm delighted to be a part of it," he said. "They're a dream team."
Also appearing in "Fishbowl" are Eli Benamor, Bob Gamse, Kristin Schneider, Larry Stokes and Adele Marie.
"For smaller roles, I have used people I know that match the character and don't have to do anything but be themselves," Stephen Kinigopoulos said.
While working on the sets of "the bigger movies," Kinigopoulos said he and Alexa have met some "amazing talented people." Some of those friends have flown in from Los Angeles, Austin, Atlanta, New York and New Orleans and are staying for up to a month, he said, to be part of a "major dream."
"Stephen is a really talented editor who can turn anything into a story and make you feel something," Alexa Kinigopoulos said. "He's a free spirit and very creative."
The siblings hope to wrap up production in about three months with a screening at the Landmark Theater in Baltimore.
"Magical things happen when you don't hold back and go for what you want, and Stephen and I have never been shy," Alexa Kinigopoulos said.