When Jon Walkup first got behind a camera it was a camcorder he borrowed from his parents and attached to a tripod designed to take film photos.
Now he’s using industry-accepted equipment and filters and pulling film permits to shoot scenes in places like the Venice Beach Boardwalk.
Times have changed.
The Sierra High School grad, who spent his undergraduate time at Modesto Junior College before heading to Los Angeles to study screenwriting at Columbia College Hollywood, is now taking on his most ambitious project in Onie – a dramatic look at the life of a busking mime making his living on the streets of Los Angeles.
It’s the first time in years that Walkup has ventured out completely on his own to complete a project. It’s also the first time that he’s tried to shoot a film of any substantial length – aiming for a nearly 20-minute runtime that is almost four times as long as the production that he and roommate Kenneth Beckerdite put together with “Roller King.”
For the second time in two years Walkup took the extraordinary step of turning to the Internet to raise money to fund the film,. With his connections as a film student he was able to secure the equipment and the film permits necessary to shoot in both Studio City and at the Venice Boardwalk.
Over the course of four days in September he and crew of 15 people – including Nashville resident Tristan McAlister as Onie and Stu Berg as Onie’s mentor.
Walkup said that he had seen McAlister’s work in Beckerdite’s film and loved his performance so much that he asked for him to come back out to Los Angeles and take the unique role.
“For this one it was really hard because we had to figure out what we were going to do with the character – here we have this character study on a talking mime which isn’t the most interesting theme and a lot of people would assume it would be a comedy,” Walkup said. “But I didn’t want to make a comedic film. And when I showed people some rough cuts, they weren’t really laughing, so I guess that’s the kind of movie this ended up being.”
And that’s just what he’s doing on his spare time.
Walkup recently started working as an intern at Happy Madison Productions – the company operated by comedic titan Adam Sandler. He says that he’s learning “a ton” about the ins-and-outs of an industry that has always captivated him.
“It really hasn’t sunk in yet – I think all of those movies that he’s been a part of,” Walkup said. “The first time I walked inside I see the framed photos and the SNL stuff and I realized that I get to work every day with that guy. I’m upstairs on the second floor and he’s downstairs below me and I can hear him every day and it’s very surreal. I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement when I started working there so I can’t really talk about a lot of it, but it’s something that still doesn’t feel real to me.”
While his plate might be full, Walkup is set to graduate sometime this year from Columbia College with his degree in screenwriting. He hopes that the experience coupled with his work ethic and his desire to fulfill what has always been his sole goal will carry him as he embarks on a journey through the entertainment industry.
He knew at a young age, back when all of his friends though it would be “cool” to be in one of his movies, that this was something that he wanted to do.
It wasn’t just “cool” to Walkup. It was something more. It was something personal. And as the lineup of friends changed, his sole desire and purpose remained constant. That camera kept rolling, and eventually he made it all the way down to Hollywood and right into the office of one of the most successful and brilliant comedic minds of the last quarter century.
Not bad for a kid who started out with a camcorder.
“I’ll always remember this scene from Oceans 11 when Danny Ocean gets out of jail and somebody asks him why he has to steal and he says, ‘Everyplace that I walk into I see the angles – I can’t turn it off,’” Walkup said. “That’s everything. That’s how I feel about movies. Every place that I go, it’s hard not to picture it in 24 frames-per-second and not to think about it as a scene. Everything in life feels scripted sometimes and I just can’t turn it off.
“I’ll always want to tell stories through film.”
The trailer for Onie – titled “Bad Luck” – as well as stills and additional information from the film can be found at www.oniethemime.com.