The short film Cool Hair, directed by debutant and production manager William Orozco-Cubbon, was screened at the 2017 Zero Film Festival in West Hollywood, the 2017 Cinema at the Edge Film Festival in Santa Monica, CA, as well as the 2017 Los Angeles Lift-Off Film Festival. Starring Russian born model-turned-actress Alena Savostikova and newcomer Vic Vickers, alongside actors Shane Alexander, Angela Hisel, Reid Taylor and Ivan Katz, Cool Hair‘s intriguing premise takes us on a wild, violent and unpredictable ride across the Great American West. The story centers around Summer and Vincent, a young modern-day couple partaking in a crime spree whilst traveling around in a white BMW. In a very Bonnie-and-Clyde-like manner, the two do not hesitate to not only rob, but also kill—both of which they are capable of doing without batting an eye. But their simultaneously thrilling and dangerous lifestyle does not seem to go unnoticed, as an unexpected visitor traces their tracks. What is interesting about Mr. Orozco-Cubbon’s debut is the fact that it manages to be sizzling hot and ice cold at the same time. The couple’s palpable chemistry and the explicit sex scene that comes to show the extent to which committing crimes and living on the edge serve as an immense aphrodisiac for them both, alongside their devil-may-care attitude that accompanies their every move, give the movie an extremely spicy flavor. But the pair’s lack of empathy and their willingness to kill in cold blood with the same passion that fueled their love life a mere few seconds before, add about three tons of ice to the mix. And that kind of unusual, yet intriguing combination is not as easy to achieve as it may seem at first glance.
This kind of tone used to depict the interconnectedness between sex and crime set by Cool Hair evokes Harmony Korine’s polarizing 2012 feature film Spring Breakers starring Vanessa Hudgens and James Franco, but Mr. Orozco-Cubbon delivers this content much more naturally and with the poise and confidence of an experienced filmmaker who already has a well-defined style, knowingly and purposefully playing with the two intertwining dynamics that keep the audience on its toes. What is more, he never once goes over the top, proving himself a steady director who calls the shots and doesn’t let things get out of hand. And that is, yet again, very admirable for a first time director.
But Mr. Orozco-Cubbon is not the only one who has done a wonderful job. Cool Hair‘s stunning cinematography (kudos to Cinematographer Yuki Noguchi) makes the short film very satisfying to visually enjoy and appreciate, while Francisco Orozco-Morales’ haunting original score helps set both the tone and the pace, making Mr. Orozco-Cubbon’s film a wholly rounded and well thought-through artistic whole. And without good casting, Cool Hair certainly wouldn’t be as good as it is. Alena Savostikova, who has already starred in a number of projects—from TV shows such as The Mindy Project, Mixology and Rizzoli & Isles to feature films like The Mummy Resurrected and the Chinese blockbuster The Great Guys—gives a convincing performance as leading lady Summer, while first time actor Vic Vickers does an equally fine job as her boyfriend and partner-in-crime Vincent.
What is especially interesting about both the structure and the overall feel of Cool Hair is the fact that it leaves viewers under the impression that they had just witnessed the last 8 minutes of a high quality feature-length movie, making them wonder what else had happened prior to the very first scene and leaving them not only wanting more after the very last one, but also knowing that they had been given merely a glimpse into the everyday lives of two young criminals—albeit a rather eventful few days. In the same way the two are just “passing by,” leaving nothing but a trail of blood in their wake, the director lets the viewers know, without a shadow of a doubt, that the violent actions depicted in the movie were neither the couple’s first, nor will they be their last. Meaning that the climactic event the viewers are exposed to is most likely only one of many. And with a first movie so well written, directed and edited, it is safe to say that Mr. Orozco-Cubbon has a bright career ahead of him. Cool Hair does what few short movies manage—its premise intrigues us, its cinematography and score dazzle us and its well-paced and equally well-directed story leaves us wanting more.
Cool Hair is your directional debut. You also co-wrote the screenplay and did the editing. What was your inspiration for this movie?
I wanted to make a fast-paced and entertaining movie, something with a bit of the spirit of Badlands or Breathless, but with a modern sheen to it.
Why did you choose this particular theme?
I just love crime films. They present a sort of heightened reality where you can explore ideas and emotions with a bit of expediency as opposed to a straight-up drama. I took it pretty far in terms of minimal explanation for maximum impact, and maybe it wasn’t always earned, but I was very obsessed with the idea of writing my own rules for the running time. The idea is that it’s one of the most classic American stories: the lovers on the run, the outlaws. I wanted the classic blonde bombshell, but instead of being the accomplice, she’s sort of leading the way, and she’s complemented by a young black man in the Jean-Paul Belmondo or Warren Beatty role. Usually if a black guy has a gun in a movie he’s either a thug or “redeeming” himself or something, you don’t usually see him just being a movie character and having a great time. You know? He shoots the cop because that’s what that character needs to do at this point in the story. I cut to him exhaling that awesome billow of cigarette smoke when Summer blows the guy’s head off because it looks cool. They should look cool. Like a fashion ad, style over substance for the most part. It’s a very impersonal film for me because I wanted to explore violence with characters I loved. I feel it’s kind of a cold and objective film. I’m keeping a safe distance.
I wanted to have characters that were riding a fine line between realism and theatricality, with a visual style that’s very beautiful and technically accomplished but slightly abrasive in its editing. The aesthetic I was after, and in many ways am quite pleased with, wouldn’t be sustainable over a feature-length film, but that’s why I wanted to carve out a unique voice for this shorter format. A gutsy move I guess and I can’t say I was totally effective, but I’m really proud of it overall.
Why the title Cool Hair? Do you believe it to be a bit misleading? And if so—was that your goal?
It just made sense to me. I considered using “Loose Cannon,” which is another short I had written and where the character of Summer originally derived from, but I thought “Cool Hair” was unique and catchy. It’s got a nice innocuous quality to it, a sort of style over substance feeling that made sense with the broad strokes I was painting this thing within my mind.
What was it like working with Alena Savostikova and was she your first choice for the role of summer?
Alena was great. She’s a little more “badass” than how I originally pictured Summer, but she was able to balance the assured, cold-blooded killer with the scared and lonely lover. She was also very confident in her own skin and that was important for these characters. There’s a close up on her face, when the cop is at the door, which is one of my favorite moments in the movie. You can see the lost girl in her eyes, just for a second, where she goes back to a place where she couldn’t ever believe this would be her life, and it’s just so great.
The casting process was funny because neither Alena nor Vic realized that there were sides attached online, so they both came in totally unprepared, thinking they were auditioning for a modeling gig. But it was apparent basically immediately that they were both the right people for the role. As I mentioned I envisioned Summer as a little more naïve looking, but Vic has a very innocent quality to him so the contrast was excellent, and it actually worked out in a way I wasn’t expecting. The girl was always the lead, more or less, and of course she was gonna be cool and kicking ass, but Alena brought such an assurance to it. She really sells the flippant attitude about murder and mayhem that was necessary for the beginning of the story.
What did you want to explore with the implication that crime can be sexually arousing?
I wouldn’t endorse that statement; if the movie comes off that way it’s purely my fault that I didn’t get the intention across better. The characters are obviously very good looking and that was important, but outside of that the only “sexy” element of the story to me was a sort of romantic affection for criminals and crime films in particular. In a mythological sort of way. I don’t believe in violence as a noble idea, only a sad and unfortunately realistic one sometimes.
I wanted these young lovers to be the modern day embodiment of the classic USA violent streak. Take it all the way, you know? Throw the sex we’re supposed to cover up unless it’s being used to sell us shit right in the face of the adults they’ve been let down by, in Summer and Vincent’s eyes it’s anyone who gets in their way. They’re going to show them how great they are at fucking each other and show them how flippant they are about robbing them blind and then they blow their brains out, just because that’s what has to happen next. It’s already in motion; it’s hardly even their fault. At least that’s what the movie character in them would think.
Do you intend to make a feature film based on Cool Hair in the near future?
I’ve been working on a feature-length script called The Cool Ones, no relation to the ‘60s musical although I do love that crazy movie. Cool Hair was never meant to be the beginning of anything larger, but people kept asking me this question as we were making it so I started thinking more about these characters’ backstories and what kind of world they grew up in. I’ve got a story that I really like and I work on it when I can. It’s not a realistic first feature so it’s not my top priority right now, but I’m really attached to the characters and the odd mix of genres I’m working with. The short film served as an inspiration for the feature, the longer story is much different and the only similarities are the main characters. It’s a larger canvas in an interesting time period that hasn’t really been done yet. Whereas the short was mainly influenced by Godard, the feature is a mix of that and Michael Mann, Tarantino, the Coen Brothers, and a crazy dream playlist of incredible music. It’s really fucking fun.
How difficult was it to shoot Cool Hair?
Until people start paying me to direct, I’m a producer and PM, so my production experience combined with our incredible cast and crew provided for about as smooth a production as you could hope for. I really can’t overstate how lucky I am to work with the friends and collaborators that came on board. Unfortunately, I was never fully satisfied with the screenplay, and no amount of preparation can fix that. An earlier draft had a bit more of a freewheeling approach, there were voiceovers and direct to camera bits, it was kind of crazy and all over the place, and I think it would’ve worked if I had twice as long to film this but I became aware pretty early on in the process that I needed to slim it down, make it more minimal. In doing that I think I missed some opportunities to flesh out the characters.
That stuff aside my main reservation about the whole experience is that I didn’t push harder. The crew would’ve forgiven me, right? We only shot for one weekend and we all could’ve slept even less, there’s no question in my mind. There was a really fun scene that I had written and that Alena and Vic loved, it was when they first arrive at the motel I showed them going inside and paying for their room, it just showed them in a normal environment for once, and I cut it because we were low on time and bandwidth and it “wasn’t crucial to the story.” Never again. We should’ve made time because it gave the audience another dimension to these characters. It was the one huge holdover from an earlier draft of the script and it’s my only major regret with the film. Everything else I’m not happy with I can chalk up to a learning experience and that’s great and all, but I really wish I would’ve filmed that scene.
Are you more interested in writing screenplays or directing? Why is that?
Directing, and it’s not even close. I love being on set, making decisions, collaborating, seeing all these forces at play and solving problems. It’s just the most fun I can think of, and I’ve run enough sets as a Producer to understand how big of a responsibility it is to direct anything that someone else is paying for. I love writing but it’s incredibly time-consuming and I have a really hard time separating the images from the words. I just can’t help myself from thinking about how I’m gonna shoot it the second I get the idea. I try really hard and when I can focus intensely enough to get that clarity and write something decent it’s a rush, but my brain is wired on a visual level.
I have a lot of ideas, but I don’t know if I have enough great ideas to sustain me for the next 40 or 50 years. There’s so many genres I’d love to work in and so many kinds of films I’d love to make, it would just be ridiculous to force myself to wait until I had another script written. And besides, there are obviously better writers than me out there, and collaboration is great.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a filmmaker?
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t really interested in movies. It’s always been a major, major preoccupation for me. I guess I just realized around the time I was 11 or 12 that the way I think about things, the way I make stories out of albums and action figures and books and comics and concept art from video game magazines, that’s exactly how the director’s I was starting to read about think. Not exactly, but you know, the way they talked about things made sense to me.
There are seminal moments in my childhood where movies just had an incredible impact on me, and as I started getting just a little older I was anticipating how a film should be shot, where should the camera go next, if it’s a good scene it’ll do this or that, if it’s bad it will do this. Understanding how many options there were to shoot a scene and the directors I started really liking, Kubrick, Coppola, Spielberg, Tarantino, just for starters you know, all seemed to be putting the camera in the right place almost all the time. I just got a kick out of it, and teachers had always been telling me my whole life I was a natural born leader but I didn’t know what they were talking about until I starting thinking of myself on a film set. I eventually started writing reviews and criticism for fun, flunking out of classes but turning in 12-page reports no one asked for cause I thought it was fun, constantly scouring movie message boards and watching TCM, watching great films and bad films and everything in between and applying that context to modern movies, reading biographies all the time. I started eating less candy and drinking soda in the theater so I could focus more. I remember seeing Catch Me If You Can with my Grandpa and he remarked how great the editing was, so then I started thinking about that element a lot more too. I’d always loved actors, my Mom would watch a lot of old films and my Dad would show me wild stuff and my family, in general, is pretty film savvy so it was always there. It’s an interest I’ve always had and it’s never stopped growing. The more I learn, day by day, the more I love it.
Can you name a couple of films that motivated you to pursue this career?
Batman has been my favorite film for as long as I can remember. The second the Warner Brother’s logo goes dark and Danny Elfman’s score begins, I’m in heaven. It’s a movie with a capital M and Tim Burton brings so much imagination to it. Star Wars was a big one. I saw it for the first time when it was re-released in theaters in ’97 and it was one of the greatest moments of my life. Lawrence of Arabia, the scale and scope blew me away. Back then I wasn’t thinking about the logistics of actually producing that kind of movie, but I knew it was something different and special. The Epic is one of my favorite genres. Rear Window was one of the movies that taught me the rules of filmmaking. I watched it every time it was on Turner Classic, always catching it at a different point, and I could never turn it off. Hitchcock made one of the most entertaining movies ever and he never leaves the room, so there’s really no excuse. A Clockwork Orange. Aside from Spielberg, Kubrick has had the biggest influence on me. I’d put Tarantino up there too. Clockwork motivated me on a visual level. I’d never really seen anything like it. His use of colors and the editing, the camera movements, the theatricality and dark humor to a lot of the performances, these were all things that really motivated me and opened up the possibilities of the kinds of picture you could make. These are a few of the major films that ignited my passion for cinema, but I’m constantly being motivated and influenced by movies from all eras. I try to watch everything.
What do you intend to film next?
In addition to working on The Cool Ones, I’m outlining a science fiction miniseries and I’m currently writing my next short film, The Bastard. It’s very different from Cool Hair, more of a slice of life film. It’s about a guy who finds out a girl he recently slept with is pregnant, causing him to reevaluate where he’s at in his life and the decisions he’s making. It’s a much more personal movie, something I feel like I’m ready for and that I’ve been running away from a little bit. I want to show a more relaxed, emotional side to my filmmaking and I want to make people laugh a little and think about what they can be doing better in their own lives.
Written by Sven Mikulec
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