People burn out.
You see it all the time in sports. One kid tears up the 12-year-old Little League Tournament of Champions with an arm that you’re sure is going to win the Giants at least a pennant.
Then he’s gone. You don’t see his name in the high school box score. You don’t see him hurling his way through the Pacific Coast League. And you certainly don’t end up seeing him in the rotation wearing the orange and black.
He burns out.
I met Jon Walkup when he was a sophomore in high school. He emailed the paper and wanted to know if he could get a story done about the YouTube videos that he was making with his friends. I got in touch with him. I figured that if the kid was professional enough to set-up an interview, he had to have something going for him.
To say that those films were sophomoric would be an understatement. And that’s okay, because he was a sophomore. But as he and his friends sat in the conference room not far from where I’m typing this now, there was something different about Walkup. He had this look of determination – he carried himself differently than the bro-types that were just happy to have their hijinks posted to YouTube.
Fast-forward to Sunday night.
Out in front of Rooster Juice, Walkup – shy and reserved, wearing a pair of black plastic-framed glasses and clad in a pair of knock-off Converse – paced nervously out in front of the restaurant with a cigarette in hand. Dozens of friends and family members had packed themselves into the small bar to view the film that he and roommate Kenneth Beckerdite co-wrote and co-directed.
It was the first time that the duo that’s been making movies together since they met while taking classes at Modesto Junior College had ever tackled a project like this. And it was the first time anybody outside the circle of friends and close family members had ever seen the finished product.
“Roller King” was their baby. And it was about to stand up on its own two feet.
The film itself is eight minutes long. It’s shot with the style of their favorite directors in mind – borrowing from greats like Paul Thomas Anderson and Harmony Korine. There aren’t a whole lot of speaking parts, and the language and violence would get it a definitive R-rating from the MPAA.
And it’s amazing.
It’s amazing because Walkup never burnt out. He kept his eye on the prize and followed his dream all the way down to Hollywood, where he and Beckerdite – who share a bedroom – are both enrolled in film school. It’s amazing because it looks, feels, and sounds like a true film.
Here’s this, for lack of a better term, kid that started out with a camcorder that was comically small on the tripod that he was using to stabilize his shots. And now he’s writing out an entire short film and going auteur on a style piece shot down in the Los Angeles River and in strategic points around the City of Angels.
They pulled film permits. They rented out an entire donut shop – meaning that they had to buy out all of the donuts for the day. They paid somebody $80-an-hour to stand there and look over their shoulders while they filmed in an abandoned zoo.
Beckerdite recorded the entire film score himself – as Tesla Effect. It provides a haunting backdrop to the brutal and overly violent scenes that unfold when two roller-skating gangs face off with one another in the concrete wasteland of the LA River basin.
They showed it in Manteca first because that’s where they both came from, They haven’t lost that perspective. And personally, I think that’s just as important as having the creative vision that drives both of them.
Walkup and Beckerdite are an unlikely team. Walkup is the guy that you think is the quiet one and then all of a sudden he breaks out with something outrageous. Beckerdite is outrageous – the showman of the two. But then he breaks out with ridiculous knowledge about something interesting, and you realize the depth of his thought process.
You might think square peg, round hole, but creatively they work. And they work well. And together they wrote a script, recorded a soundtrack, raised money and produced a film that they’re hoping will get into the famous South-by-Southwest Festival in Austin later this year.
Jon Walkup and Kenneth Beckerdite proved on Sunday night that together they shine very, very brightly.
And I have no doubts that their star will keep burning for a very long time.
To contact Jason Campbell, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (209) 249-3544.