Local filmmakers blend fact and fiction in tragic fairytale
Another pitch for a new project makes its way into my meeting schedule. This time I am sitting down with writer/director Vincent Dale, a twenty-something Florida State University graduate, and producer Arash Zandi of the Ringling College Digital Film Department. Equally alert and motivated, they are eager to discuss their short film, “No Real Than You Are.”
The title may ring a bell. Most Sarasota locals will recognize it as the slogan worn by Ego Leonard, the “giant Lego man” who washed up on Siesta Key in 2011. Dale explains that the film is a response to Ego’s mysterious introduction: “Show me all the beautiful things that are there to admire and experience in your world. Let’s become friends, share your story with me, take me with you on a journey through beautiful meadows, words, sounds and gestures.”
However, this film is not about Ego Leonard. Nor is it a documentary about Sarasota. To clarify the nature of this tale, Dale narrates a condensed version of his script, conjuring up chilling, beautiful images projected by his carefully-paced words and gestures. I understand that this story is neither purely fact nor fiction. It is an interweaving of the darker threads in Sarasota’s past and present, from the conquistadors and the hurricane of 1848 to today’s widespread prescription drug abuse.
Curious about and captivated by Dale’s Sarasota narrative, I decide to hold an impromptu interview.
Van Jazmin: How did you begin forming this story?
Vincent Dale: The story started when I was searching for a story in my hometown of Sarasota. I moved back after I spent five months in Los Angeles searching for a story. Something was nagging me like a splinter … something cosmic about Sarasota. When I read the Lego man’s words, he was asking something large of Sarasota: “Show me a vision.” I started thinking about unique problems, and the prescription drug addiction stood out. There was the true story of Brandi Meshad, this 18-year-old girl who died two years ago from oxycodone. She was very popular. She came from an established, well-to-do family. That always begs the classic question: What went wrong? Everybody’s quick to jump to answers. When overdoses happen, a slew of clichés erupt to explain the events—typically, blame the parents, blame the girl, blame the media, blame cultural messages. I was looking for a more complex explanation. I started seeing how there were no simple answers.
So I became aware of how oxycodone and oxycontin were correlated to the whole story of Sarasota—the past and the present. The common thread. Then I did heavy research to craft the story. This is a short film, so we have to choose our material carefully and focus on a few of those things. I needed a talented producer to take on this ambitious project. That’s how I met Arash Zandi and we had an instant connection. Arash Zandi: He told me about the story over lunch. He sat down and just went off! I was eating my food, and he wasn’t even finishing. He was so into the story the food didn’t matter. So he told me and I thought it was really interesting, coming from a background where I am constantly writing and trying to tell stories and looking for segments of life to use in these stories. I thought he’d done his research. With storytelling, it’s a matter of working with what you have. When you are an independent filmmaker, you must use your resources at hand and write to your resources. I thought he had a future, so I said I was down. It took off from there. We launched the Kickstarter and started meeting with people.
VJ: What kind of response have you had from community so far?
AZ: As soon as they hear the story, they say that they have goosebumps. The story connects with them on a basic level. People think it is a documentery or that we are trying to make a documentary, but we are using a real-life event in our fiction. It’s fictional and it’s educational as a narrative with some historical context. It will be entertaining. It wil have a comic twist while telling the story of a realistic character who went down the wrong rabbit hole.
VD: Because we are blending so much non-fiction with fiction, everything has a source. William Whitaker was the first founding pioneer in Sarasota. The hurricane in 1848 really did blow a hole in Longboat Key. The story behind Hernando de Soto, Sara de Soto, Brandi Meshad … these are all real events. And we are taking bits and pieces and rearranging them into a meta-narrative, taking all this pain and suffering and trying to transmute it into something beautiful and inspiring. I want audiences to realize that when you walk out of the theater, you’re not walking away from the story; you’re walking deeper into it. When you go home and look at these events, you realize this is actually happening. Life is the master narrative. If I can make life more exciting or more connected for people, I’ve fulfilled my job as a storyteller. VJ: What is your progress and where are you at with the project?
VD: We are at $12,000 on Kickstarter. We need $2,000 more to reach our goal. Kickstarter as a platform is all-or-nothing, so if we fall short, we can’t make the film. Nobody’s charged for their pledge until the end.
We have our major positions in our crew filled. We will soon be holding auditions at the Asolo Rep. We have production offices picked out. Someone was generous enough to rent us a production office on Sarasota Bay at a reduced cost. Everyone we share the story with wants to help us out. We’re making real progress!
AZ: We are setting up an LLC and a bank account to handle all of the potential Kickstarter funds and we’re also looking into production insurance options as well. We will be applying soon for location permits. We have the crew, the script, and we’ve met with the head of the film commission to have our locations approved. Now it’s just a matter of making the story better from the feedback we get and spreading awareness.
VJ: Is there going to be an awareness campaign associated with this film?
VD: There are already a lot of non-profits raising awareness for this issue. Our main priority is to raise consciousness for this as we as a culture interpret the events. We are trying to draw people’s attention and reconsider certain thoughts and assumptions about oxycontin addiction. [We want to] make people consider the humanity of people affected by this and how complex it is. Maybe as a society we can begin to make some progress involving public perception of drugs and addiction. AZ: We would love to have panel discussions at our screenings or prior events to raise awareness of the issue. We could bring in experts. We want the entire community involved. It takes a village to make a movie and to find solutions for this kind of problem.
VJ: What are your long term goals for this project?
AZ: We’d like to put it in as many film festivals as we can—the biggest and best festivals. This film has potential to reach wider audiences. The long-term plan is to possibly make a feature-length. We expose this short first and show what we can do with a minimum budget, guerrilla-style, and see if we can use this opportunity to do a full-length film in the future. Our objectives are the same as any other newcomer independent filmmaker.
VD: We are making this to compete in national and international film circuits. But I don’t think this is the number-one reason we are doing this. So our main focus is to spread awareness on this subject. ‘We want this to go to the best festivals so it reaches the widest audiences and ultimately opens a dialogue about how OxyContin and addiction in general has shaped modern American culture. Although we have plenty of source material, we don’t have the budget or the resources to make a feature. So we can make a very compelling, short film to tell this story and demonstrate our ability to the festival circuit that we can be feature-length filmmakers. After this short is finished, I will be working on a feature-length script for this. Short films are short-lived. If you really want to make a statement, make an impact, open a real dialogue, it has to be a feature-length film. Overall, we hope the Lego Man will be happy that someone finally showed him Sarasota’s world and took him on a journey through beautiful meadows, words,
sounds and gestures.
Support the project : http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/611891515/no-real-than-you-are
Read about the project on Elite Daily: http://elitedaily.com/news/world/filmmakers-look-to-eradicate-prescription-drug-problem-in-florida/