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For a blue-collar father-to-be and a building contractor struggling to recover from bankruptcy, the six inches of street between them is all that matters in the world. The dramatic short film BACK UP, PLEASE, examines a moment of violence and the events that lead to it.

Light Wilder and Branden Morgan play young
"Jana" and "Will."

Karl Bury plays "Tim" a building contractor   
trying to recover from bankruptcy.                

The film was inspired, in part, by a tragic event on a Seattle bridge two years ago in which police shot down an enraged commuter after he brutally beat another driver with a baseball bat.

"This is something that stuck in my head for a long time," says writer/director Douglas Horn.  "It was a totally avoidable situation, the kind of encounter that happens every day and you usually forget about five minutes after it's over.  Except that it caught these people in the wrong time and neither was willing to back away."

    Douglas Horn
It was important for Horn to create a character-driven story about people who the audience could relate to. "I wanted to show a relationship between a husband and wife that feels like life but isn't often portrayed in movies," he explains.  "The more the audience sees themselves and people they know in these characters, the more they'll have to examine their own lives and actions in the end."

BACK UP, PLEASE follows hot on the heels of the writer/director's first short film TRAILER: THE MOVIE!, a satirical look at theatrical trailers and overblown movie marketing.  TRAILER: THE MOVIE! has enjoyed great success in nearly twenty festivals this year and was a named a finalist for "Best Narrative Short" in the 2002 National Short Film & Video Competition.

Douglas chose to make Back Up, Please in order to examine how people in American society treat each other-often with little actual communication or consideration for the needs of other people.  He realizes that this story shows a very different facet of his storytelling style than his previous film.

"Several festival programmers who selected TRAILER! told me they are looking forward to seeing my next film," he says with a sly grin, "I want them to be very, very surprised at what they see, while hopefully recognizing the same overall quality."

    Light Wilder

In July 2002, Horn began his search for the four leads for BACK UP, PLEASE.  It was important that he find strong actors to carry the character-driven storyline. He had seen actress Light Wilder (credited as Light Eternity) in Tony Shaloub's feature film MADE-UP at the 2002 Taos Talking Picture Festival. "She had these wonderfully funny yet completely real scenes with Gary Sinese," he recalls, "It was a great example of pulling a lot of subtlety and humor out of a believable character."

When he saw the film a second time at the Nantucket Film Festival, he felt Wilder could carry the part of "Jana."  He invited her to a screening of TRAILER: THE MOVIE! at the Dances With Films film festival in Los Angeles.  Afterwards, Light knew she wanted to work with Douglas. "I couldn't believe that this was his first short," she explains.  "Not only was it hysterical but the production value was just something you rarely see in short films."

Douglas Horn discusses a scene with Light Wilder on the set of BACK UP, PLEASE.

Character actor, Ron Gilbert, was recommended to Horn by director of photography, Clay Westervelt.  Douglas couldn't help but be impressed with Ron's resume, including some of Douglas's favorite films such as THE GODFATHER and THE USUAL SUSPECTS.

In addition to having extensive film, television and theater credits, Gilbert is one of the originators of the Method Fest film festival and an active member of The Actor's Studio.  On meeting Ron, Douglas immediately recognized his dedication to the craft and cast him in the role of "Martin."

Ron Gilbert

Karl Bury

For the part of "Tim," Douglas sought actor Karl Bury, after seeing Bury's performance as the character "Bob Lefferts" in the Frank Darabont film THE MAJESTIC.  Karl liked the story but had a personal trip scheduled during principal photography which he didn't want to miss.

"So I went home and watched TRAILER! like eight times," Bury recalls.  "I kept thinking, 'Gosh, that's really good, he's really talented.'  Then I read BACK UP, PLEASE again and realized that it's universal--just like TRAILER! is to the film business.  Everyone experiences road rage, myself included.  I don't see "Tim" as this angry guy, but on this particular day and this particular stress in his life it pushes him over the top."

Bury called Horn an hour after their first meeting, saying he would cancel his trip to play "Tim."

Branden Morgan

Branden Morgan became involved in the project when he received a call from his agent at Paradigm Talent:  "'I want you to meet with this director who's doing a short film,' my agent said." Twenty minutes later Horn and Morgan were sitting across from one another at a coffee shop.  They immediately hit it off.

Though Branden had come highly recommended, Douglas was initially cautious about casting him because he had never seen him perform.  "What really sold me on Branden is that he had the same seething energy that I envisioned in the character," explains Horn.  That same day Douglas brought Branden on to play the part of "Will."

"It came together so perfectly, I wish it was always this easy," Morgan says.

 "The first day of shooting was on a Friday which fortunately worked into my schedule on the television show (FIREFLY), so it worked out really well.  It happened so quickly, the next thing I know I'm in fight rehearsals getting beat up by Karl Bury."

   The situation escalates for Branden Morgan and Karl Bury, playing two                               
drivers who refusal to let the other pass n BACK UP, PLEASE.                                            

Because the budget only allowed one day of rehearsal, Horn worked intensely with the actors on creating the back-story of each of their characters by setting up situations for improv to build the relationships.  "There is nothing like having a director who knows exactly what he wants," says Morgan "but, at the same time, is pliant to the actors creative process."

Branden Morgan works with Douglas Horn to tune a performance.

Dir. of Photography
Clay Westervelt

Douglas brought back many of his key crew members from TRAILER: THE MOVIE! to be a part of the BACK UP, PLEASE team.  Lisa Guzman (producer), Clay Westervelt (director of photography), Paco Farias (editor), Brandon Roberts (composer) and Mike McAuliffe (Emmy Award-winning sound designer) all returned for a second round with writer/director Horn.  

"I enjoy working with Douglas, not only cause he has great ideas to start with," explains director of photography, Clay Westervelt, "but is very interested in listening to other opinions to push his ideas further. He salivates over that."

Horn and Westervelt tested the latest HD camera systems before choosing the Sony F900 HD CineAlta camera.  High Definition 24p offered them access to a film-like resolution while still allowing room in the budget for cranes, driving shots, and all the other elements required to tell a visually compelling story.

The HD camera system also provided great depth of field and allowed them to set up "deep-focus" compositions that tied all the characters together without making shots look too busy.

Douglas Horn and Clay Westervelt work with the Sony F900 24p HD Cine-Alta camera system.

Unlike the team's previous film, TRAILER: THE MOVIE!, which was shot on 35mm film, the crew didn't have to stop momentum every couple of takes to check the gate or load film. In addition, Horn was able to put the money saved on filmstock and processing into production design and other elements to show up on the screen.  The format allowed for longer takes and more experimentation.  "Using this camera let me concentrate on the process," Horn explains "rather than how much it was costing."

One potentially dangerous shot was a scene in which a brick is thrown through a car windshield.  The crew had to decide how to do this the safest way considering that the character of "Jana" (played by Light) would appear to be sitting in the car when the brick is thrown.  After weeks of deliberation, Douglas and Clay developed an innovative "green-screen" process that would not require a green screen.

Douglas explains, "We used a polarizing filter to dial out all the reflections so it appeared that there was no windshield, while Light reacted as if the brick had been thrown.  Then we took her out and reversed the polarizing effect so that the windshield became prominent while the brick smashed through it.  I composited the shots together on my home computer in Adobe After Effects.  The first people I showed the finished shot to thought I was evil for throwing a brick at a pregnant woman!"

Filming the pivotal "Brick Scene" for BACK UP, PLEASE


Aftermath of the "Brick Scene"

Being a pivotal scene in the film, it was important that "brick scene" was a visually powerful moment.  "This is the breaking point of the film," explains Horn. "This is the instant when the story changes. Up until then there was always a way out but after this happens there is really no other resolution possible."

Douglas Horn and the crew on the final day shooting BACK UP, PLEASE

Production took place on a residential street in Woodland Hills.  The 4 1/2 pages-a-day shooting schedule consisted mainly of driving shots, fight scenes, crane shots, Steadicam sequences and shots of dialogue in a moving car, which made for an ambitious 3-day shoot.  The cast and crew worked tirelessly and finished on schedule.  "The shoot went quite smoothly," Horn says" and I have to thank the amazing crew that stuck together and a very professional cast that did their homework."

Branden Morgan and Karl Bury show they're still friends
after filming the fight scene in BACK UP, PLEASE.

After Douglas called the production a "Wrap", actress Light Wilder approached him to say goodbye and congratulations on 'a film by Douglas Horn.'  She was surprised by his reaction.  "Douglas put his arm around me and thanked me for the work I did to make the film possible," she says, "Then he went on to say 'and I feel the same way about each and every person on the set.  Can you imagine that somebody can actually say a film by Douglas Horn?  This isn't mine.  Without you there wouldn't have been a lead actress, without the camera team, the grips, makeup, art department… there wouldn't have been a film. This is a film by all of us.'"