You can bet that Stephen James wasn’t among the thousands of Star Wars fans camped out in front of theaters to catch the recent premiere.
As a filmmaker, the 34 year-old Lake Highlands native admits he was always more attracted to ‘people’ pictures rather than glossy sci-fi epics.
“Oddly enough, I wasn’t a big Star Wars fan,” he says. “I know that was something that turned so many people’s lives around, but I’ve always responded to a variety of different films, particularly character driven stuff. Things like Network, Kramer vs. Kramer, and even Rocky.”
James’ first full-length feature, Certain Guys debuted at Dallas’ USA Film Festival in April and met with reasonable success. Set (and of course, filmed) in Dallas, it centers on a group of longtime friends who reassemble for a buddy’s wedding. Its story of friendship, change, responsibility and personal discovery is an accessible one. Likewise, it presents scenarios that are both familiar and quite funny.
James (who did triple duty as writer/director/co-star) says that the film is by no means taken from personal experiences. Its story, however, is one that is very personal to him.
“I can’t look at this film and say its autobiographical in the sense that the characters are people I grew up with,” he says. “But the story is very much the essence of what I’m about. It’s very pertinent to my life.”
James admits that he’s been a film fan from much of his life, but hadn’t always harbored dreams of becoming an auteur. A graduate Lake Highlands High School, he then attended SMU where he received degrees in English and Business.
After SMU, he backpacked around Europe and then headed to Santa Fe to write the ‘Great American Novel.’
“I thought I was an angry young man,” he muses. “It turns out I was only a little miffed.”
From Santa Fe, he headed to the west coast, then to New York, where he Mastered in Fine Arts at Columbia. His thesis short film, The Make, made the film festival rounds in 1994. Clocking in at 16 minutes, it earned James a Student Academy Award. It was also shown briefly in a scene in Ron Howard’s The Paper.
With exposure and critical acclaim on his side, he soon began work on Certain Guys.
Its low-budget didn’t seem to present problems for the fledgling director. He managed to cast some familiar faces including Diedrich Bader of TV’s “Drew Carey Show,” Traci Lords and Mark Pellegrino who was featured in The Big Lebowski.
Aside from that, he had no problem securing locations for the Dallas shoot as friends and family (many of whom are extras in the film) volunteered their homes and offices for different scenes.
“I’m very proud of being a Texan,” he says. “Having grown up in Lake Highlands, I was aware of Dallas’ charm and knew it wasn’t as cliched as the TV show, ‘Dallas.’ Plus, I think it has a certain sense of middle-class America values, which I wanted to show in the film. Plus, its home, its comfortable, so it was a logical choice for a setting.”
As mentioned, James is currently shopping Certain Guys around to find a venue, be it big screen, television or even video. Presently, he’s cool about such matters and is pleased to have the movie completed on his terms.
Whether or not it finds an accepting audience is still undetermined, but for now, Stephen James is satisfied with his efforts and is confident that they will pay off in one way or another.
“It’s exciting,” he says. “But I’m not nervous about anything. I’m not crazed by the idea of what’s going to happen. I am, however, confident about what we accomplished with this film. I think people will respond to it, but they might not. Ultimately, I’m very happy with it and I hope people will be able to appreciate it for what it is.”
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