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Exploring Creativity: A Conversation with Parker Croft on 'As Easy As Closing Your Eyes' and Filmmaking Innovation

2024.6.26

We are speaking with the writer / director Parker Croft about his newest film As Easy As Closing Your Eyes, his journey as a filmmaker, and his thoughts on working with the DZO Vespids and Retros for the first time.

Can you tell us more about you? (career/major/hometown/hobby...)

I grew up in northern Vermont which, as far as I'm concerned, is the most beautiful place in the world. That said, there's not much of a film industry there, and making

movies always felt so unattainable. It's just not something I ever imagined regular people could do. The closest thing to making movies I knew of was local theater so that's how I got into acting.

 

 

 

 

Right after high school, I moved to New York and started hustling, trying to book any job I could get. One day, some friends were taking a trip to LA so I decided to tag along. One week later I was packing up my Jetta and driving west to go live in LA.

When I arrived, I was fortunate to land some small TV roles and meet some really good people. Working on those sets really opened my eyes to the process of filmmaking and I knew I wanted to be more involved in the process, so I started screenwriting.

Because I'm kind of an  all-in kinda guy, I started with a feature screenplay, "Falling Overnight." I co-wrote the film with the film's director Conrad Jackson, and my writing partner on As Easy As Closing Your Eyes, Aaron Golden. When we had something we liked, we said, "let's just make this thing for nothing", so we raised a little bit of cash and shot it in like two weeks. It was a real labor of love crafted with some of my favorite collaborators. We took it on the festival circuit and I remember at Cinequest, we all had to share one hotel room cause we only had one voucher, so the four of us slept Willy Wonka-style. Hands down, one of the best weeks of my life, and then at the end of it, we ended up winning the Special Jury Prize.



 

 

After that, I booked a few acting gigs on shows like Big Little Lies, Once Upon A Time, American Horror Story, and Roadies but I still craved the experience of being behind the camera. So, in 2017 I started Paper Horse Pictures with my smoke-show of a wife Elisa Croft, and started directing. 

 

It's been a wild ride working on all kinds of projects from an All-American Rejects' music video starring Cailee Spaeny to shooting Kobe Bryant in China for the FIBA Basketball World Cup. In 2019, I took on my first narrative project, Suncatcher, a short film based on the poem The Guest House by Rumi, which won 13 awards during its festival run.



 

 

What is your position in the film“As Easy As Closing Your Eyes”? Could you share the idea/ brief storyline of this film?

 

I was the director of As Easy As Closing Your Eyes. I also co-wrote it with Aaron Golden and produced it with Max Loeb, Aaron Golden, Chris Blim, and Laura Coover. 

 

The movie follows Lila who, on the eve of her late son's birthday, attends a group meeting for people addicted to Amesten, a new black-market drug that gives its users life-like dreams about the ones they’ve lost. Although the drug has exacted a terrible toll on her, her sobriety still only hangs by a thread. As she prepares to celebrate Bodie's birthday with her brother Kieran, the temptation to see Bodie again begins to overwhelm her and she must choose whether to finally let go of an impossible dream or follow the light of her life into darkness.

 

 

 

 

Why would you like to choose such a topic? In other words, where did the inspiration for this story come from? What do you want to tell everyone through this story?

 

As Easy As Closing Your Eyes began with a quote stumbled upon by my old friend, and collaborator, Aaron Golden. ''Death is a tragedy... when people speak of losing a part of themselves when a loved one dies, they are speaking quite literally, since we lose the ability to effectively use the neural patterns in our brain that had self-organized to interact with that person.” - Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity is Near.

 

Essentially, there's a specific part of our brain dedicated to each person in our lives – whether it's our mom, a favorite teacher, or even that neighbor whose name we can barely remember. These neural areas are unique because they only activate when we're in the presence of the person they're linked to. Sadly, when we lose someone, these parts of our brain also become dormant for the rest of our lives. It's as though a piece of us is lost forever with their passing.

 

The question was... what if we could get it back?

What if we could reconnect with the essence of our loved ones that resides within us? What if death didn't have to sever our relationships? Imagine growing old alongside a lost lover, visiting our parents in our eighties, or raising a child who has passed away. The time we share with those we cherish is our most valuable possession, and Amesten represents the fictional key to unlocking more of it.


 

 

As Easy As Closing Your Eyes was developed with the belief that a new fictional technology like Amesten would allow us to explore one of the oldest and most universal human questions from a fresh vantage point. It’s a film that asks how far would we go to get more time with the ones we've lost? It’s a film that explores the unanswerable riddle of loving what is mortal.

 

Love and death have been central to my work throughout my career and, in many ways, my work has been an effort to understand something that I fear. The specter of death has colored much of my experience since my mother was diagnosed with leukemia in my early twenties. It has given me a painfully acute sense of gratitude for the time I have with the ones I love.

 

Everyone I've shared this story with has given the same answer when asked if they would take Amesten to see a lost loved one. It’s the same as my answer, an undeniable “yes”. That dream, that pull into darkness to be with the ones we’ve lost, is a stunning revelation of the human heart.


 

 

 

What is the creation process? How to make the shooting plan and equipment selection, etc.? Do you have any special or memorable experiences during filming that can be shared?  

 

This film has had a long gestation period. Aaron and I began this process initially with writing a feature film called Late Radiance that explored the concept of Amesten that follows a widower. In that film we built out a much more detailed vision of a future Los Angeles cracking under the pressure of the Amesten epidemic. 

 

Along with that script, we created concept art and newspaper articles. I cut rip reels and spent a summer storyboarding out the full feature. I really went all out, I even spent three months working with a prop designer to build out the 3D printed Amesten injectors before we even started working on the script for the short.

 

Eventually it became clear that we had to make the short if we were ever gonna get a real shot to make the feature. Initially we were just gonna film a part of the feature but it never felt like we could tell enough of that story without rushing it, so we took the opportunity to write the story of a very different Amesten addict.

 

Once we had the story of Lila on paper, we raised our budget from a combination of crowdfunding and a grant from the Omidyar Network by way of the Seed & Spark Patrons Circle. We raised the money thanks to the incredible generosity of a huge group of people who wanted to see this film come to life and less than a month later we started shooting. 

 

The casting process began before we even had the money to shoot. Thanks to our casting director, Ashley Olds, who also co-produced the film, we saw hundreds of tapes for each of the lead roles before landing on Laura Coover for Lila, Sean Marquette for Kieran, and Dawson Sweeney for Bodie.

 

Production was scheduled for five days in July and we all knew it was gonna be tight, so we really had to have a solid plan of attack. I storyboarded the film before bringing it to our DP Zakaree Sandberg and we went through a lot of references in pre-production, just really getting clear on what this film was gonna look like and how we were gonna get it in the can. 

 

We did a few camera tests to find a look that felt right and was in our budget, before landing on the Arri Alexa Mini, with DZO Vespid primes for the real world and DZO Vespid Retro prime lenses for the dream world.

 

Our production designer, Kilby Rodell, took two months with art director Angela Parish to build a cohesive world for the film. I wanted the dreams and the real world to feel nearly identical, if you look close you may see something, but I wanted to be able to slip into the dream invisibly. Navigating between the dreams and the real world required a lot of logistics for the production, and because we were shooting out of order and with a minor, we were regularly shooting day for night and night for day to accommodate the ambitious schedule.

 

We shot on location at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Studio City, Laurel Canyon, Koreatown, and the Las Virgenes Open Canyon Preserve. Each of these places had their own challenges, some days we lost power, some days it was over 100 degrees. On one particular shoot day, we had a scene where an actor flies an RC plane. We had originally planned to hire a pilot to handle the off-screen controls, but during camera tests we found the planes surprisingly easy to control, so we decided to handle the sequence ourselves. However, on the shoot day, all of a sudden the planes were a nightmare to pilot–and in short order, two of the three planes were destroyed. We managed to pull off the shot by the skin of our teeth, and it was only at the end of the day that we realized the controls for the plane had been switched from beginner to advanced mode. It’s days like that where it’s just good to be lucky.

 

 

 

What factors make you choose Vespids & Retros as the main lenses in this film?

 

There were a lot of requirements that these lenses had to fill and for us the DZO Vespid Primes and DZO Retro Primes felt like the best fit to tell the story. They have a lovely organic look to them with very little chromatic aberration or focus breathing and they render color beautifully and consistently between each of the respective sets. Our story is set in two different worlds but it was important that the differences between them be nearly invisible, something that is more felt than known. Using these two subtly different lens sets felt like the perfect solution. 

 

Additionally, the lenses had to be compact, because we were going to be lugging them on our backs along foot trails and up hills, as well as mounting them on equipment that had restrictive weight limits. The small size of these lens sets worked well with our shooting style.

 

Lastly was our budget, we didn’t have a big rental budget, and we needed something that could punch above its price point and give us everything we needed for this film. There really isn’t anything else on the market that can check all of those boxes.


 



How were you feeling when you were shooting with the DZOFILM Vespid &Retro Cine Prime Lenses(color rendition/resolution/natural characteristic/ etc..)? Any impressive moments that DZOFILM cine lens brings to you?

 

This was my first time working with any DZO Lenses. I‘d heard a little bit about them, but I had no experience with them. When I saw the results of our camera tests, I was impressed and excited to use them for the film. They paired beautifully with the Alexa Mini, creating a dimensional organic image with just enough character. They were the right choice for our production and I’m really happy we went with them

 

 

 

What do you consider the most crucial aspect of successful filming? How do you view cinematic sensibility?

 

I think for me one of the things that makes me feel best going into a shoot is having the time to prepare as best I can. There are always going to be so many factors in play, I do my best to create a solid plan that gives me the confidence to capture what I need but also leaves room for magic to happen in the moment. 

 

There are always gonna be surprises and accidents… often that’s some of the best stuff that you’re gonna get, that’s the gold, I love that stuff. But it’s also my job to look at the big picture and ensure we have all of the pieces needed to tell the story we set out to tell. 

 

 

 

 

We are looking forward to seeing your next project, can you tell me something about it?

 

I'm currently in pre-production on a surreal drama titled Kallisto that I co-wrote with Nolan Gould, which is inspired by the Greek myth of the same name. I've also just finished the script for my first animated film, based on the short story Hell by Spike Milliken. Looking into next year, I'm really excited to direct Late Radiance, the feature film exploration of the concepts we touch on in As Easy As Closing Your Eyes.