a zaballos brothers production

November 14, 2009

H and Mr. T worked on a film together last weekend. Only unlike the Coens, this pair has one brother who directs, and one who acts.

H has been filming Mr. T as long as he’s been playing around with movie cameras. A brother almost ten years younger makes good fodder for a teenage filmmaker. Especially when that younger brother is willing to do almost anything: being the candy-loving superhero Super T, a slightly insane Pirate Ninja Man, a very young James Bond. (H was inspired early on by Robert Rodriguez after reading Rebel Without a Crew. Have you seen Rodriguez’ short student film “Bedhead“, featuring his younger siblings?) 

This latest project was H’s first serious collaboration with his brother. The original idea for this film started brewing after H visited the odd local spot referred to as the Albany Bulb. The link takes you to an article from the San Francisco Chronicle, which begins:

“It’s a little spit of land jutting out into the San Francisco Bay from Albany on the eastern shore. Boasting a world-class view of the Golden Gate bridge and spectacular sunsets, the Bulb was originally a dump, covered over with dirt and then by vegetation. Deemed toxic, and neglected for many years, this unwanted trash heap was claimed by kindred spirits; fellow outcasts like homeless people and artists and finally, dog-walkers who could let their canine charges run wild.”

Everywhere on the The Bulb, you’ll find art. A giant driftwood dragon, an amphitheater made from junk, the heart-shaped “Castle” created from concrete and shopping cart parts. 

albany bulb

the dragon

When H saw the Castle, a story began to collect, about a young boy who lives on an island, alone, making a home in the Castle and gazing across the water at the skyline of San Francisco. H saw it as a wordless film, without much explanatory narrative. A film that could capitalize on the wildly disparate images of the Bulb: nature and garbage, sunsets and art crafted from cast-offs. A place that somehow conveys both hopefulness and hopelessness.

And of course, H had the perfect actor in mind.

boy alone

I was a little worried about that. It was one thing to have H and Mr. T collaborate on home-spun projects together. But this would be made with H’s film program. His instructor from the program would be there. Even more of a concern: the program had been gifted with some actual 16 mm film, and H’s project was to be shot on it. Because shooting on film is so different from shooting on digital, they would hire a cinematographer to work with H. And they couldn’t afford lots of extra shots; the film was too precious.

looking out from the castle

It would be one very long day’s shoot. And I had no idea how Mr. T would hold up.

one crazy set

Turns out, he’s a pro. A pro with a bit of attitude. He didn’t like rehearsing shots. H would tell him what he wanted, and when they filmed the digital rehearsal (to record the sound), Mr. T would do some half-hearted little pantomime. But as soon as the film camera rolled (and you can hear film rolling in a camera), T would nail just what H asked for. Usually on the first shot.


Of course, he had no lines, which helped.

Chris and I were there for the day, from 8:00 am to 5:30, to serve as child wranglers and food fetchers. But I didn’t have a lot to do. Other than a little bit of costume-fixing, a good deal of knitting, and a good deal of watching my boys.

costume mistress

A film shoot can be about as exciting as watching bread dough rise. It’s slow and tedious and often eye-crossingly boring. But what amazes me is that H, a kid I would never describe as patient, loves every minute of it. He has such a strong vision of what he wants for each shot, and he’s willing to do what it takes to get it.

brotherly direction

On Thursday, H left for Los Angeles for a field trip with his film program. One of their destinations is FotoKem , the largest film processing lab on the west coast. They’ll have a tour, they’ll have their film processed. Then, according to H’s film project director, “we’ll have a chance to screen our 16mm film in an in-house theater specifically for watching ‘dailies’. They’ll be sitting in seats previously occupied by Scorsese, Coppola, etc.”

It’s an amazing opportunity.

When I asked H why shooting on film is such a big deal, he got up out of his chair and started pacing around the kitchen, he was so excited. “It’s just gonna look so good!” But shooting on film is nerve-wracking too: H won’t know how his footage came out until he sees it screened in that theater. I can’t wait to find out.

The lab will transfer the film to digital. Then when H gets home, he’ll begin editing.

waiting for sunset

I have no doubt that H will find work in the film industry, someday, somewhere. But Mr. T as an actor? Who knows? Waiting to see H’s film develop is nothing compared to waiting to see this wacky kid develop. If Mr. T does decide to continue acting, if one day some cheesy Barbara Walters special wants vintage footage, we’ll have lots of good stuff to offer. Footage lovingly filmed by his brother.

last shot

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Angela November 14, 2009 at 9:25 pm



patricia November 15, 2009 at 9:59 pm

Thank you!


Tara Reese November 15, 2009 at 2:31 pm

a bit speechless, and a bit awestruck.
you have a wonderful family, and amazing boys.
and i can’t wait to check out this spot!


patricia November 15, 2009 at 10:04 pm

It’s good that they can be so amazing because sometimes, on other days (read: today) certain teenagers make me want to pull my ears off.

You should check out this spot. In fact, you should let us be your personal tour guides to this spot.


molly November 15, 2009 at 5:23 pm

it’s amazing to see that h’s idea coming to life! you mentioned it at adventure playground, and now it’s done. if the film looks anything like your pictures of the film, it will be a hit. beautiful late afternoon/evening colors (one good thing about the time change!). can’t wait to see the final product – do hope you’ll share!

(aidan looking over my shoulder said, “i want to go there!”)


patricia November 15, 2009 at 10:09 pm

That’s one of my favorite parts of the process: hearing H’s early ideas for something, and then seeing what he makes of those ideas.

I’m sure it will make its way to YouTube eventually, and I’ll be far too proud not to share it!

We can take our friend Aidan there. It would be kind of an edgy place for a meet-up–but it’s always interesting.


Mom November 15, 2009 at 9:30 pm

Wow, I have goose bumps. Can’t wait to see the results. I am hoping it is just what H wants it to be.


patricia November 15, 2009 at 10:10 pm

Me too. 🙂


Carrie Pomeroy November 16, 2009 at 2:39 pm

Great photos, great story! Thank you!


patricia November 18, 2009 at 7:52 am

Thanks for reading!


Kristin November 18, 2009 at 11:43 am

This post was fun to read and I enjoyed the photos showing the process. The lighting was amazing that day. I like the photo of you with the crew on the roof in the background, and the wispy clouds looking like electricity shooting out of the area where you all worked. You appear to be relaxed. I also like the one of H with his arm around his brother, protectively. What a lucky boy T is to have a brother who adores him so much. I bet the movie will be good, as everybody seemed to be engrossed.


patricia November 19, 2009 at 8:04 am

Oh, I was relaxed; I really wasn’t working! I wasn’t doing much but watching my boys and enjoying the day.

H waited for that golden end-of-the-day light for the last shots. That was important to him. He got to work with a colorist at FotoKem to make sure the color comes out just as he wants it. I’m sure you can appreciate what a neat opportunity that was, Kristin!


Jenny briffa November 22, 2009 at 1:56 pm

I am so happy for H and T. It has been one of the highlights of my life to watch our boys play around with film and to know H will be doing something he loves.


patricia November 22, 2009 at 6:11 pm

Hey Jenny, guess what the first few lines are in H’s common application essay? He wrote it in the second person, and it’s called “How to be a Filmmaker”. It begins, “When you’re 12 years old, and you and your best friend are bored, pick up his video camera. Make a series of shorts about Christmas elves who love Led Zeppelin.”

Hee hee. Does that sound familiar?


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