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A group of anthropology students take a road trip to the family ranch of one of them for a weekend of drinking and taking drugs, the latter under the pretense of researching ancient rituals. They run in trouble, however, because the brother that lives on the seemingly abandoned premises displays disturbing behavior in his search for a "bride" and a stranger named Delgado turns up to enact revenge for a misdeed in the past by one of the students. Written by
Our little youth oriented popcorn thriller, Rites of Passage, was a labor of love by two best friends who had met while attending UCSB over 30 years ago. They decided to make a feature film, shook hands, and 9 months later we were on set shooting.
Having college age sons, both of us were fascinated with how aggressive and potentially harmful college life has become. Besides the stress of academics in a new world where jobs are scarce, there's The hook up sex, binge drinking, hard drugs. These drugs include the prescription drugs parents / doctors allow them to have, such as Ritalin to study, Zoloft for their depressions, and Xanax for their anxiety. Personally, as a recovering alcoholic with 8 years of sobriety, I am very concerned for these young people. Also, we live in a western society where there is no ceremony to mark the passage to adulthood, unless you are Jewish, or go fight a war. Our youth are left to wing it, get drunk on their 21st, whatever. My partner grew up fascinated with Chumash Indians because he grew up on a property that is an ancient burial ground. He has such respect for these California native Americans that we began to see a story we could tell.
We had a mantra. Four points for Success. 1) You need a burning desire. 2). You need a definite plan culled from the masters. 3). Eliminate all negativity. 4) Aliign ourselves with like minded people who share our dream.
We started by making a 20 minutes home movie that was shot on a $800 dollar camera and edited on my laptop. This little teaser movie illustrated the world and themes of the film. I would play this movie on my laptop at business meetings and we slowly raised our $2.5 million dollar budget with it. We asked top producer Mark Canton to join our team, and now we had credibility and his considerable know how to guide us. Thank you, MC.
Christian Slater was the first big name to sign on and we are forever in his debt. We had made a proper money offer to his reps, but after months of waiting, I got his cell phone number from a mutual friend, and I personally called Christian. He was very gracious. He read the script that night, as he had it in a pile on his desk, and Christian committed to the film the next morning.
As a first time director I called on every favor I had coming from industry veterans to assist me. Coming form a writing background, I was aware I am not tech savvy. We compensate for experience with preparation. I had a vision and my job was to communicate that to the pros in each department and then let them do their job. Our DP Alex Nevins spent weeks with me shot listing scenes at the actual locations.
The key to low budget filmmaking is to limit company moves. You burn too much time and money moving the crew from one location to the next. So we had to craft a film that we could shoot in one large multi purpose location. We used my partner's family rose ranch, with the incredible dilapidated greenhouses and the cottage overlooking the beach. We shot there for 4 weeks, and also shot 1week in Isla Vista - using the exact beach front "bowling alley" apartment where I had lived over 30 years ago. The students living there are featured in the movie and that enormous "Bong of The Gods" in the party scene was a something these student engineers had built.
I was paid one dollar to direct, while making a six figure investment into the production budget. This film, my very first, was a labor of love. We had a wonderful adventure and made lifelong friends. We overcame adversity and learned great lessons.
We are sad to see many Chumash Indians are angry over this film. They call me White Liar and a Cultural Prostitute. But all of us only have love and respect for the Chumash, and we worked believing our film was expanding awareness of the crimes committed against these native people. You decide if we were disrespectful. I don't believe we were. It is interesting to note we tried very hard to get a native American Indian actor to play the character of Dani. Three days before shooting, our actress fell out, and we had to scramble. Kate Maberly flew in from London as an emergency favor to me, but we had to rewrite the character to be half British, half Chumash. These are the kinds of headaches you deal with in film making. The key is keeping your cool. Just solve the problem. And keep moving forward.
The first half of the film is shot in a locked down style. But the last 40 minutes are all hand-held, to portray the sense of chaos and confusion the characters are going through. The great Elia Cmiral (Ronin) did the score. Crystal Method and Devastating Karate gave me their fabulous music for free - as we had no money left for songs.
If you are an inspiring filmmaker, I hope our little thriller inspires you to make your own dreams come true. Anything is Possible if your put your mind to it.
Peace and Love
W. Peter Iliff
We spent roughly $1 million on production, $1 million on actors, and $500K for post.
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