- Associated Press - Sunday, September 20, 2015

DOYLESTOWN, Pa. (AP) - After facing a deadly viral outbreak in the Bucks County-filmed zombie thriller “6:15” and - spoiler alert! - getting brutally dismembered in the gory slasher flick “Camp Dread” with Eric Roberts, Furlong native Montana Marks stepped away from the horror genre for the inspirational sports film “Coach of the Year” about a high school swim team in Virginia.

Not that the experience wasn’t scary.

“I read the script and was excited, because it was unlike any other film I’ve done,” says Marks, a Germantown Academy graduate who also spent a year at Central Bucks East. “But there were a couple of other things I had to worry about. They were trying to cast actors who were swimmers, and I’m not a swimmer. It came down to me and another girl for the part, and at callback, they wanted us to come swim. I was thinking, ‘Oh, man, this is going to be rough.’ “

Marks landed the part of trouble-making 16-year-old breaststroker Lauren Bowman, a departure from her own high school days. “I was a pretty good kid, to be honest,” she says.

She even conquered the challenge of a backward dive during filming, only after director David Stott stripped to his shorts, emptied his pockets and demonstrated exactly what he was looking for. When she later watched her own dive during playback, she remembers thinking, “it looked like something straight out of a Nike commercial. It was one of the most exciting things.”

Friends and family will possibly get a chance to see Marks’ newfound swimming prowess on the big screen.

“They’re trying to do premieres in the actors’ hometowns,” she says. “I think that’s pretty cool.”

Marks is calling from Southern California, shortly after returning from a two-hour boat ride with friends off the coast of Santa Catalina Island. She moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting full-time about a year ago, after training extensively with coaches and teachers in New York and Philadelphia.

It was a big step, especially since she didn’t decide to become an actor until the summer before her senior year at Penn State, where she was majoring in corporate communication.

“I randomly went to the casting of some music video (by the band Free Energy), which was being cast in Philly,” she says. “I was supposed to be in class, but I turned my paper in and went to the casting instead. I met a couple of people from the Philly scene and started doing some indie and short films, and that’s how it started. Once I started acting and going to a couple of auditions, I knew this was what I wanted to do.”

Marks, who does fitness work as a personal trainer on the side, will appear in the upcoming holiday film “Christmas Switch,” starring William Baldwin, Denise Richards and Tom Arnold.

Her IMDb credits also include the Golden Globe-nominated USA mini-series “Political Animals” (her first role of note, in 2012) and the Oscar-nominated “Silver Linings Playbook” alongside fellow Germantown Academy grad Bradley Cooper, although her non-speaking scenes did not make the final cut. She decided against introducing herself to Cooper on the set, but says he was gracious with the background actors who did approach him.

The other thing you should know about Marks is that her Hollywood-sounding first name, Montana, has been with her since birth.

“When I was pregnant I was watching a program on TV (the miniseries “Hollywood Wives”) where Stefanie Powers was playing a high-end executive named Montana Gray, and I went crazy over the name,” says Gina Marks, who along with her husband, Dave, lives in Furlong. Gina named her daughter Montana, only after convincing her husband, who was worried how his mother might react. (She did have to relent on “Gray” being the middle name, however.)

Zombie film turning heads

If feel-good sports movies aren’t your thing, you might soon be able to catch Marks on the big screen in an entirely different type of film.

“6:15” writer-director Ben Samuels certainly hopes so.

Working largely with Bucks County actors and crew members, Samuels, a 2005 Central Bucks West graduate, shot “6:15” in Doylestown and Buckingham last summer. The one-continuous-shot, first-person-perspective thriller (dubbed “The Walking Dead Meets Birdman” by Escapist magazine) is being championed by Chris Hardwick’s website The Nerdist.

The film will screen at the FirstGlance Philadelphia Film Fest at the Franklin Institute Oct. 23-25 and at the Shriekfest Film Festival in Los Angeles Oct. 1-4 (as opposed to LA’s Screamfest; “we’re in the one where people shriek,” Samuels says).

Samuels, who has a production company in Los Angeles with his younger brother Oliver, hopes to land a distributor for the film and ideally would like to see it in theaters across the United States.

“The talk and the buzz has been mind-blowing to us,” says Samuels, who has shot two of his three feature-length films in Bucks County, where he and his brother got their start running around backyards with a VHS camera.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1IWz5YH

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Information from: Bucks County Courier Times, http://www.buckscountycouriertimes.com

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