The Pirate King got into a dramatic sword fight with Piglet Willy on a tall ship.
The pirate may have met his match in the young boy, who jumped around in swashbuckling moves inspired by movie star Errol Flynn.
The boy was actually 11-year-old Santa Barbara actor Guy Challen, and the pirate was played by Edgar Bargarran, a Whittier social worker who dresses up for events such as Pirates Day in Ventura.
Both actors were performing in their first movie as they struck each other’s swords on The Spirit of Dana Point, a replica of a 1770s tall ship, in the Santa Barbara Harbor. The Ocean Institute in Dana Point and its marine programs director, Dan Goldbacher, provided the ship for the filming of a new independent movie, “Piglet Willy.”
The movie is about an imaginative boy who, like children everywhere, wants to be the hero of his story.
“Piglet Willy” is inspired by the title character of Montecito author Alicia St. John’s 2010 children’s book of the same name (Anam Cara Press). Ms. St. John, who is also a publisher and filmmaker whose movies include Robert F. Kennedy and David Bowie biopics, wrote and illustrated the story under the name of Miss Wilhelmina Whitewitch.
At the urging of Thomas Steinbeck, the late Montecito author and son of author John Steinbeck, Ms. St. John expanded Miss Whitewitch into a full-fledged character for the movie, which is written, directed and produced by Ms. St. John.
Kathleen Stimson, Ms. St. John’s goddaughter, plays Miss Whitewitch.
Ms. St. John praised Ms. Stimson for her fairy-tale, long red hair; “a face blooming like a rose” and the traits that make her a perfect Miss Whitewitch: “intelligence and creativity.”
“She creates the magic,” Ms. St. John told the News-Press on Stearns Wharf as Guy and his mother, Betsy Challen, listened. “She lets Guy’s character believe he is the one creating all the magic, which is what any good mentor would do.
“At the end, you don’t know if the story was all in his imagination or whether it was real,” Ms. St. John said. “We find out in the end, and it’s quite exciting.”
She said the movie’s story is an entirely new one with the main character from her book, which won the CALM Celebrity Author’s Award and was endorsed by her longtime mentor, the late sci-fi legend Ray Bradbury, and the late Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee.
The movie’s story begins with William Quest, aka Piglet Willy, growing up in 1943 on a Kansas farm with his mother and grandfather. He believes his father, who was lost in action in World War II, is alive and will return to their family.
“Feeling powerless to save his father, William makes a wish for a fairy godmother to help him become a hero like his dad and grandfather,” Ms. St. John said.
Instead, William — Piglet Willy — meets Miss Whitewitch, who mentors him as he starts his adventures.
During the movie, Piglet Willy sees himself as a piglet, but everyone else sees him as a boy, Ms. St. John said. (It’s an appropriate creature for the boy because his mother affectionately calls her son “Piglet” because of his messy bedroom.)
“His whole thing with Miss Whitewich is, ‘When are you going to change me back into a boy?’ ” Ms. St. John said. “And she said, ‘I can’t do that because you’re the only one who has the magical ability to turn you back into a boy.’ ”
That’s the lesson, kids: The magic’s in you.
Acting in “Piglet Willy” certainly felt magical for Guy, who enjoyed a story with plenty of adventure.
“I really enjoyed the sword fighting and learning a bunch of the moves,” Guy told the News-Press on Stearns Wharf on a day when another vessel, this time a cruise ship, was visiting Santa Barbara.
“I liked the clang sounds when the two swords hit together,” he said with a smile.
Guy proved to be a natural, according to Mr. Barragan, 46, who played the pirate king and instructed Guy where to jump during the sword fight.
“He’s a great, outgoing boy,” Mr. Barragan said by phone from his Whittier home. “He’s awesome.” (The movie also features Francis Barragan, Mr. Barragan’s wife, and Layla Barajas, their 4-year-old granddaughter, as pirates.)
Ms. St. John’s imaginative story features the Pirate King facing none other than King Arthur. Ms. St. John said that happened because of William/Piglet Willy’s imagination.
“All of the books in his grandfather’s library come to life one night, and all of the tales William has loved are going to play themselves out on the farm,” Ms. St. John said. “He’s the one who saves the day.”
In addition to sword fighting, Guy got to sit in a biplane that was flown by Charles Lindbergh. The plane is part of aviator and historian Dave Watson’s private collection in a Santa Paula hangar, which was used in the filming.
Ms. St. John said filming started June 21 and is continuing. Upcoming shoots will be at Randall House Rare Books (owned by Ron Randall) in Santa Barbara, Commemorative Air Force’s World War II Aviation Museum in Camarillo, Castle Studios in Los Angeles (for green screen scenes) and Faulkner Farm in Santa Paula, where Harrison Ford was filmed in “The Call of the Wild” (set for a 2020 release).
“I’m really hoping we can finish up filming next year and release it toward the end of the year or the beginning of 2021,” Ms. St. John said. She added a location hasn’t been determined for its premiere.
Guy, a fifth-grader at Marymount of Santa Barbara, praised Ms. St. John’s work as a director and noted she has guided him during filming with polite requests. “She’s really kind.”
Mrs. Challen, Guy’s mother, said working with Ms. St. John has proved to be wonderful and that her son enjoyed the film’s adventures.
“What little boy doesn’t like being on a pirate ship sword fighting?” Mrs. Challen said.
Guy also noted he likes the adventurous story and his imaginative and compassionate character. “He tries to solve things with kindness.”
He explained his approach to playing Piglet Willy.
“I just try to think like he thinks,” Guy said. “If he’s happy, I make him sound happy. If he’s sad, I make him sound sad.”
Besides sword fighting and sitting in a biplane, Guy’s favorite moments during filming have included working with Coco, a mini-husky portraying the character Wags. The animal actor is owned and trained by Montecito residents Kathy and DeWayne Copus.
Ms. St. John said Guy, whose father is Michael Challen, came to her on the recommendation of Jonathan Fox, the artistic director of Ensemble Theatre Company of Santa Barbara. Guy has participated in ETC’s summer camps.
Ms. St. John said she is thrilled with Guy’s performance.
“I actually met a character I wrote about coming off the pages of the book,” she said. “He couldn’t be more perfect.
“It’s his red hair and his nose and his freckles and his spirit,” she said. “He’s incredibly intuitive.”
The film’s cast includes Santa Barbara residents Eric Peruzzia and Jessica Hawley as William Arthur Quest and Gwendolyn Quest (Queenie), William’s parents; and Dr. Greg Charleton, a Montecito/Santa Barbara philanthropist, as Piglet Willy’s grandfather and World War I hero aviator, Lafayette Escadrille.
Cinematographers are Joey Szalkiewicz and Nick La Marca. The film’s score is by Montecito composer and pianist Patrick Maiani.
Miss Whitewitch’s costume was designed by Ms. St. John and created by Summerland costumer Sonya Harris. World War I and World War II uniforms were provided by the Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation and its executive director, John Blankenship of Montecito.
Piglet Willy’s 1940s hair design is by Juan Mendez of Montecito Barbers. Miss Whitewitch’s hair and makeup is by Alanna Sarena of Montecito.
Montecito resident Trev Broudy, whose voice is in the “Bourne Identity” trailers, is the voice of Piglet Willy as an adult.
Mr. Broudy says a line in “Piglet Willy” that Ms. St. John sees as crucial to the film’s message: “We are all born with an enormous pair of wings, and the only challenge is to learn how to use them.”
MORE ABOUT “PIGLET WILLY”
Alicia St. John, who donated a copy of her book “Piglet Willy” to the Central Library in Santa Barbara, said she would like to see it in every American library.
Santa Barbara philanthropists Ginni Drier, Lauren O’Reilly and Irma and Morrie Jurkowitz donated 150 copies of the book for Ms. St. John’s mentorship program at the Lompoc unit of the United Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Barbara County.
Ms. St. John said the deluxe edition of the box set for “Piglet Willy” was sold to Santa Barbara resident Terry Reiken for $500 in a benefit for Unity Shoppe. For more information about the book and the movie “Piglet Willy,” go to www.pigletwilly.com.