The sixth annual Richmond International Film Festival (RIFF), with its 150+ films, 60 musicians and groups from near and far, workshops, and screenings, gets more ambitious each year. This year's fest kicked off Monday with an opening night concert by The Trap Music Orchestra at Sound of Music production studio. Among Tuesday's offerings was a director's workshop led by Emmy Award winner and son of Richmond Jesse Vaughan, followed by the premiere of his latest film, "The Last Punch." The rest of the event promises even more cinematic excitement.
This year is significant for one of the contributors, Manchester High School and James Madison University graduate Jamie Brindle, who is arriving here from Los Angeles, where he now lives and works, with his short film “The Catcher.” It will screen on Saturday, March 2, at noon at Bow Tie Cinemas Movieland at Boulevard Square.
Filmmaker, director and Richmond native Jamie Brindle, whose short film "The Catcher" will be screened at the 2017 Richmond International Film Festival on Saturday, March 2. (Photo courtesy Sherwood Forest Entertainment)
The film, a 1940s period piece shot in just two days in downtown Los Angeles locations, is based on an actual incident of World War II espionage. The piece took a couple months of preproduction, using clothing from Western Costumes. “They’ve been in L.A. since the 1920s, from the beginning,” says Brindle. “So those are actual tuxedos from that time.” The film is part of the International Shorts Spotlight lineup, which includes "Parade de Satie" by Japanese director Koji Yamamura and "My Life I Don't Want," set in Myanmar and directed by Nyan Kyal Say.
Brindle was the kid who made a “Star Wars” homage in his backyard with a bunch of fellow second graders. He performed as young actor in various productions of what was then Theatre IV — shows like “Lyle Lyle Crocodile,” and “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” During his four years at Manchester High School’s Center for Mass Communications he became interested in working behind the camera.
After completing his studies at JMU, he tried regular work; the routine didn’t agree with his temperament. So Brindle and his father loaded up his ailing Hyundai to drive across the country to L.A. The back seat held two boxes of belongings and an air mattress that lasted a year. He moved into a friend’s place in Studio City until getting on his feet.
He became a regular at certain Starbucks, because in Lotus Land, this is where the business begins. “It’s absolutely true,” Brindle says. “In L.A., people use Starbucks as a communal work place. It’s their office. And if you get to be a regular at one of them, you can end up making connections.”
Through the Starbucks network, Brindle met Steve Shubin, Michael Keaton’s "Batman" costumer, which led to Scott Montoya, a standup comedy producer, who hired Brindle as an assistant director for a Showtime Andrew Dice Clay special — the first from Clay in about a dozen years. “Scott has really helped me launch a career,” Brindle says, “We’ve become co-producers.”
“The Catcher,” clocking in at just 18 minutes, has the polished feel of a longer film with a bigger budget. And it tells an obscure story of baseball player Moe Berg, who ends up in an unique position in baseball-crazed Japan. The film was largely shot at the Japanese-American Cultural Center and further character was added through the talents of a geisha performance troupe from Little Tokyo.
A scene from Jamie Brindle's 18-minute short film, "The Catcher," about baseball player Moe Berg. (Photo courtesy Sherwood Forest Entertainment)
Why the Moe Berg story?
“I’m from Richmond,” he says, and laughs. “History interests me — I’m reading the biographies of the presidents now. But my dad sent me a clipping about Moe Berg, and that’s what got the wheels turning.”
Director Jamie Brindle (center, wearing hat) on the set of his short film, "The Catcher," which is set in 1940s Japan. (Photo courtesy Sherwood Forest Entertainment)
He’s currently finishing two other feature length projects, “This Is My Year,” about a young woman trying to make a go of writing for movies. Brindle swears the idea came before “La La Land,” but I-gotta-make-it stories set in Hollywood, where everybody is, well, trying to make it, are not uncommon. Brindle, however, chose to set the entire film in the writer’s apartment. “The challenge was to show the audience what’s happening outside of her apartment without telling them.” Much of the production crew for “The Catcher” came along, and Brindle felt a bit like Tom Sawyer getting friends to paint that fence. “We were making a little feature for a fraction of the cost that we made a good short film.”
Brindle is looking to have the film completed at least by summer. Then comes the tricky part of distribution. He’s worked in the past with Hulu and Netflix; these days, though, where once there were just 10 stops on the hunt, now there are many other options. He’s enthusiastic about moving from the short film world where the excitement is getting into festivals. “The feature conversation is suddenly about profit,” he says, and he allows a short laugh.
A third film, “Street Ships,” is in post-production and involves visual effects — some distance away from the paper cutouts he used in that backyard “Star Wars” production. In this, two 15-year-olds with active imaginations convert two cars into pirate ships, which inspires their friends to join in. For the first time directed a car chase. “You sit in the back with a big jib on top,” he explains. The production used the Universal Studios Courthouse lot where “Back to the Future” was shot. During his day of filming, Arnold Schwarzenegger was over on the lot's New York street making promotional spots for “Celebrity Apprentice.”
“That was fun,” he says. “Because they were using smoke. And we were using smoke, and sometimes [theirs] drifted in and we had to figure that out.”
"The Catcher" shows Saturday at noon at Bow Tie Movieland at Boulevard Square (1301 N. Boulevard). See the full schedule for the Sixth Annual Richmond International Film Festival here; ticket costs vary. Stay turned for our recap of this weekend's festival offerings on Monday.