CalArts Filmmakers Hope for Shortcut to Hollywood

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mike Schmidt, 30, poured $9,000 and three years into his semi-autobiographical, coming-of-age picture about a 15-year-old boy who falls for a sophomore co-ed. "I maxed out one credit card to $6,000."

Kris Kristensen, 26, unloaded $10,000--"I cried to my parents for it"--to tell his story of unfulfilled love. And Ben Williams, 27, spent $4,000, went back to his native Louisiana, and broke the law to make a film about a man who tries to alter his true past. "We broke into a batting cage."

Now Williams and his fellow filmmakers want to break into Hollywood.

Attempting to short-circuit the numerous roadblocks in the entertainment industry--the artists, all former CalArts students--will stage their own film festival Wednesday night at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills. Hosted by CalArts graduate and actor Ed Harris ("The Right Stuff," "The Abyss") the free two-hour show will present five narrative works and one documentary.

"We know this is a roll of the dice," said Schmidt, "but it's the only roll we're going to get."

They claim they didn't get a fair roll at CalArts. "There should have been a showcase for all student works," said Schmidt, "like what UCLA has. CalArts could have done more for us."

Ed Emshwiller, head of the CalArts film school, said it regularly shows student films on campus, and at other locations near Hollywood, but agreed in recent years, the screenings haven't achieved much success. "We've sent out scores of invitations to producers," Emshwiller said, "but we've had bad luck in getting the producers to see them. We've been very disappointed. The studios aren't running around to look at student films."

There's no guarantee attendance Wednesday will be any better, but the six filmmakers have practically invited the whole town; they spent $250 to purchase a mailing list with the names of 900 agents, and 3,300 producers and studio executives. Plus they are banking that the Harris name will draw more industry people. Each spent about $450 for festival expenses.

They harbor no illusions that their films, ranging from 10 to 26 minutes, will make it to the local movie theater. Much of their work, they admit, is raw and unsophisticated. What they hope is that someone with power in the industry spots a flash of talent in their films, and wants to help polish it. "This is a showcase for us as individuals, not our films," said Stewart Schill, 26. "We want jobs."

Harris, a member of the CalArts Board of Trustees, will introduce each picture. He said the films "show people who understand the language of film and how to tell a story."

Following are the six films to be shown at the festival, which begins at 8 p.m. They were made as class projects for CalArts during the last three years. The young directors used a lot of school equipment, and found actors to perform free. Four of the six focus on unrequited love. In addition, former CalArts student Kerry Conran will show a trailer of his uncompleted picture "The Misadventures of That Darn Bear."

* "Safari Holiday," Schmidt's 20-minute story about a high school sophomore, on vacation with his family, who is immediately attracted to a college girl. Through his efforts to win her affection, he realizes is not ready to flirt with an older woman.

Schmidt said he had a similar experience in Florida when he was 14.

"There was this young lady at the pool," Schmidt said. "We flirted, but that's it. I never made it into her room."

* "Self-Portrait," Kristensen's 20-minute picture about a painter who falls in love with his roommate's literary agent. The painter begins to become obsessive about the woman. He wants to spend his life with her. She was just enjoying a good time.

This story, too, emerges from the artist's background. The movie was his catharsis. "Yes, there was a girl who just spit on me real bad," Kristensen said.

Like the other filmmakers, he is excited and frightened about the festival.

"I was lying in bed the other day," he said, "and I wondered, 'What if this doesn't make it? What am I going to do?' "

* "Alison's Basket," Williams' 13-minute story about a guy who bumps into a girl he had a massive crush on in junior high school. In his mind, he imagines they are having a relationship, while, in reality, she is seriously dating someone else.

"It's about not accepting someone for what he or she is," Williams said. "The guy in the film didn't appreciate the friendship with the girl. For something to be important, it doesn't have to be a close, intimate relationship."

Williams shot the picture in Louisiana after he was unable to come up with an idea in California. "It was a better atmosphere for me," he said. "People bent over backward to help me find locations."

Williams, who employed his friend, Steven Soderbergh, director of "sex, lies and videotape," as an actor in his film, broke into a batting cage to shoot a scene. "The guy who originally gave us permission changed jobs, and we couldn't get a hold of the owner," Williams said. "But the owner came by later and said it was fine."

* "Gas Food Lodging," Schill's 26-minute picture about a guy who learns someone he thought he admired wasn't really that special. As part of the band's entourage, he falls for the girlfriend of one of its members, but she doesn't return the affection.

"I wanted to make a picture that has real characters," Schill said. "Typically, student pictures have flat characters."

* "Phenomen Mall," a 10-minute documentary by Jill Shinefield, 24, about shopping malls.

"My interest is more in documentaries," said Shinefield. "I grew up in San Francisco and was never really exposed to malls, and then I came here and was repulsed by them. I wanted to film inside them and see what they were like."

* "Groovy Ghoulie Garage," a 20-minute movie by James Salisbury, 26, about two college-age guys who stumble into a town of crazies. Salisbury thought the picture, straightforward horror, would be an easy film for his first venture into movie making.

"But it was cold and little things kept going wrong," Salisbury said.

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