Street-Level Video : A jobless, homeless, broke gypsy has Hollywood abuzz over his seriocomic look at L.A.'s street people
Beeaje Quick was watching his favorite Orson Welles film recently in Venice when he ran out of gas.
The gasoline-fueled generator that provides the electricity on the school bus where Quick lives had stopped halfway through “Compulsion,” plunging his home into blackness. Cursing, he got off his sofa, smacked the refrigerator where his television is kept and went outside to refuel.
It was then that he discovered that his gasoline can had been stolen from its hiding place.
“Damn it, damn it, I hate living on the street!” Quick shouted into the night.
Living on the street has been the 25-year-old Australian’s plight almost since he moved to Los Angeles 2 1/2 years ago. Jobless and broke after being evicted from a West Hollywood apartment, his dream of conquering Hollywood by producing his own, admittedly offbeat, projects was sidetracked by a struggle to survive.
But now Quick has made an art out of being homeless. And that art has Hollywood--or at least some of Hollywood-- knocking at his bus door.
Buoyed by $2,500 that he and a friend, Tashia Hales, saved up over several months, Quick produced, directed and starred in “Street Life,” a 20-minute video short that takes a seriocomic look at homelessness. “Street Life” is quickly approaching cult status.
“Street Life” won the grand prize last month in the American Film Institute’s fifth annual Visions video contest, sponsored by Sony Corp. of America. Quick triumphed over more than 600 entrants in the competition, which was judged by a panel that included Billy Crystal, Francis Ford Coppola and Quincy Jones.
Quick’s video was not popular with all the panel members. Some were put off by extensive slow-motion footage of homeless men and women wandering trash-filled lots and dirty streets.
However, one of the judges, producer Jerry Kramer, was so taken with “Street Life” that he is negotiating with Quick to direct music videos and commercials. If this works out, he said, he might produce Quick’s next personal project, which Quick describes as “a black comedy about two fascist policemen.”
Kramer, who co-produced and co-directed Michael Jackson’s “Moonwalker” video, hailed Quick as a visionary, even though Quick had never made a video before and had no previous credits.
“He could be a 25-year-old white Australian Spike Lee,” Kramer said. “He might be totally crazy, but I want to give him a shot.”
To promote Quick fever, Kramer has shipped copies of “Street Life” to executives at record companies such as Epic, MCA, Polygram and Virgin. “I want to show this to people who have groups that could use Beeaje’s point of view,” he said.
Quick will receive the Visions award at a ceremony Aug. 10. Snippets of the video have aired on “Entertainment Tonight.” A video company has shown interest in distributing “Street Life.” And Seth Lichtenstein, an attorney with Paul, Hastings, Janofsky and Walker, an entertainment law firm with branches in New York, Los Angeles and Tokyo, has been advising Quick as he starts to sort out inquiries from agents and others.
“This is the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen,” Lichtenstein said. “I’m blown away that somebody with his lack of financial wherewithal could put together something like that video. Now he’s getting a lot of stuff thrown at him and we’re just trying to see what makes sense. But he’s basically the same person, though I think he’s surprised by this response.”
The accolades have thrilled Beeaje ( bee-AJ ) Quick, although he said he is not totally surprised.
“I knew if I could just get a chance, if I could just get into the middle of things, I could catch some fish,” said Quick, whose slight accent resembles that of Mel Gibson.
Still, all the attention is a bit dizzying.
“I feel like someone who has been celebrating his birthday for two weeks,” said Quick, “I’m surrounded by hot air. It stimulates the very shallow parts of the personality. Now I’m trying to get past the smoke and do some real work.”
The muscular Quick wore a black jogging suit and T-shirt as he discussed his “overnight success.” He frequently embarked on mini-monologues about his parents, living on a bus, wandering the streets, working as a professional roller skater in Australia.
At times, he sounded like a culinary Chauncey Gardner. “There’s this big, long buffet in front of me, and I’m wondering how I can get some of that chicken and take it home,” he said, throwing small magnets onto a disk he held in his hand.
“But see, I’ve brought something to America,” says Quick, who is in the process of getting a work permit from the federal government. “I’ve brought something to the table. If you come here to this country thinking you’re already a star, you’re nothing and the system will swallow you. But if you come to the table with dessert, then people become more hospitable, and they see you’re not trying to rape the land. You’re contributing.”
But there is no Crocodile Dundee-style ending to this mate’s story. Even as Quick murmurs about potential meetings with the producer of a current hit movie and about story-boarding his next project, his life still imitates his art.
He said he still barely has enough money to eat or buy gas for the motorcycle he uses for quick transportation. He still lives in his “cardboard box,” a 30-foot-high wood-armored bus that he converted into a personal mobile kitsch museum, complete with GI Joe dolls, a bathtub, a bed and a sun deck that sits like a rectangular fortress atop the bus.
Quick said he can stay in a location for only a few days before he is hassled by police to move. Two weeks ago, he parked the bus on a vacant oil field near Kramer’s Marina del Rey home. Police pressed him to leave a few days later after neighbors complained.
Kramer persuaded the owner of the field to let Quick stay for a while. But Quick remains a gypsy.
That condition is likely to continue for a while. Most of the record executives that Kramer has contacted haven’t jumped to sample Quick’s offerings.
Executives at MCA said “Street Life” was among several videos that had yet to be screened.
John Beug, senior vice president of creative services at Warner Bros. Records, said: “It must be in a pile somewhere. I haven’t looked at it.” Annette Cirillo, director of video production for Polygram Records, said the video was around but she had not viewed it.
Dorian Langdon, executive assistant to John Daly, the head of Hemdale Films, said he had heard positive comments about Quick. “I want to see the video, but I haven’t had time to catch a screening,” he said. (Hemdale was the film company behind “The Last Emperor” and “Platoon.”)
Holly Wallace of Rhino Video, which distributes cult videos and rock films, said she had seen “Street Life” and was interested in it. “But it’s only under consideration at this point,” she said. “Because of its short length, we may have a problem in marketing it. However, it’s a good subject matter, and its creativity makes it worthy of consideration.”
According to Kramer and others, it’s the so-called creativity that infuriates many viewers.
The first half of the video, highlighted with blue and orange tints, is a look at one day in the life of Quick aboard his bus. He sleeps late, searches for clean socks, battles with his razor and discovers some unique uses for snack crackers. Quirky keyboard music, tunes from Bugs Bunny cartoons and Quick’s own noise effects make up the sound track.
The loosely tied-together plot revolves around an agent who is thinking of taking on Quick as a client and Quick’s discomfort at “selling out” in order to earn enough money to buy a merry-go-round.
But almost halfway through, the tone abruptly shifts. As the camera closes in on a glum-looking Quick, he is heard saying, “And then, in the midst of my fantasy, I looked a little beyond the horizon, and once again realized the bleak reality of street life.”
The music slows to a synthesized air-raid siren, speeded-up and slow-motion images of the wandering homeless go on for almost 10 minutes. A cloaked, shadowy Quick fills the screen at the end. His despairing, haunting voice is heard: “What happened to me?”
Quick said he made “Street Life” in about two months. He scraped together $1,500 to buy the video camera, then had to sell it in order to edit the tape and perform other post-production work. He said he agrees with criticisms that the second half is a bit too long, but he ran out of money before he could further cut down the video.
He entered the Visions contest on a whim after a friend encouraged him. “Everything I’ve done is by instinct,” he said.
“I really made two films,” he said, sweeping back his short spiked hair, speckled with gray. “I wanted to be a cartoon character and to show humor. I wanted to get the audience to trust me, to feel the humor. But like all excursions, there has to be an end.
“I slowed the film to 1/20th speed. And I portrayed the homelessness in such a way that the audience becomes receptive and feels something, even if it’s anger. It’s not pleasant to look at.”
Quick said the mixed message of “Street Life” is reflective of the reactions that people have to the bus and his life style.
“People come on the bus and they say, ‘Oh, this is so neat, this is bigger than my apartment, you have a sun deck, I wish I lived here,’ ” he said.
“But I tell them they really don’t wish that. I have no water. I have no electricity. I worry about cars smashing into me. I’ve worried about being shot at when I park in bad neighborhoods, or having the bus broken into or burned down. It looks like fun, but it isn’t.
“I mean, this bus is not a prop that I built to be eccentric. I only did this to stimulate myself in this environment. I would love to live in a house. But this is the way it went.”
These days, Quick is focused on the feature film he wants to make--"The ‘D’ Men.”
“It’s about two semi-undercover sociopath punk motorcycle cops,” Quick said, gesturing wildly. “It’s a cross between ‘Clockwork Orange’ and ‘Repo Man.’ The cops are obsessed with doughnuts. One is called Officer Holmes. The other is Officer God.
“It’s about relationships in a police state, the relationships between people and classes. It will look unconventional, but will be very poignant and very hip. It will play art houses and make a lot of money.”
Quick said he has always been filled with creative ideas that he wanted to turn into films. “I knew I wanted to come to America and make it happen,” he said. “That’s what I was working towards back in Australia. I have a very lucid creativity that comes through.”
When he came to Los Angeles, he had only a few clothes and “a brown case full of dreams and ideas,” plus a script he had written.
Because he had visions but no experience, Quick felt he could use his personality to get ahead in the entertainment world. “I’m a pretty colorful character, and I’ve always had an inclination to be a larger-than-life character,” he said.
He put together a “flip” book with pictures of himself that he showed to agents. Although they were amused, he said, offers were not forthcoming.
Quick is sure that will change now. “I’m meeting a lot of people,” he said. “And the ideas are still coming.”
That is, if he doesn’t run out of gas.