Monday morning saw the sun rise on 20 cars and a trailer parked on the side of the road as the crew from Dragonfly Films waited for Kirk’s Welding to break open the locked gate leading to the old Byron Hot Springs Hotel.
Todd Myers, owner of Dragonfly Films, waited and watched. At $5,000 an hour, he was anxious to get his team to work filming a pivotal scene in his upcoming film. Though he had permission to be on the property, a miscommunication had led to a new padlock to which Myers didn’t have the keys. While he waited, he discussed the project.
“It’s a coming-of-age, gritty, dark-to-the-light type film,” he said. “We have a working title called ‘Unc.’”
Once the gate opened, the crew poured onto the property and began staging the day’s scene, a drug deal gone bad.
“I don’t want to give too much away,” said Gabriel Oliva, director. “But it’s one of the most intense scenes in the film. There is a high-stakes drug deal that goes down, and some exciting car stuff happens too, so there’s a lot of elements we are coordinating. It’s really fun, but everyone really has their game face on. Pressure’s high, but we have a great team, so we’re excited.”
The independent drama explores the darkness a life of drugs and the light second chances can bring. Oliva co-wrote the story with Travis Andre Ross, who nearly lived it. Ross described a youth shaped by a father who left and a rebellious attitude. He started down a dangerous path that landed him in jail twice before his 18th birthday. The second time he was arrested, he made an important decision.
“There were other people in the jail the same time as me,” Ross recalled. “I saw them, and I knew if I kept doing this, I would end up like that. That was the moment in my life when I decided to make a change.”
Gradually, Scott began changing his habits, staying home to care for his younger brother rather than running with the skaters and gangs fighting over drug territory. This film is based on his life, and he plays the lead character, Havi. It depicts what he believes he would have become had he not made changes.
As the crew focused on setting up equipment, Oliva and Ross began blocking the scene, going over positions and movements with the actors. The scene takes place in the heart of the abandoned hotel, a shell of brick and concrete with no hint of its former glory as a getaway destination for the wealthy. Every available surface is covered with graffiti and the building’s dilapidated appearance combines with an air of desolation to give it a uniquely creepy feel.
“This location is incredible,” said Ross, adding he and Myers had scouted it two days after lightning strikes set the surrounding hills on fire. “It was 107 degrees, the gate was locked, we had to walk all the way out here . . . the hills are all on fire, and it’s midnight – which was scarier than hell – we pull up, we get attacked by bees, and here we are.”
Once the film is complete, Myers said he will not be going the traditional route by releasing it to theaters. In a COVID-19 world, that just isn’t possible. He plans to sell the rights to Netflix and get it streaming quickly. With any luck, that could happen in the first half of 2021.
As a longtime Brentwood resident, Myers knows the area well and has deep ties to the community. He used to own a window cleaning business in town, but after a double hip replacement, he made a change in his career path by getting into acting. He has been working in the film industry for seven years as both an actor and producer and has been a part of box office hits like “Lasso” and “San Andreas.” He and Ross met five years ago on a movie set and quickly became friends, collaborating on several projects.
In the end, Ross hopes his story will inspire others to change their lives for the better.
“At the end of the day, this movie is about choice – letting you know you do have a choice to right your wrongs; you do have a choice to make a change in your life and turn it around,” he said. “If we can help one person, then we’ve achieved something.”