As a film producer, I’m constantly focusing on choosing the right productions to get involved with and for the right reasons. Interested in quality projects that are philosophically viable, it is no surprise that the following two films―both of which will premiere at the 2010 South By Southwest Film Festival―explore the inherent existential obstacles all of us face at introspective times of self-reflection. In two very different ways.

AUDREY THE TRAINWRECK, written and directed by Frank V. Ross, is a comedy dealing with the existential plights of everyday working people from a practical, real-world basis. Written from the vantage point of a guy who’s caught in the middle of this lifestyle―Frank’s waited tables for ten years now―the film realistically depicts a purchaser, Ron Hogan, who’s stuck in the monotonous nine-to-five routine―and he’s ready to snap.

Coming to terms with one’s self while struggling to make ends meet is a desperate and oftentimes quiet, personal conflict. Dealing with this struggle in a purely psychological manner, Frank doesn’t take the easy way out and resort to the old working-guy-goes-postal routine. Instead, we find ourselves caught up in Ron’s workaday life and we find him coming to terms with the fact that he might be trapped in his own mundane existence. His rage rests inside his head, beating on the inner walls of his skull. But the ultimate travesty is not that Ron manifests this rage; it’s that he suppresses it. His only out may be to find another working stiff, Stacy, who shares his lonely sentiments.

Financing this film in its entirety on a dare, I quickly found that people just flock to help out Frank. He’s a no nonsense, likable guy who will do anything to get his movies made. And I was lucky enough to be approached with the project. Somehow he managed to get acclaimed jazz musician, John Medeski, to score the film. And the process was truly unique. They’d just sit around and watch the movie and John would play something and Frank would jump up and down and clap when he heard something he liked.

AUDREY THE TRAINWRECK stars Anthony Baker as Ron Hogan―he’s been in all five of Frank’s films. Playing opposite Anthony is Danny Rhodes, Ron’s roommate, Scott. Stacy is played by Alexi Wasser, who’s built quite a following from her “Boy Crazy” shorts series. The film features cameos from Rebecca Spence (GRACE IS GONE, PUBLIC ENEMIES), Jess Weixler (TEETH, ALEXANDER THE LAST), Joe Swanberg (HANNAH TAKES THE STAIRS, ALEXANDER THE LAST), and Nick Offerman (SIN CITY, “PARKS AND RECREATION”).

Is there meaning in life or is the search for meaning fruitless and will therefore ultimately fail? Is this search merely motivated by the dreadful notion that life is absurd and nonsensical? Anxiety and despair have fueled philosophers with such questions for ages. Billed as a lo-fi sci-fi fable, EARTHLING, written and directed by Clay Liford, physically manifests these questions and focuses on alienation. What would happen if you woke up one day and found an intense disconnect with society and the world around you? Less interested in typical science fiction plot lines, EARTHLING is more of a portrait―a character study―of one person who finds that she’s literally living the life of a different person.

Judith is a high-school teacher in the midst of a personal crisis. She’s unable to conceive and it’s creating personal strife and a separation between herself and her husband. Meanwhile, a crew aboard an orbital space station discover a strange object―perhaps a living seed?―which, upon contact with one of the crew members, sends out an electrical pulse that results in a global brownout on Earth. Judith is immediately plagued with haunted dreams of this astronaut and is eventually found by a small group of other people having similar dreams. Refusing to rely solely on what these people are telling her, Judith takes matters into her own hands. While investigating who she is and where she might come from, Judith discovers that she indeed must make a choice: continue living in her false state of existence, or find a way back home. Those sharing her unique predicament have already made up their minds and they intend to force Judith to make the same choice.

Utilizing a minimal budget, I was amazed that we pulled off all the special effects―both practical and computer generated. Choosing what to show and what not to show were the secret to our success. The imagination works wonders when the artist chooses to tease the audience with subtle imagery, rather than explicitly bombard them. It’s interesting how primitive and natural the film appears at most moments; yet it’s juxtaposed with a fantastic, almost magical, storyline.

EARTHLING stars Rebecca Spence as the film’s protagonist, who I met on the set of AUDREY THE TRAINWRECK six months prior to principle photography on EARTHLING. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but for some reason I kept imagining her as Judith while reading the script. I brought this to the attention of Clay and he immediately saw her as the lead. Her husband is played by Chris Doubek, who I met on the set of LOVERS OF HATE. Up-and-comer, and Austin native, Amelia Turner, plays opposite Judith. Her odd, playful manner lightens the overwhelmingly serious nature of the film (that is, until she has an existential breakdown). Matt Socia plays the astronaut who encounters the seed pod and Jennifer Sipes plays his sister. Thanks to some of our other producers, we were able to land Peter Greene (PULP FICTION, THE MASK, THE USUAL SUSPECTS) and William Katt (“THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO,” HOUSE) in two crucial roles. Savanna Sears, who played the little girl in ST. NICK, even got in on the action, playing a creepy, pregnant little girl.

EARTHLING will beam up to a theatre near you (if you’re in Austin) at the 2010 South By Southwest Film Festival at the following dates, times and venues:

More info at

Don’t get in a train wreck on your way to AUDREY THE TRAINWRECK at the following dates, times and venues:

More info at

Originally published in The SCENE Magazine – March 2010


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