Mecca Location Becomes More Than Just Backdrop to 'The Charlatan'

Box Canyon Road gives short film its big picture feel



Tom Sizemore, a Coachella Valley resident, plays a policeman in "The Charlatan", which was shot on Box Canyon Road in Mecca.

courtesy of The Charlatan

Box Canyon Road is just a location on a map.

Google it and you’ll see it lies north of Highway 111, nearly 50 miles from downtown Palm Springs, a solitary road surrounded by desert and towering peaks.

Together with writer/producer Nicolas Coles, director Alexis Spraic took on the role of location scout. Once she saw the area in person, she stopped looking. 

“We looked at a ton of other places,” said Spraic, who is in town this week for the Palm Springs International ShortFest (www.psfilmfest.org), which features more than 300 short films across an array of themes playing at the Camelot Theatres.

“I would like to say that Box Canyon picked us and not the other way around,” she continued. “It was much more expensive to bring a crew out there. We could have shot in a desert locale closer to Los Angeles where I am based, and most of the people in the film are based. I really just fell in love with it the second I saw it. Once I got it in my head, I couldn’t let go of it.”

The location became more than just a backdrop for the short film, The Charlatan, but an integral part to its story.

“The story itself even though it’s shot in a really naturalistic way, has a kind of fantasy surrealist element,” said Spraic, whose documentary work has appeared on HBO, Cinemax and at Sundance Film Festival. “I think having a larger than life setting for it helps sell that idea. You know something big is going to happen in a location like that.”

“The Charlatan” makes its world premiere at 4:30 p.m. Saturday (June 22) as one of four films under the Crimes and Misdemeanors block at the Camelot Theaters, 2300 E. Baristo Road. Spraic and actor Kai Lennox will appear at the screening.

Spraic answered several more questions from Palm Springs Life, including the decision to pursue actor Tom Sizemore for the film. Sizemore, a Palm Springs area resident, recently penned an autobiographical book, “By Some Miracle I made It Out of There”, detailing his drug addictions and jail time.

Did you choose to premiere the film in Palm Springs on purpose?
“No. We honestly just finished the movie. This is the first film festival we have submitted to. We are going to hopefully have a healthy, long festival life. One reason we did submit to this festival is because it has such a good reputation, and that sends a good message about the quality of our films. It’s also a good festival to attract what distribution there is for a short.”

How did you get Tom Sizemore interested in the film?
“We were really lucky to work with a incredible casting agent, Lauren Grey. She normally doesn’t do short films. We met with her to convince her otherwise. We had put together a great presentation. We met with her and she got really excited about the project. Lauren got Tom interested in the project, and it couldn’t have been a better fit. I have been a long time admirer. He was so effortless. I loved seeing his process at work. He was so professional, really prepared. And he had great ideas that took the material even further. I know he has a reputation that precedes him in all kinds of ways, but I was in awe to work with someone with the chops that he has.”

What about Rob Zabrecky and Kai Lennox?
“Rob has been a very successful stage magician actually. He just had a featured role in Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut (“How to Catch a Monster”). He and I had been working on a documentary on magic. When you see our film, no one else could have played the part. Kai is one of those actors that when you look him up, you’ll recognize him immediately. He was in “Boogie Nights”. A great character actor.”

Did you have any logistical problems?
“The film is set in the early 1960s and most of it plays out in a 1958 Porsche Speedster. We had mounted a camera to the car and we’re following Kai (who is the driver) and he just took off. I was like, ‘I don’t remember giving that direction’. I think a rock got stuck in the throttle somehow, and he had to take the car out of gear and turn it off to get it to stop.”

Have you been out to Palm Springs before?
“I come out at least few times a year. I grew up in Los Angeles, so I grew up spending time in Palm Springs. It’s one of my favorite trips to make. I find it almost like a spiritual place. You can hear yourself think and relax. I have a real affinity for the landscape. I love the midcentury design. I’m very interested in Los Angeles history, and I think Palm Springs history is very intertwined.”

WATCH the trailer, courtesy of 'The Charlatan'.

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