Film Short: Openfilm’s 1st Get It Made Winner Val Lauren
Filmmaker Val Lauren was the first recipient of Openfilm’s Get It Made Competition, winning the grand prize for his short “HELP”, about a son desperate to save his dying mother. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Val began his acting career on the stage before landing roles on televsion and in independent films. “HELP” marks his directorial debut and he also wrote the script, produced and acted in the movie. Considering the diversity of his talents I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of this man’s work in the future and I hope you enjoy this Filmmakers Notebook Q&A with him.
What made you so passionate about telling this story and how did you get the idea for it?
“HELP” is about a man on the night he sets out on a mission to save his dying mother’s life. I believe we all have something in our lives we are so passionate about we are willing to die for it. Whether it’s a person, place, philosophy, dream or otherwise. That “thing” for better or worse is untapped in most of our lifetimes, we might not even know it exists. I wanted to explore the experience of a man who is faced with his personal “thing”, his mother’s very life. I got the idea for it after a lot of pacing and cigarettes.
Tell me a little more about yourself and what made you decide to become a filmmaker.
In 1996, I decided to become an actor and enrolled at “Playhouse West” an acting school and repertory theater company. I studied there for years, acting in several plays and directing a few while sporadically working in film and TV, but it wasn’t until late 2007 that I decided to make a film of my own.
It was a surreal time for me. I had just returned from Australia, where I was to spend a year shooting the Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks sequel to “Band of Brothers” titled “The Pacific”. After nine months of auditioning for the show, I won the opportunity to play the lead role of “John Basilone”, a real life marine who went on to accomplish some extraordinary things during World War II.
It was a dream come true for me because it has always been a personal mission of mine to use this art form to contribute something more than just entertainment. My personal heroes had done just that, and this specific role was an opportunity for me to realize that dream on a much broader scale than a live theater house that only fit 60 people at a time.
Upon arriving in Australia, I was told that a last minute change had been made and the role was to be played by another actor. Four hours later I found myself on the next flight back to America.
I had made preparations to be gone over a year, so all I had at that point was my suitcase. It was a very low point for me and I quickly realized that I had to make an active decision to do something positive with the work or risk slipping into staying down for the count. That’s when I decided to make a film of my own, something that allowed me to make that personal contribution that I had been looking forward to, and something that no one could take away from me.
Since you act, write, produce and direct, which of these areas do you enjoy most and why?
I am ecstatic about the marriage of all of the above. It allows me to tell one story from so many different complimentary angles. The clarity that one aspect gives the other is priceless.
As a filmmaker, what have you considered to be your greatest challenge?
For me, that would have to be the story itself. All the other aspects of storytelling are there to serve the story itself. It’s the leader, the ultimate blueprint that inspires everything to follow.
How did you find your cast and crew and the financing to get “HELP” made?
It was unusual in that like now with the feature film, the money was there before the script. Once the story was locked, I remember walking down the street in New York on a freezing afternoon and laughing out loud. I had a bank statement proving that I had the money in one hand and the script in the other, yet I couldn’t get anyone to look at it. They didn’t see the value of putting in all that work for just a short film. Excuse me while I laugh again…HaHaHa!
Eventually, I got a crew together and cast the film predominantly out of my theater company with the exception of my buddy, Adam Beach, and the scene stealer who played my mother, which was the acting debut of my real Mom! All special actors who made the film what it is.
More about Val and his film in Part 2 of his Q&A. In the meantime, find out more about Openfilm and the next Get It Made Competition on their website at http://www.openfilm.com/.