Rock ’n’ Roll Film School

UNLV grads blend indie music and moviemaking to shoot a feature film

Actor Luke Jones plays an antagonistic pawnshop owner.

From left: Walters, Cloe and First Assistant Director Devon Byers.

Stepping onto the UNLV set of the upcoming feature film Liars, Fires and Bears, I stifled a figurative yawn. How cute, I thought. Look at the older couple standing by, no doubt parents of the student filmmaker, proud that their kid’s starring in and/or working the camera for another movie that will go nowhere. Music will suck too, I bet.

Indeed, I’d entered the Grant Hall gallery on campus numerous times over the years to observe students conducting their business of completing art/film/creative writing degrees. The results are often less than mixed. However, as I scanned this particular set, small details indicated this wasn’t a run-of-the-mill student effort. For instance, there was a catering table. Huh, I thought.

And the older couple? Not parents, it turns out, but extras waiting for their cue to walk in the background. I spotted a boom mike, then the arsenal of lights. And an expensive camera. Expensive camera dolly. I heard “Cut!” and suddenly what seemed like a small army, about 35 people, emerged from the gallery, many wearing T-shirts by the coolest local indie-rock bands—A Crowd of Small Adventures, Kid Meets Cougar, GoldBoot. I peeked inside to see that the space had been completely transformed into a down-and-dirty pawnshop. Later I’d learn the cast and crew had dragged out detritus from their garages—old TVs, bicycles and exercise equipment—to fill the area, giving it a real secondhand atmosphere.

The producer spotted me, invited me inside, quickly introduced me to the film’s director and cinematographer. Time was short, though; work to be done. The script supervisor—Damn, someone’s supervising a script?—handed me a double-padded headset to better hear takes. Standing in darkness, listening to actors deliver dialogue, the tables had turned. All along I’d been the know-nothing; now I was being schooled on how to make a feature in Las Vegas, and not on the stupidly cheap, but by reaching out to a community. Who are these filmmakers? I wondered. And how do I get one of those GoldBoot shirts?

The saga found its catalyst last April at Spring Flicks, the annual short film festival sponsored by UNLV’s film department. Writer/director Jeremy Cloe, 24, and writer/actor Lundon Boyd, 25, were basking in the glory of seeing their short film Sad Story—about a little girl on the run—win nearly every festival award.

Already possessing a director’s mindset, Cloe had admired the affable actor Boyd in the classes they’d taken together. So Cloe pitched him the concept of Sad Story January 2010. Boyd was hesitant, aware the idea risked being “WAK”—an acronym that refers to the hairiest topics: “Water, Animals, Kids.” A determined Cloe drew the kid’s story arc and fleshed out her character. Then, he and Boyd casted talented local 9-year-old, Meglo Micek. (She appeared in Sad Story and recent Cloe short, Apple Juice.)

“Megli is the star,” Boyd says. “If audiences like her, then they’ll put up with me.”

Once all the pieces were in place, Sad Story filmed in only four days.

After the film’s Spring Flicks triumph, Boyd returned to his native state of Alaska to work in asbestos abatement, while waiting for a film project to roll his way. He didn’t wait long.

Meanwhile, Cloe—who looks more like a indie-rocker than a frazzled movie director—was in Vegas shooting music videos for bands such as the Afghan Raiders. But he couldn’t let the idea go. He finally called Boyd and asked if he was prepared to write, star in and shoot a full-length feature version of their award-winning short. Boyd was game, but first they needed funds.

Enter Constanza Castro, UNLV film student and producer of Cloe’s short films. She reached out to the bands for whom Cloe had made music videos. She arranged for Beauty Bar to hold several benefits: In November, A Crowd of Small Adventures, Twin Brother, GoldBoot and Caravels played a show raising more than $2,000. (Beauty Bar also screened Cloe’s films, and the venue’s holiday party helped win additional support.) These bands, plus The Clydesdale and Kid Meets Cougar, donated T-shirts to the cast. Product Promotion 101, Vegas indie-style.

But it’s more intertwined than that. Kid Meets Cougar mastermind Brett Bolton will be scoring the music to Liars, Fires and Bears. Bolton has known Cloe since high school and had approached him to create videos for Kid Meets Cougar. Bolton went on to write music and do audio for two of Cloe’s previous shorts.

“It’s a perfect match of audio and video,” Bolton says. “It makes sense to help each other out, since it makes what we each do look and sound better. Jeremy has helped us out a ton, and it’s the least we can do, to reciprocate.”

Bolton’s been visiting the set now and then to check on the film’s progress, which is on target to wrap later this month. “Once I have a rough cut I can start thinking about different tones and what scenes need music,” he says. “It’s a good relationship: indie music and indie film.”

Cloe insists he could only make this film in Vegas, not just because of community support, but also because Vegas makes it easier to shoot a film than in California, where there’s too much red tape. “It only costs something like $40 a permit to film in Vegas,” Cloe says.

The process so far has been “super-fun,” although Cloe confesses that 12-hour days are tiring. “It’s a huge undertaking but, you know, these are my closest friends,” says Cloe. “So I love working with them every single day.”

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