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JL Open Productions

“Freedom begins with an idea.”

 

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Red Lion
"When your inner resolve changes, everything is transformed."
- Daisaku Ikeda

 

About the Production
 


RED LION began as a dream Jesse Levy had many years ago.  It started with the image of a guy waking up in a white box of a home. As he got up, another guy came over and began pressing his face against the first guy’s cheek, leaving a dark stain there. Then this second guy went over to the first guy’s dresser and took his money out and ate it. The first guy then lifted himself out of his box/home and was on a country road. He went to a deserted city to go to work. Always a fan of surrealism, Jesse decided to bring the images in his head to life and the idea for this film was born.

As the story unfolded in his mind, Levy decided to make it about the struggle against daily life that so many people undergo. Bridging the gap between their ideals and reality seemed to call for a great deal of courage on the part of ordinary people, a kind of rebellion. In fact, the original title was Rebellion.  Associate producer LaMar Aguilar explains how that changed. “I was in a one-act play at the Theatre of Note and put in my bio that I was one of the producers of a short film called Rebellion. Well, when the program went to the printer, the person who typed it up had mistakenly called the film Red Lion. I told that to Jesse and he liked it!” “I thought about it,” says Levy, “and I thought, what does the title ‘Un Chien Andelou’ have to do with that film? So, after realizing that our film was about a guy becoming himself, from twisted up to straightened out, I thought that a corruption of the title made a lot of sense, i.e. when Red Lion is straightened out and made fuller, it becomes Rebellion.” The story the hero writes in the film is of course called Rebellion.

Levy decided to use Now Casting.com for the bulk of the casting. He got many submissions and narrowed it down to the ones he felt good about, then had an audition session. The session took place at IFP/West in Beverly Hills.  Mary Lynn Remar who plays The Girlfriend said, “Auditioning with Jesse was an actor’s dream.  It was all play and creativity.  He just wanted to see what I would bring to the character and the circumstances, and what great circumstances!  He and his crew were so much fun to work with, calm and clear and easy.  Can’t wait to see what they do next.

Levy secured the services of the director of photography Andrew J. Giannetta who brought his talent, extensive knowledge and experience to the shoot.  They went down to the post-production house PlasterCity Digital Post (PlasterCity did the post on JL Open’s first short film called “StigmatZa.”).  They had a foley stage that was not being used. The co-producers asked if they could use the stage to shoot the bulk of their film. PlasterCity was happy to oblige. With sets created by Mark Bodine’s Off & On Production company, they created the box-like apartment. Using those same flats but turned around to the back sides and adorned with rope lights (Levy’s favorite set dressing item), they created the dark, mysterious night club. The floor, which can be glimpsed in the nightclub scene, is the actual foley stage floor. You can see the different surfaces used to produce different sounds. It’s also reflects the rope lights in some spots!

The rest of the film was shot on three locations: Hahn State Park, downtown Los Angeles and Canyon Country.  Levy and Giannetta had shot in the park before while working on the Nickelodeon show “100 Deeds for Eddie McDowd.”  Levy knew it would make a good spot for the sequence (plus his own Hitchcock-like cameo). Levy and Immel found the perfect doors used in the downtown location. Levy and associate producer LaMar Aguilar went scouting for the outdoor office scene and were lucky to stumble upon the secluded spot up in Canyon Country. It was windy up there but gives the scene such a great look.

Otto Arsenault put a marvelous cut of the film together using Final Cut Pro. He edited the film at PlasterCity Digital Post. Ian Vertovec did the incredible coloring of the film. The film (digital video really) was shot in color but Jesse always conceived of it being in black and white. Ian gave the film it’s “blown out,” contrast-y black and white look after a suggestion by Mike Cioni. Cioni felt that this style would reflect the character’s inner torment in addition to looking cool.  Ian also used green and red tinting in the outdoor scenes to give them a different dimension and feel.

Jesse played the music himself on instruments he bought in the Folk Music Center in Claremont, California. The main instruments used were the kalimba (or African thumb piano) and the African tongue drum, which he played with his hands, mallets, and the stick ends of the mallets as well. He also used a variety of shakers and bells. Why so many African instruments? Levy explains, “I wanted the film to have an ‘origins of man’ quality, as if it is the young man’s origin as well.” “It gives it a tribal feel,” says PlasterCity’s Michael Cioni, “and it goes well with the look of the film.” The music was recorded in the studio of Phil Smith who sings and plays drums for the A.J. Croce band. “We put the film on my computer and Jesse played along with it. Doing it that way gives the score an immediacy because it’s reactive – happening as the action happens,” says Smith. The music was recorded in layers during several passes of the film. The music was then brought to PlasterCity and Ian Vertovec added it to the picture with cross-fades and other effects where necessary.

When you start with a dream, it can easily turn into a nightmare. This dream project, however, stayed a wonderful dream throughout. The result is certainly dreamlike but with a powerful message: If you change yourself, you can change the world.
 


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