By Matt Coker
By R. Scott Moxley
By Charles Lam
By Nick Schou
By Gustavo Arellano
By Gustavo Arellano
By Steve Lowery
By R. Scott Moxley
How Costa Mesa's Holechek brothers turned their YouTube short into a full-length film on a spartan budget
Through a small, inconspicuous door on a Venice street, down a white corridor that feels like part of a construction site, inside a mini office suite, an epic battle is being filmed. Two participants at a time.
A small green screen is draped over one wall, in front of which a pair of extras improvise fight moves they hope will be funny. The scene will be digitally inserted into previously filmed sequences to make them look like they're surrounded by more than the tiny handful of cast members who are actually credited. Today, the movie's producer dons a toga in preparation for a battle with a Persian. The film's star, Brandon Tyra, who has already played multiple roles, ties on a bandanna, dons a fake beard, and then gets on his knees to play a dwarf.
Lord of the Rings this isn't.
It's one of the last days of pick-up shooting for 305, a mockumentary normally described by its creators as "300 meets The Office." One could also make a case that it does with 300 what Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead did with Hamlet, focusing as it does on minor characters in a similar universe: the five incompetent, mostly out-of-shape Spartans who didn't go to Thermopylae, but instead were assigned to guard the secret goat path that ultimately seals the Persian victory and who ran away at the first sign of trouble. Today's shots will embellish a bar-fight scene, making the brawl look like . . . a bigger brawl, with not exactly a cast of thousands, but at least a cast of tens, placed against digital backdrops that evoke 300's visual style, with a Flintstones-like modern spin (these Spartans have pizza delivery and cable TV and drink coffee at Spartanbucks). All this on a budget that co-directors Dan and Dave Holechek hint is "in the four-figure range."
But these twins are used to filmmaking beyond their means. This is already their second feature, and they're only 26. It's also the first to be based on a YouTube short.
* * *
Vanguard University (VU) is a private, coeducational, comprehensive university of liberal arts and professional studies that believes its Pentecostal/charismatic Christian community provides a supportive and challenging environment in which to pursue a quality education. The university assumes that it is essential to offer educational opportunity within a context of free inquiry and academic integrity. Such opportunity includes examining the Christian heritage, the claims of Christ, the charismatic involvement of the church and the revelation of God. VU is a community that encourages individual integrity and responsibility in accordance with biblical Christianity and its social and ethical implications.
—from Vanguard University's official website
* * *
The story behind the making of 305begins at Vanguard University, a small Costa Mesa college, which lured Dan Holechek out from Colorado with a basketball scholarship (which he quickly decided wasn't his true calling). The Hawaii-born brothers already had family in California and liked the weather, so Dave joined him.
The religious nature of the school was also a factor, but the Holecheks aren't your typical faith-based filmmakers. Their debut feature, Arizona, shot in six months while they were at Vanguard and completed three years later, is the surreal, moody story of a troubled college student estranged from his ne'er-do-well brother and abusive to his girlfriend, whose sister has decided to leave her life behind and head for Arizona. It features two attempted murders, rape, vomiting, a couple of profanities for good measure, and an ambiguous ending that doesn't necessarily reward the protagonists. The style owes more to Gregg Araki and David Lynch than, say, VeggieTales or the Left Behind movies. Pat Robertson might raise an eyebrow or two.
"We had our first big screening at Vanguard," says Dave, who does most of the duo's talking, "and the students who showed up knew what to expect, but there were some interesting conversations we had with people. We actually got some letters from teachers—'How can you call yourselves Christians and make that kind of movie?' I don't think we set out to make a Christian movie; it was just our way of viewing the world coming out. Arizona represented my state of mind at the time, and even though it's kind of a somber movie, I tried to put a little bit of hope at the end." Dave adds that the central relationship in the film is based on that between himself and his younger brother, but in real life, all their personal issues have since been resolved.
Adds Dan: "Doing a feature film is really daunting. When you're in college and have no resources, it can be a challenge, but it's actually a lot of fun to try to make something like that work. You don't have a lot of pressure, but you have this freedom to do whatever you want. It helps a lot, too, to have people say you can't do that with that budget, or you'll never make the story work, especially with our personalities. We're like, 'Oh, yeah?'"