September 26, 2006:
by Chris Langley
The western short "The Showdown" filmed in Lone Pine and San Bernardino will be screened during the Lone Pine Film Festival on Saturday October 7 at 4 pm in the brand new Museum Wild West Movie Theatre. After the screening, producer John Mazzarella and directors Fulvio and Antonio Sestito will discuss the project, the new filmmaking methods employed and answer questions.This project is interesting for local residents and Festival fans alike for several reasons. First, it is one of the earliest projects in which the Inyo Film Commission participated and demonstrates the powerful partnership being developed between the Commission and the Film Festival. Filmmakers now can benefit from the assistance of the Commission and then come back and exhibit their film at the annual film festival. Special showings can also be arranged during the year at the Beverly and Jim Rogers Museum of Lone Pine Film History Wild West Movie Theatre. The theatre has the very latest projection equipment and seats 85.
While many critics and fans have announced the death of the western, the genre keeps returning in new forms and guises. Considered one of the truly original American genres, whether in written or in visual format, the western once ruled the box office and the air waves, but has been absent in the last few decades except in a few unique examples.
This film is an attempt to see the genre in a new way. The production notes state, "'The Showdown' brings together two aspects that are uniquely American, Baseball and the Old West. It is a short action/drama film, about the confrontation between a pitcher and batter in the bottom of the ninth inning of a run-run baseball game, juxtaposed against a deadly duel between two gunfighters in the Old West."
At first glance, the joining of these two very American cultural expressions might seem challenging, but the directors show the parallels both through technical manipulation of the format as well as careful story construction. They state that the film "is about duels and duality, and sets out to explore and challenge the relationship between baseball and the Old West. The film portrays the story of The Batter and Jonathan C. Edwards, two men fighting for their destiny and trying to overcome their fears against the nightmares of their past. It is a story about loss and redemption, and how history can repeat itself." That is a lot of work for a fifteen minute film.Fulvio and Antonio Sestito both studied directing at Cinecita in their native city of Rome, before coming to Los Angeles and studying at UCLA Extension, Film and Television program. Having graduated in 2004 in Directing, Cinematography and Post-Production, they have written, produced and directed several narrative and documentary projects. The idea for "The Showdown" came from producer John Mazzarella. After several drafts, the script was ready but the three men decided on a rather extended preproduction period because of the demands of budget and schedule.
Director of Photography Deland Nuse and the Sestito brothers undertook lengthy discussions and research to establish the visual tone of the film. The filmmakers' intent was to set up a decisive visual style that would play a pivotal and evolving character in the story. It would reflect the arc of emotional subtext that the two lead characters experience during the progression of the film.
The directors explained their technical approach. "The Baseball segment is characterized by a cool and desaturated color palette, longer lenses and faster camera moves. These aspects are juxtaposed against the western portion, which presents warmer tonalities, wider lenses and smooth camera movements. As the story progresses and the similarities between Baseball and the Old West become more apparent, the visual style of the two segments shifts to more natural colors and similar camera angles that bring the two periods closer together."
Another innovation from modern filmmaking relied on was detailed storyboarding and 3D previsualization techniques. Storyboard artist Jim Marquez created more than 300 boards to represent in detail each shot of the movie. The drawings were later scanned into digital files and edited together with a temporary soundtrack into an animated story-reel.
"It was like seeing the flow and rhythm of the film before it was even shot" John Mazzarella remarked. "In addition, illustrator David Zohm collaborated with the directors to render many illustrations that would help establish the look and feel of the film. This extensive preparation was essential to ensure a fast and smooth production process." Stills, the storyboard, script and other materials are on display in the window of the Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce.
The directors were drawn to Lone Pine because of the sand dunes of the dry Owens Lake juxtaposed against the snowy Sierra Nevada Mountain range. "Lone Pine is one of the most beautiful and suggestive locations in California. And as soon as we arrived there, while scouting for a desert plateau, we immediately knew we had found what we were looking for."
Film historian and critic Philip French has written, "The western genre is a great grab bag, a hungry cuckoo of a genre, a voracious bastard of a form, open equally to visionaries and opportunists, ready to seize anything in the air from juvenile delinquency to ecology. Yet despite this, or in some ways because of it, one of the things the Western is always about is America rewriting and reinterpreting her own past, however honestly or dishonestly it may be done."
"The Showdown" in fifteen minutes illustrates the ongoing effort of the western genre attempting to reinvent itself. How successful it is will be determined by the audience. The event is free with a Film Festival Souvenir Button, or a ticket costs $5, with limited seating.