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Joseph Culp: Rebel Without a Budget:

About a year ago, the Mirror ran a book review of Roger Corman: Metaphysics on a Shoestring, a delightful overview of the local maverick filmmaker’s long and varied career. Corman’s legacy might be summed up with this simple idea: YOU CAN MAKE YOUR MOVIE. Although much different in his artistic sensibilities, longtime Santa Monica resident Joseph Culp has clearly embraced The King of The B’s do-it-yourself philosophy.

Culp, an award-winning actor whose many credits include leading roles in Alan J. Pakula’s Dream Lover, Monte Hellman’s Iguana, and a recent guest-starring role on the hit TV drama Mad Men, now finds himself wearing an additional professional hat – independent film producer. Indeed, the three micro-budget films Culp has produced and starred in arguably place him in the vanguard of “art house” independent filmmaking.

Culp won critical acclaim at the San Francisco Independent Film Festival for his performance in Hunger, an adaptation of Nobel Prize-winner Knut Hamsun’s novel, which he produced with writer-director Maria Giese and which featured his father, veteran actor Robert Culp (I Spy, The Greatest American Hero). Updated to modern Hollywood, Joseph plays a kind-hearted but struggling screenwriter set adrift on the mean streets of Tinseltown. Shot “guerrilla style,” director Giese opts for a grainy, nearly monochromatic patina that highlights both the vérité quality of the story and Culp’s fine performance as the desperate, self-deluded writer slowly losing his grip on reality. Shot entirely on location in Los Angeles, Hunger won Best Feature at the 2007 Moondance Film Festival, besting several films that clearly spent more on a day’s worth of craft service than Hunger spent on its entire shoot. And despite the fact that the film took years to find the resources to finish post-production, Culp’s desire to continue making small, personal films was fueled by his experience on Hunger.

Culp’s current project, The Reflecting Pool, incorporates many of his skills and passions in a project that has the potential to stir an international controversy. Completed last summer, Culp and writer-director-co-star Jarek Kupsc began developing the material in the Walking Theatre Group, a workshop integrating theatre, film, and transpersonal work for actors, writers, and directors that Culp has run for over 10 years at the Electric Lodge performance space and gallery in Venice. As the script took shape, Kupsc and Culp developed a close working relationship, so collaborating on the film was a natural outgrowth of the creative partnership that began in Culp’s workshop. The film, although ambitious and far-reaching in its socio-political agenda, is indeed the product of local artists working in close communal collaboration.

The Reflecting Pool follows an investigation by a Russian-American journalist and the father of a 9/11 victim into the labyrinth of suppressed facts and anomalies surrounding the tragedy. The investigation eventually yields striking revelations that have a devastating personal effect on both men. The mind-boggling array of secrets, lies, contradictions, and cover-ups the main characters discover collectively suggest that the 9/11 attacks could not have occurred without some level of complicity from our government. Although a fictionalized “docudrama,” the film is based entirely on verifiable facts, all readily available to the public in print and on the Internet.

Culp explains that within the “9/11 Truth Movement” there are essentially two schools of thought: LIHOP (Let It Happen On Purpose) and MIHOP (Make It Happen On Purpose). The film makes a very persuasive case that the American people must consider both possibilities, or at the very least, strongly question the official version of the 9/11 attacks.

Culp feels that The Reflecting Pool has come along at just the right time. Says Culp: “It’s time to tell a story like this; the initial shock of the tragedy and the co-opted invasion of Iraq made it taboo for many to even question what really happened. But now, after nearly five years of controversial war, we have gained new perspective and can ask hard questions.”

The film was basically made by three people: Culp, Kupsc, and co-producer/cinematographer Jodie Baltazar (who also happens to be Kupsc’s wife). Culp smilingly recalls shooting a scene at the Electric Lodge where for several hours he would touch up the actors’ make-up, unplug a large industrial fan, go grab the boom mike and hold it for the duration of the take, re-plug the fan, and then repeat the process with each new take. He muses on the fact that even though it’s nice to work with a full crew and trucks full of grip and electrical equipment, at the end of the day three industrious individuals will do just fine.

Culp believes that this is an exciting time for independent filmmakers, due to the affordability of professional gear and the opportunities afforded by the Internet for alternative distribution (a clip of TRP posted on YouTube has already garnered over 35,000 hits and thousands of requests to purchase the DVD). “It’s an exciting time for making independent film because the technology is such that you really can get a good digital camera and editing and sound software and go make your film. It still remains for you to have some skill and vision in your ability to tell a story, but it’s marvelous that it’s become more possible to make your own films,” he enthused.

American Cinematheque presents the Los Angeles premiere of The Reflecting Pool at the Aero Theatre on Thursday, January 31, at 7:30 p.m., followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers. The Reflecting Pool opens theatrically at Laemmle’s Monica 4-plex on February 2. For more information about the film, go to reflectingpoolfilm.com. To learn more about Joe Culp and his current projects, go to josephculp.com.

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