Film: Alex’s Halloween
No Horror Here: Daniel Persitz and Alex’s Halloween
By Madelyn Ritrosky and Jared Winslow
(Photo left: Robert Ochoa as Alex, with First Assistant Cameraman Holland Van Ackeren)
At this year’s 2009 Santa Barbara International Film Festival, Jared and I saw two live-action shorts in the Apple Box Shorts program, i.e. the family films, that we especially liked and for which we were lucky enough to meet the filmmakers. That is, of course, one of the pleasures of film festivals.
One of those films was Alex’s Halloween. In this article, you’re going to hear about Alex’s Halloween, written and directed by Daniel Persitz. Alex’s Halloween is a 14-minute film about an 8-year-old boy who is quite enthusiastic about Halloween as it turns out, for more than one reason.
Alex’s vegetarian-health nut mother is played with zest by Jane Lynch (The L Word), who agreed to do this short film as a fun weekend project. In perhaps the funniest scene of the film, she passes out granola bars to trick-or-treaters only to read the sugar content on the label and immediately decide to pass out apples instead.
Filmmaker Daniel Persitz is a creative associate at the Hasbro toy company working in their motion picture division. Hasbro was behind the Transformers big-screen adventure, and has several more on the slate, including the upcoming GI Joe.
Daniel said Hasbro has a deal with Universal to develop popular Hasbro toy and game titles into summer movies. He explained, “I work on the development/producing side, so I read scripts and work with writers and directors on developing our projects.” Some of the Hasbro titles in development include Monopoly, Battleship, Clue, Candy Land, and Stretch Armstrong.
And prior to Hasbro, Daniel worked for ImageMovers, the production company of director Robert Zemeckis.
Not surprisingly, Daniel’s ultimate goal is to make his own feature films. He said, “The producers and I have been working in Hollywood for a number of years now, and the plan has always been to use the short to try to set up a feature film. In addition to getting exposure through film festivals, we have sent the film to everybody we know in the entertainment industry.”
||Photo left: Director Daniel Persitz and Zac Kintner strike a pose
Photo below: Jane Lynch as Alex’s mom
Jared and I had a few more questions for Daniel, so let’s learn more about Alex’s Halloween.
Jared: How did you cast the kids?
Daniel: We were fortunate to have two amazing casting directors who brought in a number of kids from around southern California. Casting Alex was tough because Alex only has two lines in the entire movie, so we needed a talented actor who could be incredibly expressive without speaking. We had kids come to the audition dressed in a Halloween costume of their choice, and they had to pretend to be that character. Then we had them pretend they were the imaginary characters in our movie: gladiator, wizard, superhero, ghost. It was an extremely fun, improvisational audition process. And Robert Ochoa won the role.
Jared: Where did you shoot the film?
(Photo left: Robert Ochoa and Connor Kramme prepare for the final shot of the film with production assistant Philippe Goldstein)
Daniel: We shot the entire movie in and around this great 1920s house near UCLA that looks like a castle. The gladiator’s stone wall, the lush backyard used for the pumpkin carving scene, even the wizard's courtyard are all part of that house. We had 3.5 days for the shoot, which was incredibly tight, especially since we were limited in the number of hours we could work with the kids each day.
Jared: How many pumpkins did you carve for the film?
Daniel: Finding pumpkins in April turned out to be one of our biggest challenges! Because we were shooting the movie in spring, we couldn't get our hands on enough real pumpkins, so we had to use prop Jack-O-Lanterns that had light bulbs inside. The good news is they looked realistic. And luckily, we found two small pumpkins in a grocery store that had been sitting on a shelf since Halloween. We used those to get the shots of the carving and the gross pumpkin guts.
Madelyn: Tell us about your script and planning the shoot.
(Photo right: Zac Kintner as the gladiator)
Daniel: Jonathan Green (producer and editor), Will Sherrod (producer) and I had been working in Hollywood for a number of years and we were itching to make a movie on our own. I had always loved the idea of setting a movie during Halloween because of the imagination and the potential for amazing visuals (costumes, Jack-O-Lanterns, colorful candy), and we realized there were very few shorts made for kids. So we decided to make the movie about a kid who loves Halloween. I fleshed out the story and finished the script in February 2008. We spent two intense months putting together an amazing creative team and figuring out the logistics, and we were shooting by mid-April.
Madelyn: Could you tell us about that great opening gladiator sequence?
Daniel: We shot that scene on a driveway that happened to have a great, Roman-looking brick wall along the side. No joke if we had tilted the camera two inches up or down, we would’ve either seen the house behind the wall or the cement driveway! I wanted the scene to feel very immediate, so we shot lots of close-ups of the gladiator’s face, sword, shield, etc. And combined with extremely fast cuts, we were able to achieve an intense, dynamic action sequence.
Madelyn: What other film festivals are on the schedule?
Daniel: The movie has screened at the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival, San Fernando Valley International Film Festival, Los Angeles International Children’s Film Festival, BamKids Film Festival, and the Mosaic Film Festival. And it will be playing at a number of festivals in the coming months, including the San Francisco International Film Festival, Nashville Film Festival, Newport Beach Film Festival, and the Kids First! Film Festival.
Madelyn: How would you describe your festival experience?
Photo left: The 1920s house where the film was shot
Daniel: With most of the festivals, we’ve been fortunate in having sizeable audiences. And the reactions have been very positive, particularly in screenings that included kids. It was always very important to me to play the movie for kids and families, because they are the target audience. And many of these festivals have done a great job reaching out to local communities and having weekend family screenings.
Madelyn: What are your other current film projects?
Daniel: I’ve always been surprised that there aren’t more family-friendly Halloween films in theaters come October. All you see these days are horror and slasher flicks. So I recently wrote a feature-length family Halloween script that I’m trying to get made.
So thank you to Daniel for making a cute Halloween film that is actually enjoyable for kids and their parents. We look forward to hearing more about that feature film...
All photos are courtesy of Daniel Persitz.
© 2009 Film Entertainment Magazine / EMOL.org. All rights reserved.