By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
The founder of Huntington Beach-based LifeLine Entertainment has made four feature films, but he still can't quit his day job
If you happened to be at the Huntington Beach Public Library on March 29, you could be forgiven for thinking you'd made a wrong turn off the freeway and ended up at a Hollywood movie premiere instead.
Gold-painted columns adorned the library's entryway, from which a red carpet was unfurled and flanked by fans and paparazzi. As limousines pulled up with the guests of honor—publicists had promised celebrities such as Dane Cook and Tom Green—large spotlights rotated upfront, their beams barely visible as the sun hadn't yet set.
Green and Cook never showed, and many of the photographers were hired by the filmmakers themselves. But the important thing was to create an impression, and indeed, the auditorium was packed with cheering fans, who first enjoyed a horror-themed slideshow that parodied the inane onscreen quizzes often shown at corporate-owned movie theaters. Viewers were invited to guess the horror movie poster and learn tips on how to survive a horror movie ("If your children speak to you in Latin or another language they don't know, shoot them at once"). Then came the main event: the latest film from director Rocky Costanzo, a suspense chiller titled Amhurst. The crowd seemed to love it.
Chances are you've never heard of Costanzo or Amhurst. Yet, at age 34, Costanzo and the company he heads, LifeLine Entertainment, have made four feature films, all available on (and direct-to) DVD. LifeLine's swanky Huntington Beach suite looks like the ultimate bachelor pad, all dark colors and candles, equipped with PlayStation 3, and augmented with a fridge fully stocked with such novelty sodas as Bubble Up and Rat Bastard Root Beer.
LifeLine has been successful enough that it's no trouble to pay the rent on such a place, but Costanzo and his associates have yet to turn enough of a profit to quit their day jobs. By day, Costanzo hauls asphalt for the city of Huntington Beach. Chief Operations Officer Roy Thomasson handles car-damage management for Avis. (Their third partner, Chris Wolcott . . . well, we don't know much about him. He's listed as the chief financial officer, and Roy says he does "accounting and stuff." But Wolcott avoids talking to the press altogether. "He doesn't really like the media thing and being interviewed, so he didn't wanna participate," says Thomasson. After this story was turned in, however, Wolcott appeared for our photographers. "We kind of forced him," Thomasson admits.)
LifeLine's website touts it as "Orange County's very own independent film company," with the goal of "bring[ing] forward festival-award-winning U.S. independent feature films and focus[ing] on rare, unique and sometimes edgy titles featuring up-and-coming filmmakers." To date, however, LifeLine has exclusively released titles by exactly one filmmaker: Rocky Costanzo.
* * *
Costanzo was born in Newport Beach and raised in Huntington Beach. His father, Larry, worked for the city of Huntington Beach, also hauling asphalt. The younger Costanzo started in the business as a child actor, with small roles on various TV shows, most notably a popular Fred Savage sitcom.
"I always get asked about The Wonder Years, and it always gets printed, and it makes it look like I was part of the big cast, like I was a star of the thing. That's not the case at all!" he says. "I was merely an extra, and I did some photo-doubling and stand-in work for the older brother [played by] Jason Hervey."
It was while hanging out on the set and observing Daniel Stern, who voiced the show's narrator role and directed a few episodes, that Costanzo says he felt a "turning point" and decided the place for him was behind the camera. In 1998, at the age of 17, he signed up for a course at the Hollywood Film School, hoping to learn aspects of directing that weren't immediately obvious to an on-set observer.
But that wasn't what he got. "I wanted to learn the technical side of film—camera angles and lighting—and unfortunately, that class didn't really give me a lot of that," Coztanzo says. "It was more about stuff that I already knew. The rest has just been self-taught." Even now, he readily admits he's "a filmmaker that doesn't know a lot."
One thing he did learn from the class was the horror genre is an easy sell, so early the next year, he set out to make what became the first LifeLine production. (The company name, he says, "was created to show how we as humans walk the same line from birth to death.") It was a short called Godsend, shot over eight months with equipment borrowed from a Time-Warner public-access affiliate in Costa Mesa. One of the TV station's employees facilitated the loan. Costanzo looks back at the short and cringes; he doesn't even have a copy of it anymore. But in the process of making the "no-budget" short that he says "looked like crap," a fruitful friendship was made.
* * *
Texas native Roy Thomasson, 38, served in the Army on active duty for two years and in the reserve for eight, seeing action in both Panama and Iraq (during the first Bush administration in the early 1990s). It wasn't until he was hit by a personal disaster of the type described in country-music songs—"I lost my job, my wife left me, the cat ran away with the dog next door type of thing"—that he decided to take his severance check and move out to California to become an actor. Seeking representation, the then-28-year-old called up the first agent he found in the phone book; after sweet-talking him out of more money than would seem reasonable, the agent determined that Thomasson needed a new name. Thomasson had always liked the name "Corey," at which point the agent randomly opened the phone book and aimed his finger at a random surname: "Foxx." Thus was born Corey Foxx, and even back in 1998, Thomasson knew that a smart first step would be to register the domain name coreyfoxx.com (still online, though it hasn't been updated in a long, long time).