While film festival auditoriums feel at times overrun with bleakness and tragedy, The Crumbles is the ultimate love letter to youthful, rock n’ roll exuberance and a case study of the glory and pitfalls inherent in the pursuit of dreams. The Echo Park indie rock tragicomedy premiered this weekend at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, where the film played to a sold-out house in the festival’s largest auditorium. The Crumbles is the story of the titular band, the members of which include the dedicated Darla (Katie Hipol), the whimsical Elisa (Teresa Michelle Lee), and the shy drummer Dante (Joe Torres). Despite the band’s ambition to conquer the globe, and their minor successes hinting at their potential to make it happen, rising tensions between Darla and Elisa, and Dante’s escalating feelings for Darla, may prevent The Crumbles from ever getting out of the proverbial garage. The Crumbles is the brainchild of writer/director/editor Akira Boch, who sat down with me to talk about his film in the hours before its premiere. Here’s what Bock shared with me about how he got the inspiration to make a tragicomedy, executing the film on a shoe-string budget, and crafting The Crumbles.
Jackson Truax: The Crumbles is based on the real-life experience of playing in a garage band. What was the impetus for you to write the screenplay, and how true-to-life is it?
Akira Boch: I had a former bandmate that was having a really hard time in his life. He was struggling with drugs. He got to the point where all his friends were really worried about him, thinking that he just wasn’t going to come back. So I wanted to do something. I wanted to make a film that reminded him of the good times that we had when we were in a band, learning about music and life… There are a lot of specifics in the film I pulled from my own experiences.
JT: Although the story of these musicians and bands can feel very universal, your characters and this conflict feel very specific, with Darla and Elisa being such fun characters that are so well-drawn. How did you develop those characters, and figure out what the central conflict of the film would be?
AB: I basically wanted to take two characters that were pretty much opposites in personality. Pretty extreme opposites, because Darla’s a very serious musician. She has a lot of persistence in her personality. She practices a lot. She’s grounded. She holds down a job. Her best friend, Elisa, is the opposite in the sense that she’s a total free spirit. She’s a real charmer. She can go out and convince anybody of anything. She’s funny. We say that opposites always attract. So their chemistry works really well together… I just wanted to put that on display. Ever since The Odd Couple, it’s been a technique that’s worked in films and television. I felt like these two characters had very specific experiences where we could explore those opposites in a different way.
JT: The Crumbles doesn’t feel like a comedy, but plays like a burst of youthful exuberance. You said the film was born out what sounds like some very dramatic things going on in your life. Was there ever any temptation to have it try and play more dramatic?
AB: Never, no. I never wanted to do a straight drama. Because of my initial inspiration for doing it in the first place, in order to remind my buddy of the good times, I wanted to keep everything very intentionally light. So throughout, I think it’s very tongue-in-cheek. I agree it’s not a straight-up-comedy. It’s what I call a tragicomedy.
JT: In addition to these two main characters, there’s a great ensemble cast around with some other unique characters. How did you come to discover and define who the supporting characters would be?
AB: It actually took me quite awhile to write the screenplay. It took nine plus months of writing. I really just wanted to flesh out the characters as best I could…
I knew that the main thrust of the film was going to be the story of Darla and Elisa and their relationship… Even though I wanted to keep [their story] light and cheeky, I knew that it would be a little bit too serious for the entire film that I wanted to create. So for that reason, I wanted to populate the film with these other characters that would bring a lot of humor and character and personality to their world… I ended up casting a couple of my friends who are actors that I’ve known for a long time. I’ve always admired their work [and] their personalities and real lives. One thing that I really wanted to do was bring it to life in a really authentic way with these personalities… Because a lot of time, independent films in particular will cast actors to fit some sort of role, and you can tell that they’re just not properly cast. There just is something wrong, something missing. The chemistry isn’t there. Throughout our casting process, which was really lengthy, I made sure that everybody was believable as friends, and that they would believably inhabit this world.
JT: You conceived the film to be self-produced on a shoe-string budget. How did that impact your screenwriting?
AB: I actually wrote another script with a friend that we wrote at a budget that we couldn’t afford. We almost got institutional support for it, and it didn’t happen. We don’t know a lot of rich people. So I basically had to sheve that. It forced me to write something where I knew that it could be self-funded, done on a shoe-string. I actually had the idea for The Crumbles even before writing that other script. So I returned to this idea. In terms of limitations, I knew that I didn’t have much money to work with. So I had to focus the scenes within a set number of locations. About half the film takes place in Darla’s apartment. But I tried to hide that as much as possible with the addition of other locations. One of the monetary challenges was the music aspect of it… If you’re going to create original music for a film, you have to have some money. But I knew from the beginning that I wanted to work with one of my good friends, Quetzal Flores, who I’ve done several music videos for. As soon as he was on-board, I knew that we could make the film. We essentially decided to buy some recording equipment instead of renting expensive studio space. So he did all the music himself. That saved us a ton of money. I essentially just involved as many friends as I could. That was my intent from the beginning, to ask my friends from film school, ask other friends that I’ve worked with in the past on other projects to come on-board and just pitch in… Everyone has been on-board ever since. Even now, they’re helping me to promote this.
JT: You shot the film using Nikon lenses from the ‘80s. How much of that was a function of budget. Or would you have done that regardless of budget, to give the film a certain look that you wanted?
AB: I really love the look of the Nikons, of those particular Nikons. It’s kind of a tough question. Because obviously if we had a lot of money, we could have gone with a totally different camera system and rented expensive lenses. But knowing that I was going to do this project in this way forced me to find ways technically, as far as buying a camera and buying lenses that were affordable. My [Director of Photography] actually convinced me to shoot with a…Canon T2i, which is only an $800 camera… There’s another model that’s about $1,000 more. But the insides are exactly the same. As far as the lenses go, I was able to find them in a photo shop that was in the process of going out of business. I found a couple on eBay. So I got them for really cheap. They’re fantastic lenses with a very specific look to them. They’re manual. They don’t have the same sharp edge as a lot of contemporary lenses.
JT: If you’d had all the newest and greatest equipment and a large crew and the movie looked really polished and slick, would it still be the same movie? Or do you think the final product would feel appreciably different in one way or another?
AB: Having more equipment and a bigger crew, that would have slowed us down during production. We only shot for fourteen days. I think the short production time helped with the energy. Everything had to be done really fast. We couldn’t do fourteen takes…to get everything perfect. It’s an imperfect film. But I’m fine with that… The energy, that’s one of the things I appreciate about it.
JT: All of your locations are in and around Los Angeles, specifically Echo Park. By virtue of being the kind of production you were, did you get permits and union waivers? Or was this truly guerilla filmmaking?
AB: This was a [Screen Actors Guild] production. But we didn’t get permits. So it was guerilla in that aspect. We did have insurance. All of our locations wanted insurance. So we did have that.
JT: The movie begs the question as to why these people can’t get beyond their own self-sabotage. Fear of success and fear of failure are both mentioned as possibilities, but no explanation is given. Do you have a sense of why The Crumbles never made it out of the proverbial garage?
AB: That’s hard to say. I think I have to leave that up to the audience to figure out. Because I honestly don’t know if I know the answer… It’s like asking somebody, “Why aren’t you a bigger success? You have so much potential.” “Well, maybe I just haven’t met the right person yet who’s going to give me the shot.”
JT: Without getting into any spoilers, the film ends in way that feels very true to life, with a lot of mixed emotions at play. How did you decide that was the tone you wanted the film to end on?
AB: I wanted the sense of ambiguity. [The movie] captures a certain energy and spirit of a particular time in young people’s lives. The future is totally uncertain at that point. Nobody knows what’s going to happen when you’re twenty years old, and you’re out there struggling to do your thing. You might have these dreams that don’t come true necessarily. But at a certain point, you just realize that “There’s no way out. I just have to do this thing as best I can and keep on going.”
JT: After the film premieres at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, do you know what opportunities audiences will have to seek out The Crumbles?
AB: We’re still sending the film out to different film festivals. We hope to play in festivals throughout the rest of the year. We’re lining up screenings at different universities right now. Beyond that, we are planning a tour of independent venues. Eventually, it will be on DVD and available over the internet.
JT: Is there anything in particular you’re hoping audience members are thinking or feeling as the credits roll?
AB: That there’s always hope.
Filed under: LiC Interview