Alex Graham is a filmmaker pursuing both fiction and commercial work while enrolled in film courses at San Diego City College. He is a graduate of the University of Chicago and can be contacted at alexpgraham@gmail.com.

Behind the Scenes of Life and Death in the Valley

The cyberpunk world of Life and Death in the Valley was inspired by a strange place called Mission Valley in San Diego, California, that is one of the city’s most densely populated areas, and maybe its least welcoming. There are no schools, few parks, no real destinations, just a vast intersection of artery roads and freeway ramps linking stacks of condominiums to other places. People roll into Mission Valley’s hot concrete parking lots for football games or movies, but they don’t know each other and they don’t stay. So this place offered itself up as a vision of the future without my having to do very much besides photograph it.

The story is a simple one about a man who has to choose between doing his job and doing the right thing. And my goal, probably unattained, was to revisit this classic old template, and to do so well, by focusing my very limited directorial abilities on getting the best performances possible and creating a hero the audience likes, a villain the audience hates, and an outcome that is uncertain.

The debt this small work owes to the towering classics I hope is very clear; Bladerunner, Neuromancer, The Terminator, Le Samourai, to name just a few. I mention these only to emphasize that by following the masters’ well established forms I was attempting to imitate them, not suggest anything new or especially original. Whether anything novel or innovative is to be found in this film is for the viewer to decide.

My instinct was that Mission Valley had nearly everything, visually speaking, to make a compelling piece, but it was necessary to spend the semester’s early months exploring the valley’s locations and prototyping scenes, sometimes compositing them with myself as multiple actors, so by the time we began principle photography nearly the entire film had been tested in rough form. Principle photography occurred over a ten-day period this May.

For video enthusiasts, the picture was shot on the Canon 5d mk ii at 24 fps and audio was captured on a variety of ad hoc second systems, the core of which was the Zoom H4n portable recorder. Editing and sound mixing were done in Final Cut Pro 7, and as I was doing both right up to the deadline, there was no time for color grading, so whatever virtues or defects exist visually were created in-camera.

I hope you enjoy this little tribute to the films and stories we all grew up with and also hope to get some feedback, the more critical the better. Thanks for watching!

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