Advertisement
Share

Young O.C. Movie Maker Sets Sights High (and 70 mm. Wide) for 1st Film

We hear the overture. A thundering capitulation of the movie’s principal themes. Hard-driving. Loud. Its pounding rhythms taper off and we hear the sound of a dry constant wind.... There’s an exchange of gunfire, ending in the roar of a shotgun blast. ...

FADE IN exterior.... The setting sun fills the screen.... We see Kyle standing alone, looking through binoculars. The sky behind him is leaden and gray over a landscape of twisted rock and half-burned scrub brush.

--from the screenplay opening of “Warriors of the Wasteland”

John O’Callaghan was trying out his shoot-high, aim-low theory. His agent, dressed in business black from head to toe, made no objection. She was taking notes in her lap on the back of his screenplay, the title of which--"Warriors of the Wasteland"--was emblazoned across his T-shirt.

“If all you really need is $3 million, you ask $5 million,” the 24-year-old Orange County film maker said. “That way you end up with three. Now, if a studio wants to put a ‘name’ in the picture, that’s an above-the-line cost. They have to foot the bill because it’s an add-on.”

Advertisement

“What about European distribution?” the agent asked.

O’Callaghan grinned as though he had heard the $64 question.

“The Europeans and the Japanese love Super Panavision 70,” he said. “They love wide-screen. They already blow everything up to 70 millimeter. This is right up their alley, especially the Japanese.”

The agent and the film maker--along with his mother, detective novelist Maxine O’Callaghan, and his 19-year-old associate producer--were sitting outside a screening room at the Warner Bros.-Hollywood lot, where they were about to get their first glimpse of “Warriors” in the wide-screen format O’Callaghan was touting.

Well, a five-minute glimpse of the movie anyway.

Last spring, the self-taught film maker shot the opening sequence of his “postnuclear spaghetti-Western” on location at a ranch in Mission Viejo a few miles from his home. Now he hopes to persuade Hollywood that he is the low-budget heir to David Lean, Stanley Kubrick and the late Franklin J. Schaffner.

On the strength of his five minutes of finished “Warrior” footage and a complete screenplay co-written with his mother, as well as detailed cost projections, O’Callaghan believes that some producer will invest in the movie and give him the opportunity to direct it.

“This would be the first picture shot in Super Panavision in 20 years,” O’Callaghan said. “The last one was ‘Ryan’s Daughter,’ which Lean made back in 1969. Nobody has used the format in that long. The industry is waiting for somebody with the courage to do this. But it’s not going to be any of the (major) studios because they all believe the format costs too much or the cameras are too clunky.”

All the big-budget movies shown in 70 millimeter these days--from “Batman” to “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade"--were actually shot in 35 millimeter and enlarged.

“When you see what I’ve put up on that screen for $15,000, it’ll blow your mind,” he added. “Shooting in 70 millimeter is really not as expensive as the industry pretends. And $4,000 of my cost went for short-term insurance, which was ridiculous. We had to carry $1 million worth of liability.”

Only a few directors ever used the Super Panavision system correctly, he maintained. Lean was one. (“After you’ve seen ‘Lawrence of Arabia,’ you know why.”) Kubrick was another. (The rented camera used on “Warriors” was used, coincidentally, on “2001: A Space Odyssey.”) Schaffner was a third. (“Patton” represents “one of Hollywood’s great achievements” in O’Callaghan’s estimation.)

For all of the would-be director’s enthusiasm and apparent expertise, he conceded that the closest he has come to wide-screen movies before “Warriors” was in the 70 millimeter projection room at a Newport Beach theater where he used to work as a projectionist.

As for attending film school, “I once talked to a representative of USC,” recalled O’Callaghan, a graduate of Mission Viejo High School. “He told me I was beyond their curriculum.”

Thus, his “Warrior” footage must serve as film degree, student oeuvre and professional audition all rolled into one.

“If you have to categorize the movie, it’s a postnuclear spaghetti Western,” O’Callaghan said. “But it’s not gun-blazing. It’s about people who have survived the war and how they’ve coped. I’m not trying to re-create ‘Mad Max’ here. I also want to set it apart from all those cyborg movies, which are just hyper-trash that could never really happen.”

Nor should “Warriors of the Wasteland” be confused with “The Day After,” which conveyed the grim, nuked-out trauma of a postwar urban society. “The people in my movie don’t know how long they’ve got,” he said, “but they don’t wake up in the morning wondering if this is the day their arm will drop off.”

Meanwhile, simply by working in 70 millimeter film stock, O’Callaghan already has shown he can operate with a certain technical sophistication. If nothing else, it put him in high-level company that afternoon. His “Warriors” footage was scheduled for screening between a “Black Rain” print that needed sound added to it and post-production work on a “Lord of the Flies” remake being readied for distribution.

Brian Kane, the re-recording technician who applied O’Callaghan’s original sound track to the “Warriors” print, had done the same thing in the same screening room for scores of box office smashes from “Star Wars” to “The Raiders of the Lost Ark” to “Batman.”

“I’ve gotten the best out of all these people,” O’Callaghan said.

Born in Chicago, he has lived in Mission Viejo since 1972. His fondest childhood memory comes from Lean’s “Dr. Zhivago,” he recalled. He saw it on one of his family’s trips to Cape Kennedy in Florida for the Apollo launches. (His father, also an autodidact, used to work for NASA and is now a scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.)

“I was only 5, but I was completely mesmerized from the first frame to the last frame of that movie,” O’Callaghan recounted. “It was the first time something other than real life made me feel anything.”

The cinematic icons of his taste, which admittedly runs to the commercial, also includes such pictures as Schaffner’s “Papillon” and “Planet of the Apes” and William Wyler’s “Ben-Hur.”

O’Callaghan knows, of course, that he is avoiding the well-worn route to Hollywood taken by many young film makers, which is to show a small-format art movie at a film festival where it can win a prize and garner enough publicity to interest a distributor.

“I kind of subscribe to the George C. Scott theory on that,” he said. “Awards are nice and so are festivals, but so what? The most important thing to me is to get this picture made.”

Nor should “Warriors of the Wasteland” be confused with “The Day After,” which conveyed the grim, nuked-out trauma of a postwar urban society. “The people in my movie don’t know how long they’ve got,” he said, “but they don’t wake up in the morning wondering if this is the day their arm will drop off.”

Meanwhile, simply by working in 70 millimeter film stock, O’Callaghan already has shown he can operate with a certain technical sophistication. If nothing else, it put him in high-level company that afternoon. His “Warriors” footage was scheduled for screening between a “Black Rain” print that needed sound added to it and post-production work on a “Lord of the Flies” remake being readied for distribution.

Brian Kane, the re-recording technician who applied O’Callaghan’s original sound track to the “Warriors” print, had done the same thing in the same screening room for scores of box office smashes from “Star Wars” to “The Raiders of the Lost Ark” to “Batman.”

“I’ve gotten the best out of all these people,” O’Callaghan said.

Born in Chicago, he has lived in Mission Viejo since 1972. His fondest childhood memory comes from Lean’s “Dr. Zhivago,” he recalled. He saw it on one of his family’s trips to Cape Kennedy in Florida for the Apollo launches. (His father, also an autodidact, used to work for NASA and is now a scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.)

“I was only 5, but I was completely mesmerized from the first frame to the last frame of that movie,” O’Callaghan recounted. “It was the first time something other than real life made me feel anything.”

The cinematic icons of his taste, which admittedly runs to the commercial, also includes such pictures as Schaffner’s “Papillon” and “Planet of the Apes” and William Wyler’s “Ben-Hur.”

O’Callaghan knows, of course, that he is avoiding the well-worn route to Hollywood taken by many young film makers, which is to show a small-format art movie at a film festival where it can win a prize and garner enough publicity to interest a distributor.

“I kind of subscribe to the George C. Scott theory on that,” he said. “Awards are nice and so are festivals, but so what? The most important thing to me is to get this picture made.”


Advertisement