After two years of filming from Colonial Lanes to Sunset Boulevard, 'Alta Vista' is finished — and winning awards at film festivals
It was a rainy day when Joe Clarke filmed on Sunset Boulevard. He'd come out to get dazzling Hollywood sunlight and was met with clouds and crummy weather.
"This sucks," Clarke recalled thinking, but nothing could be done about it. Shoot schedules had been made and cast and crew were standing by, so Clarke started filming in the rain.
"As (shooting) went on, I realized the rain is the X-factor of the scene," Clarke told the Press-Citizen months after the fact. "It works to our advantage, and it’s one of the things I’m happiest about.
"Out of the millions of movies that take place somewhere on Sunset, it’s cool that ours is during the rain — those kinds of happy accidents that happen are my favorite part of making movies sometimes."
For the past two and a half years, University of Iowa graduate Joe Clarke has been going between Iowa City and L.A. to shoot his latest movie, "Alta Vista" — a movie with a plot that, in many ways, mirrors his own experiences, following a struggling screenwriter moving out west while coping with a paternal loss.
Likewise, the arch of making the movie is someone encapsulated by Clarke and his crew's experience on Sunset Boulevard — the project first came to life in Clarke's mind as a "Point Break-style action movie" before eventually finding shape in its final form.
Despite the film wrapping around the time COVID-19 first arrived in the U.S., a few minor changes had to be implemented, and some minor tweaks and changes to the filmmaking process had to take place to get to the finished product.
A constant in the project — and in Clarke's filmography so far — are the people he's tagged to help him, which have included past collaborators like actor Paul Beckman and composer Alex Kachingwe.
The latter snagged the film an award for best feature film score at the 2020 Culver City Film Festival, which was announced last week.
"The process was more or less (Clarke) sending clips and trying to give me the gist of the image," said Kachingwe, who has been working on the sound for the movie since Clarke reached out to him last year.
Kachingwe altered and adjusted his sound as Clarke's script morphed over the months, ultimately arriving on a heavy synth sound aimed at evoking nostalgia and longing.
Back on the happy accident side of the filmmaking process is Beckman, another longtime collaborator of Clarke's.
"I’m kind of an eccentric, hyped-up version of my L.A. self," said Beckman of his character. "I’m kind of crazy, super-high energy."
Both Beckman and Clarke went through physical transformations simply because of the long period of time over which the movie was filmed. For much of the process, Beckman — a producer on some of Clarke's past films — was working out regularly, while Clarke has a wild beard and hair cut for much of the film.
The way those features changed or were played with became folded into the film as character beats.
“This movie, the way it is now would be impossible to do (inside) the bubble of traditional filmmaking," Clarke said. "I think embracing the potential disadvantages and turning them into our advantages has really made the project something a little bit more unique.”
The fact is that Clarke, his collaborators and the film industry as a whole are creating movies at a time where the future is uncertain. Less than an hour before the Press-Citizen spoke with Clarke earlier this month, Warner Bros. announced its full slate of upcoming films would be coming to HBO Max at the same time that they'll be screened in movie theaters in 2021.
While many movie theaters have been open for some time, this latest ripple of COVID-era changes to the film-viewing experience further obscures what films will look like in the future for small and big-budget projects alike.
But Clarke says he's excited for what comes next. He has plans to continue submitting the film to festivals in the coming year, but, having now made a film in L.A., pieced together over years, he sees the horizon as full of possibilities.
“I’m excited because, in a lot of ways, I didn’t have a lot planned out after making the L.A. movie; I view anything after this as a blank canvas," he said. "We can kind of do anything we want now.”