Low-budget film shot in Ashland generates buzz

Richard Sangeleer of Ashland wanted to see if he was skilled and creative enough to write, shoot, direct, act in and edit a feature-length film all by himself, in Ashland, using a cheap little camera with a video function.

He could and did, and the result, "Cut to Black," will have its premier at 6:30 p.m. Friday at the Ashland Art Center, 357 E. Main St. in Ashland. It's free, with donations welcomed.

A Boston native and author of four self-published books, Sangeleer says he enjoys working the fantastic and improbable into his plots.

The experimental movie is about three authors who come to Ashland on a publisher's promotional jaunt, start writing novels, then find their fiction magically coming true in the real world, amid government conspiracies, with many unintended and hard-to-handle consequences, but too late for them to change or control.

Wearing his signature fedora, Sangeleer says his mission is to prove to himself and the world that creative people can exploit the current generation of inexpensive and capable technology with a minimal crew — the actors were all volunteers — and put together a work of art that would have cost millions only a decade ago.

"Cut to Black," whose title is filmmaking lingo meaning "shift from a scene to a black screen," cost only $1,500 to make.

It's an hour long, black-and-white and minimalist on dialog, depicting an impressionistic series of events — doctor's office, country jail, graveyard, typing on a typewriter, people walking — with sound from voice mails, including an answering machine at the jail and a rambling voice-over about writing, making movies and life.

What's the "meaning" of the film, in the artist's words?

"To find meaning in nothingness or in alternative potential ... and it's got to tell a story I would like to see or hear."

The mysterious, captivating film lives up to that promise. A faceless voice mutters, "My darkness is sanctioned and rationalized by your politics and fear," while you see a businessman walking around the Ashland Springs Hotel. A man lies in a bathtub, terrified. A woman smokes, talking on her cell phone. Items are rung up in a bookstore. An accordion plays. You string it all together in your mind — and most of the scenes are charmingly familiar, as we see them every day in our valley.

Producer Denise Baxter, a painter and executive director of Ashland Art Center, where it will be screened, says, "I love projects where you see real promise in an artist, something you can't turn away from."

She's supporting the film, she says, to help artists understand you have to move forward with what you have, realizing that a less polished, low-budget piece of art is a vital stepping stone to the next, perhaps bigger, one.

"A lot of people," she says, "want to wait till they've got all the technology and everything in place. Don't. Go ahead now."

Her son Garrett, 12, plays 14 instruments and provides the constant sound track running through the film. Sangeleer plays most of the male talent on-screen, noting he set up his camera on a tripod, then ran around in front of it to act. Other talent, he notes, came from the considerable pool of actors in Ashland, eager to gain resumes and experience.

Sangeleer says he acquired the complex skills needed to shoot and edit film with help from tutorials on YouTube and the Southern Oregon University collection of books on filmmaking, along with a stint at Rogue Valley Television.

He is already doing pre-production on his next film, "Solipsa," about "a zombie with a heart" and the concept of solipsism, that the world is a creation of the human mind, with no separate existence. Its budget is a much bigger $26,000, with initial filming slated for spring 2011.

It will be shot again in Ashland, "one of the great unphotographed towns in film," Sangeleer says.

His blog on his movie and book ventures, including casting calls and shooting schedules, is at timespaceink.wordpress.com.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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