Let’s Go Exploring!

Two years ago I wrote a blog entry using the title above. We were on the brink of shooting ST. NICK (my first feature film) and, in addition to the conventional impetus during the transition from December to January, I was feeling particularly inspired, partly because director David Lowery and I had just finished scouting the ranch location where, “along with prospecting the land for great shots, we made friends with the cows, the buffalo, and the horses – particularly an overzealous glass-eyed horse with a propensity for biting.” My response to our visit to the ranch had little to do with movie making and more to do with childlike experiences. A renewed spirit had overcome me and this playful mentality seemed to course through the veins of everyone involved with ST. NICK from start to finish. Now, as we enter the second decade of the 21st century, that stimulating sentiment has returned, and I’ll set my sights toward newer projects on the horizon.

The year is looking promising already. In late January, I’ll find myself surrounded by snow in Park City, Utah, at the Sundance Film Festival. Founded, in part, by Robert Redford, Sundance has long been the most prestigious independent film festival in the country. When I was in high school, making short films in lieu of doing homework, I dreamed of one day premiering a film at Sundance. This year I’ve got two films playing there: LOVERS OF HATE (written and directed by Independent Spirit nominee Bryan Poyser) will be making its world premiere in the U.S. Dramatic Competition section and Clay Liford’s short, MY MOM SMOKES WEED, will be screening in a shorts block program.

A dark comedy, surrounding two adult brothers in love with the same woman, LOH relies on deep-seated sibling rivalry to present a convincing tale of deceit. Rudy Lucas is a complete and utter failure at everything. Recently separated from but still in love with his wife Diana, Rudy lives in his car, barely holding on to his job as a door-to-door fact collector for the U.S. Census Bureau. He showers at the car wash or at the homes of unsuspecting home dwellers, constantly bugs his soon-to-be ex-wife, and is all-too-obviously jealous of the success of his younger brother Paul. A children’s author of fantasy tales in the spirit of the Harry Potter ilk, Paul dedicates every one of his best selling novels to his older brother – his inspiration for the lead character and childhood co-collaborator. Oddly enough, upon watching the film you’ll get a few second’s glance at me playing the only “grown-up Paul Lucas fan,” as the author reads a selection from his latest novel. An opportunity arises and Diana decides to visit Paul at a mammoth ski lodge, incidentally located in Park City, while he’s writing a new book. Soon after, Rudy takes a road trip of his own, and, as the intimate moments between Paul and Diana play out, the unexpected visitor silently follows their every move, as he hides in closets and peeks around staircases. Upon discovering the sneaky housemate, tension rises and unexpected events unfold in a climatic, despairing finale.

MMSW premiered at the 2008 Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival. The film garnered the attention of critics and film programmers as it made its way on the festival circuit via some of the smaller, hip festivals. Sundance caught wind of this and invited the film to screen in 2010. While obviously the film centers around Marijuana, the story is thematically concerned with the unsettling relationship of a mildly resentful, uptight son and his loose, septuagenarian mother. Tension mounts from the very beginning as a disappointed son enters his mother’s smoke-filled room. Although happy to see him, his aging mother has difficulty rising up to hug her visiting son. As if it were a chore, he uneasily helps her up. The mood sets in and the audience is bombarded with awkwardly, uncomfortable situations throughout the film. Apparently, mom has set up a drug deal and her son is to provide transportation. Overly against the whole deal, he reluctantly agrees to drive, though mother and son argue about how to get there the entire way. Upon arrival at the drug dealers’ apartment, the son is filled with anxiety as the pot heads sample the product, and steps outside for some air. Paranoid and distraught, his only recourse is to spill the beans about he and his mother’s relationship, while one of the druggies listens. A moment of satisfaction turns completely topsy turvy as the situation culminates with consternation and the son finds himself in a most compromising predicament.

In addition to screening these two films, I intend to announce several other projects at Sundance, to be shot in 2010. I also have two other films set to premiere at later festivals and one other film currently on the circuit; although, dear readers, you’ll have to wait for another column or check my blog for news. The title “Let’s Go Exploring!” comes from Calvin’s final words to his stuffed tiger, Hobbes, as they embark on their final documented journey in Bill Watterson’s final Calvin and Hobbes strip, published December 31, 1995. The inseparable duo enter the strip, sled in hand, after a hard snow the night before. Hobbes remarks, “Everything familiar has disappeared! The world looks brand-new!” to which Calvin responds, “A new year… A fresh, clean start!” making it quite clear that despite the retiring of the comic strip, the journey will continue off the newspaper pages. As I type this, the year hasn’t quite ended and amidst feelings of complete satisfaction at where this year has taken me, I’ve got a childlike anxiety about entering the new year. It certainly is a fresh, clean start; and I’m ready to explore.

Learn more about Adam and his films at http://www.adamdonaghey.com

*** Article originally published in The SCENE Magazine – January 2010 ***


On Assignment from Greece

Publisher’s Note: SCENE Film Columnist Adam Donaghey filed this column while on assignment in Greece at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival using his iPhone. Typing 1200 words on a phone with an Ouzo-fueled buzz further displays Donaghey’s commitment to promoting independent film in the Bay Area.

The Thessaloniki International Film Festival celebrated its fiftieth anniversary this year and ST. NICK chose this festival in Greece to make its world premiere. I arrived via train and conversed with a Greek most of the way. He showed me where my five star hotel was and the staff graciously allowed me to check in at 8AM. I slept a great deal that day, but eventually met up with my coherts in crime, who arrived much later. TIFF is especially interesting because of the films they program. A great deal of the films I saw, I just won’t get to see in the States. Perhaps if I purchase a DVD or maybe, just maybe, some of them might be available on Netflix; but a great deal of them I’d never get to see again, and certainly not on the big screen.

Both of our screenings were packed full of festival goers and industry people; but mostly Greek cinema goers. It’s really a treat to see such an interest in festival films from the masses. As the film played and the Greek subtitles flurried onto the screen, I found myself in a quasi state of a European trance. The festival even flew out the real stars of the show: our child actors, Tucker and Savanna Sears. What a treat it must have been for them to see themselves onscreen amidst a packed house of non-English speaking people. It was all very surreal and an excellent opportunity for travel!

The real highlight of the festival for me, though, was discovering Werner Herzog. I’ve known of the man for quite sometime, as he’s something of a legend; but not in such depth. Herzog has directed over fifty films; a hodgepodge of features, shorts, narratives and documentaries. His work has been well-received and awarded at major festivals all over the world, and he was nominated for an Academy Award in 2008. Most recently, he’s premiered two films for 2009: MY SON, MY SON, WHAT HAVE YE DONE? and THE BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS. The latter, starring Nicolas Cage, is now playing in theaters. Both films merely scratch the surface of Herzog’s ouvre, but would be interesting introductions.

The festival’s retrospective screened every one of his films, twice. Herzog also garnered a Golden Alexander-the primo award of the festival-and gave a master class. I was bombarded with a true master of storytelling and documentaries of, as he puts it, “ecstatic truth!”

Herzog proclaims that “cinema knows no mercy.” He says one should not be a fly on the wall when filming a documentary, but a hornet stirring things up. He’s known for his stylized style; he even directs the participants in his film to make sure he gets what he wants. This way he can avoid the “brainless idiocy” of cinema verite. Instead of simply observing the facts, he finds a deeper way to experience truth.

Many of his narratives are inspired by, and very loosely based on, extraordinary events. Herzog’s vision is not clouded with outside sources. He claims to see no more than two or three films a year. What makes him a true gem is that his decisions can’t be influenced. He’s written all but a few of the films he’s directed and maintains complete control over all of them. A-list actors like Christian Bale, Tim Roth, Willem Dafoe and most recently, Nicolas Cage, work with Herzog simply to work with Herzog; they don’t do it for the money. A rogue filmmaker, at heart, Herzog announced loudly that in this digital age we live in he won’t accept any excuses from a wannabe filmmaker. Cameras are readily available and if you can’t afford one, “steal one,” he says.

According to Herzog, “The world reveals itself to those who travel on foot.” I’m composing this month’s article from a hostel in the heart of Tuscany-Florence, Italy. The church bells just finished ringing as the sun sets. It’s quite cold and rainy outside today, so it seemed like as good a time as any to write my column; that, and my deadline was two days ago. I’m enjoying the art and architecture of Italy during the low season with quieter scenic areas and cheaper lodging.

I began my trip in Athens and the view atop the Acropolis is a sight to be seen indeed! It’s truly phenomenal to experience structures thousands of year old, up close. The Temple of Olympian Zeus stands a whopping seventeen meters high and I actually sat in the Theatre of Dionysos! After five full days of exploring, I took a train to Thessaloniki and watched as many movies as I could.

I caught a flight to Rome and was yet again amazed by the ancient Roman ruins. I recommend viewing the Colloseum at night, so as to avoid a barrage of tour guides soliciting their services and Roman soldiers begging you to take their pictures.

Whether you like his films or not, Herzog is quite an inspiration. He’s traveled across the globe and seen more than most people. The vast majority of his films deal with obscure individuals with unlikely talents or extraordinary hopes and dreams. Oftentimes, it’s man against nature and it’s a toss up as to who will win-and of course, to what end. Typically his characters are driven insane by both their passions and their downfalls. Herzog’s films can be hopeful or despondent, enlightening or frightening. Most important though, is that his films are informative and entertaining at the same time. He takes great care in crafting images on screen so as to interest his audience.

ST. NICK has basically run its course for this year and we’ll be announcing a distribution deal by the beginning of the new year. When asked if Herzog would change anything about his films, he was quite clear that he wouldn’t. His films are his children and because of that he wouldn’t change a thing. I feel the same way about ST. NICK. Sure there are subtle details that would have been better this way or that; but really, the film inhibits the unique personalities of everyone involved. And, for better or for worse, I’m rather comfortable with that.

Several of my upcoming films are locked and loaded and ready to premiere next year on the festival circuit. As I parted with my producing partners, I felt the year coming to an early end. The day I checked out of my hotel, I boarded a flight to Rome and spent three full days walking the city before catching a train to Florence. Rome and Florence were all about seeing the sights and trolling the museums. Tomorrow I’ll head out to Cinque Terre, five villages along the Italian Riviera, and take in a bit of the Ligurian Sea, as I hike along the rigid coastlines and visit the historic neighboring villages. On my way back to Rome to catch my flight back to the states, I plan to stop at Pisa for a half day visit. This trip has been a welcome break from America and a great way to end the year.

Originally published in the 2009 December edition of The SCENE MAGAZINE

Let’s Go Exploring!

a_new_year_a_fresh_clean_startIt’s been twelve years since Bill Watterson published his final Calvin and Hobbes comic strip. The brilliant strip about a boy and his stuffed tiger that is alive, Calvin and Hobbes will always be an inspiration to explore new and unconquered territories. It teaches us to follow our creative instincts and allow ourselves the freedom to truly live!

As it’s been twelve years since the retirement of the comic strip, I was a twelve-year-old kid when I bought my first Calvin and Hobbes anthology, Attack of the Deranged Mutant Killer Monster Snow Goons. I remember reading the strip for a long time before in the Sunday paper and felt a strong connection to Calvin. I longed to live his and Hobbes’ adventures.

On my fifteenth birthday, November 9th, 1995, I remember reading Watterson’s statement–that he was going to retire Calvin and Hobbes at the end of the year. That December he published the final comic strip. And what a way to bring in the new year! Every few years I think back to this particular strip–I’ll see it in print somewhere, or someone blogs about it, or whatever–and it always puts a smile on my face.


On a related note, David and I went and explored a ranch we’ll be using in St. Nick, owned by a friend of mine the other day. Along with prospecting the land for great shots, we made friends with the cows, the buffalo, and the horses–particularly an overzealous glass-eyed horse with a propensity for biting (my wool sweater, David’s sport jacket, my SUV, etc.).

The ranch is located in Valley View, TX, just north of Sanger, and we hope to shoot there for several days.

St. Nick is inspired, in part, by a series of Calvin and Hobbes comic strips featured in the anthology, Yukon Ho! The titular strips feature Calvin and Hobbes running away from home, in an effort to free themselves from the constraints of parental control and its silly family rules. They choose the Yukon where they can sled all day and make friends with wild animals. That being said, the trip is short-lived due to the fact that Hobbes consumes the only two sandwiches Calvin bothered to pack. From “The Yukon Song”:

Oh, what a life! we cannot wait,
To be in that arctic land,
Where we’ll be masters of our fate,
And lead a life that’s grand!

No more of parental rules!
We’re heading for some snow!
Good riddance to those grown-up-ghouls!
We’re leaving! Yukon Ho!

“A new year… A fresh clean start!”