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"Oh no, that's OUR homeless!"

Updated: Aug 31, 2020

Two lamp posts illuminate the quiet pedestrian road in Soho, London. I have one knee on the ground trying to find a stable position while I hold a stripped down camera rig with a borrowed video camera (a Black Magic Pocket). I let go of the rig quickly to wave my left hand to Akie, who is waiting for some sort kind of signal from me at the other end of the road, then I grab the rig back before I lose my frame.

Akie starts walking towards me, in a slow and steady pace. He stops in the middle and kneels down next to the homeless guy, who is lying down on the pavement. Akie looks at a hat full of coins for a few seconds, extends his hand and grabs a handful, stands up and walks away. I look at my girlfriend, Rona, who is next to me and I smile: great!

Then I hear voices behind me, they aren’t talking to me but they are close enough to know I’m the focus of their attention. I turn my head and my instant think “ok, they are not policemen”. But with their walky-talkies and yellow security vests I can tell we aren’t welcome.

“Hey guys, we are just testing the camera” I say. They frown. They are looking at something or someone behind me. I turned my head: Rona carrying 2 portable lights, Akie standing with the fistful of coins and the homeless guy still on the floor.

“Oh no, that’s OUR homeless!” I quickly explain, “It’s my friend, we are just rehearsing... something” they look at each other, they are about to say something on their radio. “Hey Ivo! Get up for a second!” No response. I turned to the security guys, I smile. they don’t. “IVO!!! GET UP... please!!!”

Clay ( Akie Kotabe ) kneels down to our homeless guy ( Ivo Alexander )

That was on Sunday evening on 2018, the 12th of August to be specific. The first day that Akie Kotabe, Ivo Alexander, Rona Walter and myself ventured out to start shooting, Guerrilla Style, “Clay’s Redemption”, my first feature film.

I must have been around 11 years old when I went to see Ghostbusters 2 with my dad, back in Venezuela (where I’m originally from). Our intention was to watch the showing of ‘Imagine’ the documentary about John Lennon, my dad and me being massive Beatles fans, but the security guy (yes, I know) didn’t let me in as the film had some nudity, so Ghostbusters 2 it was. I was happy nevertheless, loving the first one in 1984.

I don’t know what it was, but I came out from the film rather inspired. In the next couple of days I recruited my school friends and their neighbours to make my very own version of “Ghosbusters”. No script (what on earth is a script?!) but I did draw some storyboards and explained to every single kid their respective role. My schoolmate’s mum “offered” to operate her handy-cam, unfortunately she didn’t let me near the camera, but hey, she was game, so that was cool. As I didn’t know at the time you take the footage shot of your film and edit it afterwards, we did an in-camera edit, meaning we started filming chronologically while my friend’s mum pressed record and stop at the exact point of the beginning and end of the scene. We had everything, proton packs made out of shoe boxes and garden hoses, ectoplasm made out of hair conditioner and food colorant, ghost masks made out of toilet paper and hand cream. Unfortunately I never got to see the final film. Years later I found out that Robert Rodriguez did something similar when filming El Mariachi. I remember a friend at school came to me and said “hey, this guy shot a whole film, a proper film with a handy-cam!”. It was not a handy-cam but an Arriflex 16S, using 16mm film, but that sparked that thought in me: it can be done that way!

In 2012, The 65th Cannes Film Festival was opening with “Moonrise Kingdom” by Wes Anderson. I had a short film I put together in 2 days for the Court Métrage (short film corner) which gave me 2 passes for the festival. One for me and one for my girlfriend at the time, who I introduced as my producer. Towards the end of the festival, we went to the section where you could find the booths of productions companies all over the world, most of them promoting and trying to get a sale for their films. I had a moment of inspiration when I walked in front a booth from a London production company and out of nowhere I said to them: “I’m a director and I have feature film idea you might be interested in!”

“Oh really! What’s the name of the film?”

“The Gemini Project” That name I already had.”

“Oh, what’s the film about?” ... That I didn’t have at all.

“Erm, well, it’s about this guy.. right?, and he.. he might be clone, and he doesn’t know it, and people are after him, and I have the most quotable female villain of all times!”

Raised eyebrows: “That’s a bold statement. Do you have a script?”

“Yes?... yes.... yes I have script”

“Can you send it to us”

“Sure” I nodded “ 3 weeks! Erm... my producer is.. correcting my grammar and some other tweaks.”

“That sounds good, looking forward to reading it, Carlos.”

Hey, Stallone wrote Rocky in 3 days right? I can do that in 3 weeks. It took me 3 months to write the first very rough draft of the “Gemini Project” (later changing its name to “Welcome to Cobalt Life”). 3 months passed and I approached this Production company again with the script, they read it, were intrigued enough to meet with me a couple of times. I remember the first time I went to see them they asked me “would you like a drink?” The response to this question, unless you’re in an actual cafe, is either: tea, coffee or water; not “yes please, a mocha” which is exactly what I said, I instantly regretted it, but I was nervous. “Oh ok... I think we have some chocolate powder, so yes, a mocha it is” the nice head of the production lady said to me.

Those meetings went nowhere, still, that was not a bad experience for something I just made up on the spot. What about if I dedicated more time to it? How far could that get me?

#claysredemption #indiefilmmaking

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