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World premiere of 'Layover' is a homecoming for Eastside filmmakers
This weekend, two Eastside men will see their first feature film screen publicly for the first time.
“Layover,” premiering Friday and screening again Saturday as part of the Seattle International Film Festival, was written and directed by Joshua Caldwell and produced by Travis Oberlander. Both men are originally from the Sammamish Plateau — now living in Los Angeles — and friends dating back to their time as classmates at Samantha Smith Elementary School.
“We made a very, very low budget indie French-language film,” Caldwell said. He added, laughing: “I almost did it in black and white, but I had to stop myself and go, no, that would be a little too noncommercial.”
The film is the first full-length feature to come out of Caldwell’s company Meydenbauer Entertainment. The story follows a young Parisian woman (played by Nathalie Fay) during an unexpected overnight stay in Los Angeles, on her way to a marriage proposal that may or may not be what she wants. There’s little action and it’s heavy on dialogue, most of which is in French. It was shot “guerilla style” in public thoroughfares and private homes on a consumer DSLR camera over several weekends with a volunteer crew. Oberlander pulled double-duty as an audio operator on some of the shoots.
In the end the movie cost $6,000 to make, though it has the appearance of a production with a heftier budget. The festival has advertised “Layover” as a modern callback to the French New Wave movement of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Which was a conscious choice, Caldwell said, but it ultimately came together as a result of what he and Oberlander had available.
“We both believe the best way to make a film is to just do it,” he said. “Don’t worry if it’s a little rough, just get it out there. It freed us up to be OK with a movie that’s not perfect.”
You may have heard of Caldwell back in 2006. That was the year he became the first recipient of the mtvU Student Filmmaker award for his short “The Beautiful Lie,” produced during his senior year at Fordham University. Caldwell had been putting himself behind the camera since his early teen years, producing documentaries on student issues at Bellevue High School.
Around the time of the award, Caldwell had reconnected with Oberlander on Facebook. They had parted ways during elementary school after Caldwell’s family moved to Bellevue, then met again briefly when Oberlander attended a cross-district video production course at Bellevue High. Unbeknownst to each other, they had developed a parallel interest in filmmaking.
Oberlander’s first job was at a video store that offered free employee rentals — up to three at a time. Every day over two summers, he would work the closing shift, check out three movies, go home and watch them back-to-back overnight.
“One day my boss called me in and said the system had stopped tracking my rentals,” Oberlander said. “I had taken out so many it stopped counting up. I broke the system.”
Oberlander was working at IndieFlix in Seattle and had a greenlit screenplay under his belt when he reconnected with Caldwell. They decided to move down to Los Angeles with a friend, riding Oberlander's nascent foothold and Caldwell’s newfound recognition to success on the speculative script market. They believed in six months — maybe a year — they would be The Next Big Thing.
That was 2007. And then the Writers Guild of America, seeking greater compensation for work distributed online, voted to strike.
“The writers strike changed Hollywood from its old form to what it is today, which is a more fragmented, decentralized system,” Oberlander said. “The speculative marketplace for screenplays pretty much vanished overnight. And it really hasn’t come back until the last year and a half.”
The major studios began reallocating their resources to big blockbusters based on proven intellectual properties. As Caldwell put it, studios were no longer greenlighting “sub-studio, less than $40 million budget” productions — the kinds of movies he wanted to make.
But the duo wasn’t down and out in L.A. Caldwell continued to direct music videos and was hired by Anthony E. Zuiker, creator of “CSI,” to direct companion videos to his “Level 26: Dark Revelations” series of novels. Zuiker went on to employ Caldwell in various capacities on his other online projects and Caldwell, in turn, helped Oberlander land a writing job on Zuiker’s ABC murder mystery series, “Whodunnit?”
Somewhere in between, they made time for their passion projects. Even as studios were going bigger, technology was increasingly allowing independent filmmakers to create cheaply and raise funds more easily. Caldwell and Oberlander turned to Kickstarter to fund their co-written short film “Dig,” released online in 2011.
With “Layover’s” impending world premiere at SIFF — to be followed June 4 by a showing at the Dances With Films competition — Caldwell have turned to IndieGoGo to raise funds for two thematic sequels in what they’re calling the “LAX Trilogy.”
“Assassin,” penned by Oberlander, will concern a female killer-for-hire who goes into hiding on Big Bear Mountain.
“X” (pronounced “Ten”) is a romantic movie that strings together one man’s relationship history by assigning each of his lady loves to the typical tropes of the movies — one woman for the meeting, one the honeymoon period, another for the first fight and so on. The unfinished screenplay is being cowritten by Caldwell, Oberlander and Laura Boersma.