Carbondale natives creating buzz with ‘Waterborne’
Working with the Coen brothers on all their films since “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” Taylor Phillips came to idolize the Coens.Phillips, a 27-year-old Carbondale native, applauds Joel and Ethan Coen for the independence they have achieved by writing, producing and directing their films. He also is taken with such finished products as “The Man Who Wasn’t There” and “Intolerable Cruelty,” two of the four Coen brothers films that have credited Phillips as a production assistant.But perhaps what has most impressed Phillips is the thoroughness of the Coens’ preparations. “The Coen brothers are incredibly organized,” said Phillips, who has also worked on non-Coen films “Friday Night Lights” and “After the Sunset.” “They take a lot of time to plan. The contrast from them to anyone else I’ve worked with in Hollywood is astonishing.”Unfortunately, Phillips wasn’t able to use the Coens as a model for his recent project, “Waterborne.” An “extra-low-budget” project, according to Ben Phillips, Taylor’s 24-year-old brother, “Waterborne” didn’t allow much time for planning. And much of the planning that was done went for naught.
When the location manager was fired a week before filming, Taylor Phillips took over location duties; when the first assistant director was fired a week into filming, Phillips, credited as co-producer, added assistant director chores to his plate. Ben Phillips started as a production assistant and worked his way up to assistant cameraman. And when Taylor’s girlfriend, Anisa Qureshi, did such a bang-up job in the production office, she was made associate producer.”Waterborne,” a thriller about a terrorist attack on Los Angeles’ water supply, was shot in 20 days, a period that included 18 locations. Some of the street scenes were filmed through the open door of a moving car, breaking at least two laws (unsafe driving and filming without a permit).”People were literally doing jobs they had never done before,” said Jake Muxworthy, another 27-year-old Carbondale product who stars in “Waterborne.” “There were a lot of young people just eager to participate in something like that.” (Among them is a fourth local product, Jennifer Clasen, who handled still photography on the film.)It’s not as though the writer-director brought a ton of experience and know-how to the project. “Waterborne” is the writing and directorial debut for Ben Rekhi, another 27-year-old who has a slim résumé doing still photography for motion pictures.A quality script and keen vision have trumpted the lack of budget, experience and organization. “Waterborne” has earned a handful of awards on the festival circuit. At Austin’s South by Southwest Festival, where it had its premiere in March, it won the Audience Award. At Los Angeles’ Method Fest, it earned the Audience Award by a record margin, plus an award for best ensemble cast. It also won the Jury Award at the Harlem International Film Festival.
“Waterborne” has its local premiere tonight at Carbondale’s Crystal Theatre. The Phillips brothers and Muxworthy will conduct a question-and-answer session following the screening.Rekhi’s script takes the big-budget idea of terrorism and sharpens the focus to an intimate level. “Waterborne” opens with a handful of deaths, prompting official alerts to steer clear of the water supply. But instead of pulling back to capture the widespread panic, the film closes in on three small bands of people: a young Indian-American man, his traditionalist mother and his East Coast, Jewish girlfriend; a pot dealer (played by Muxworthy) and his straighter cousin; and a pair of on-duty California National Guardsmen. Following the separate groups, “Waterborne” becomes not so much of a thriller as a psychological profile of how people react to extreme circumstances, and especially how they treat others in such a situation. (The structure, setting and even themes of racism and violence all echo this year’s much-praised “Crash,” though the filmmakers are quick to point out that “Waterborne” was shot well before the release of “Crash.”)The most extreme reaction is by Muxworthy’s Bodi. He is introduced as a carefree stoner, but in the end it is Bodi who has stooped to the most radical measures of obtaining water.”It’s pent-up anger,” said Muxworthy, who has appeared on TV in “24” and “American Dreams,” and on the big screen in “I ô Huckabees” and “The Grind.” “You get in a situation of high tension, survivalism, and he gets squeezed. It’s interesting to see what’s going to happen to a guy like this.”Just as it should be interesting to see what happens to filmmakers like Taylor Phillips and Rekhi. The two are in postproduction on “Car Babes,” a coming-of-age comedy set on a used-car lot. Phillips is back in the twin roles of co-producer/first assistant director, and Rekhi is producer, assistant cinematographer and story consultant.
The 7:30 p.m. showing of “Waterborne” at the Crystal Theatre is SOLD OUT. Tickets are available for the 9:30 p.m. show at Sounds Easy in Carbondale.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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