A brief journey through time: “Idiots of Malibu” was the first of six films I worked on in the role of writer/actor and director. The short thirty minute film was based on a conversation I had with a friend who was struggling with his relationships with women. The result is a comedy which empowers men and sheds light on what it is to be responsible in a relationship.
We decided to shoot on super sixteen as opposed to 35mm because the loads were larger and the camera was lighter. Also, given the large amount of steady cam with long uncut takes, we thought it best not to kill our DP. Plus the format is really nice, flexible and looks great.
Next out of the gate was “Eden’s Mountain.” Having gained the confidence from “Idiots”, I was feeling cocky and jumped right into a feature. I was approached by a friend, who had family in Wyoming and owned a large ranch just outside Cody. He showed me some pictures and asked if I had any scripts that could be shot on this location.
The place was beautiful, it was September, the leaves would be changing soon and the snow would be coming by the third week of October, so we really had to hustle. I didn’t even have a script ready, but I had twenty eight days to come up with something.
I talked the idea over with a buddy, came up with a general direction for a story and started knocking it out. The result was a mystical adventure centered around an Iraq war vet suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He was seeking solace in a friend that was MIA from the war, allegedly living in the mountains of Wyoming. An ambitious tale, needless to say, with a rather large ensemble.
The idea was to make a micro low budget film feel like an epic. In order to do this, we had to open everything up: story, location, character and lens choice. In essence, the entire film is about opening oneself up and daring to stay open. We utilized the beauty of Wyoming as much as we could by pulling back and chose whenever possible, a wider lens.
We adhered to large conceptual ideas like “life after death”, and “our connection to nature”. Much of this was embodied in the characters, in how they individually perceived life. I used lots of symbols, a shape-shifting wolf, Celtic sweat lodge traditions, the Buddhist perception of life¹s journey up a mountain, etc.
The Buddhists believe an individual achieves different levels of humanity at each stage of their journey. We used a sacred ram, in a blood letting ceremony, a Christ-like character, that represents the missing friend the Lead was struggling to find.
These concepts allow the film to breathe more than the usual three location micro-budgeted indie film. Our choice in film stock reflected this as well, having to shoot 35mm. Given the beauty of the location, this stressed our budget, but it was a must. Taking in account the tough circumstances we were challenged with: developing the script, eighteen day shooting schedule, limited budget, skeleton crew, large ensemble, snow threatening to turn us into the next “Donner” expedition, we came through with flying colors. The film looks great and the story has many wonderful layers.
Several months after “Eden”, I shot a series of short films at my home in West Hollywood. We called them “Sun-setter shorts” because a few of the scenes were taken from a feature length film I had written by the same name.
The actors involved were part of a group I had started a few years earlier, and these shorts were the proof of their practice. Among the group was “LOST’S” Josh Holloway, appearing on film for the very first time, demonstrating his onscreen charm and kissing prowess.
“Pot Luck People” was an opportunity to familiarize myself with the digital world. I knew it was and is the future of juxtaposed story telling, so I wanted to give it a shot. This dark comedy was developed by interviewing a dozen or so actors on camera. I asked them a series of questions which guided them into their characters. Once the actor zeroed in on the character that had surfaced, more specific questions were asked that were geared towards story. This process allowed me to pull the story from the imaginative interviews. The astute line of questioning gave the interviews structure, which allowed me to come up with a story that took three more months to develop.
The story revolves around the mysterious death of a multimillionaire. In his will, he had asked his motley crew of a family to come together for one last party on his behalf, that is, if they intended to collect their share of his hefty inheritance. This satire, set in LA, plays on human greed and pokes fun at the sloth that can define the worst of LA.
After “Pot Luck”, I went back to the stage and directed the Pulitzer Prize winning play “Short Eyes”, written by Miguel Pinero, for which I received a Best Director Award. A great play with so many layers and I had the fortune of having an incredibly wonderful and talented cast.
Since I was in the theatre groove, I directed three more plays. I had written these as well, “The Transcendent”, “Fe-lo-de-se”, and a romantic comedy called “Together”.
My next film was a commentary on the Iraq war called “Check Point”. It’s a heart wrenching look at our occupation of Iraq, dramatized through six fictional soldiers who share, from the grave, their last moments on earth.
Shot “interview style” on DV, this was intended as an internet project. I made it to be watched on the small screen, with all close-ups and ECU’s. The positioning of their faces in particular, only partially in frame, was important for a number of reasons. The stories are intertwined, so when the next character appeared, I wanted them in different parts of the frame. This way, with the camera slowly tracking back and forth which not only positioned the character in a different part of the frame, it also fully dramatized the subject as well.
I also had changing light values throughout each take, giving the image a unique feel each time we see a character appear in the story line. The ever changing frame gave the piece more visual dynamics, which was important, given the limited choice of camera angles. Therefore, I compensated with simple pans and varying light values.
Once again, I switched hats and went back to interviewing actors, taking the facts of their lives and mixing it with the fiction of the story, which turned out to be quite a powerful dramatic recipe.
I incorporated a green screen for the first time, whereas lighting the screen and the distance from the screen proved to be important variables. Although the images we incorporated were few, the quality of the keyed-out green screen, which is black, activated the background, giving it a life of its own, a kind of electricity. Technology is blossoming all around me, the green screen being a great tool and the future of the industry.
The end result of “CHECK POINT” for me was one of the most rewarding, powerful cinematic experiences of my life to date. The film speaks very much for itself.