Travis Fine and The Others

A very tired Travis Fine sits in the corner of Orca Pacific Studios in Vancouver listening to a local band called Sound Pressure Manifest record a song for the soundtrack of The Others, his first feature as a director. Not having slept more that six hours in the last three days is beginning to take its toll. At one point he collapses on the couch and moans, “Wake me up when you’ve spent all my money.”

Tiredness aside, Fine is a bit like a kid in a candy store. The last twelve hours have been spent recording a song for which he wrote the lyrics. His enthusiasm for the music shows as his head nods and his foot taps continuously to tracks repeated over and over. While awaiting dinner (pizza and Coke) we sit down in a production booth.

MD: How long have you been in the business?

I’ve been an actor since I was seven. I started in Atlanta, Georgia, worked there for seven years then went to Minneapolis and worked. Then at the ripe old age of 15 quit the business. I went to high school, played football, had a girlfriend and did everything I didn’t really do when I was growing up. I played a year of college football, ripped up my ankle and back I went to Hollywood. I ended up moving to LA, I went to high school in LA and got my first agent doing theater in high school. I got the second job I ever auditioned for, figured it was going to be really easy and spent the next year waiting tables.

MD: Isn’t the way it normally happens?

Yeah. Looking back on it, it happened quickly. It was about a year and then I ended up getting a series called The Young Riders (as Ike McSwain) that ran on ABC for a few years. It was sort of my leaping off point in Hollywood before that I had played Guy Number Two and Strange Looking Guy. Those were only two parts before the series.

The second show I ever did was TV 101 and I actually went in reading for Guy Number Two which I had played on Cagny and Lacy so I jokingly went in and said, “Guys, I’m the man cause I’ve already played Guy Number Two.” They sent me out and called me back in and said, “We want you to read for a different part.” I thought I was going to be the star of the show and it was Strange Looking Guy.

MD: When did you first decide you wanted to direct?

When I saw The Stunt Man with Peter O’Toole. I remember watching it as a kid and saying to myself, “Do I want to be Steve Railsback or Peter O’Toole shouting out (British accent)’Lucky how tall was King Kong? Two feet tall, right.’” He was god on his crane. I went that’s the guy to be. It’s been about a twenty year detour. Plus when I started doing a series as an actor I thought I was making more money than god and then I saw the budget and I realized, not only are they running the show, not only are they making the decisions, they’re getting paid more. I thought, I guess I should be owning the studio not working for it.

MD: You’ve done a few short films, so this is not your first time directing.

The directing came out of the writing which I think it does for a lot of people. The writing came out of boredom of being an actor at times. I optioned my first screenplay and then I got a couple of TV shows produced. I decided I wanted to write something that I could direct so I wrote this great little Rock and Roll movie set in high school and told my agents I wanted to direct it. They showed it around town and everybody loved it and everybody said, “You’re not going to direct it.”

I was pretty insistent on doing it so I flew back to the New York Film Academy which has a 12 week director’s program. It’s like guerrilla Filmmaking. It’s you and four other guys or four other girls. I made four shorts while I was there. Last January I did a 20 minute short that I wrote, produced, directed, financed. Gave up my house as a location, you know, lugged equipment. It was the first time I had a real little crew, but it’s still a lot of work.

MD: How long have you been working on this project?

I started writing it about 2 years ago. This was the little Rock and Roll movie that I wrote and said I was going to direct. I stuck to it. About two months ago I got a phone call from a friend - most of the action takes place in a high school and one of the biggest hurdles was finding a location. We called Leonardo DiCaprio and asked him, I mean, you know, we tried everything we could to get this thing made at a bigger budget. About two months ago a friend of my called me and said, “Are you still looking for a high school?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Cause a friend of mine owns a high school.”

The school is Montclaire High School in LA. The owner said, “Come in either July or August, that’s when it’s the slow month.” So turned to my producer who I’ve been working with for a year trying to get this made and I said, “We’re shooting in July.” He said, “How?” I said, “I have no idea.”

At that point it was a matter of sitting down at my computer and doing what did with every short film. Figuring out what we needed, literally make myself a list. Of course the first thing was money. I told all my friends I shooting a movie July 21. They said, “Got your financing?” I said, “Not a penny.” They all said, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Here we are six weeks later.

MD: So you had to do some major fundraising in a hurry. How did you go about it?

The first place obviously is family. There was a little help there, as much as they could afford. My mom (Maxine Parker Makover) is actually an executive producer on this and not necessarily because of what she’s put in out of her own pocket but because she’s brought friends in, so, then it became friends of family.

The neat thing about my mother, this is actually pretty cool, my mom at fifty years old came to me, she lives in South Carolina, she came to me and said, “I want to be a movie producer. That’s what I want to do with the second half of my life.” I said, “Well great mom, you’re in South Carolina.” She enrolled herself in the University of South Carolina she finished her first two years and she’s now enrolled at the Savannah College of Arts and Science, she’s a film major. She’s made her first few short films. She’s doin’ it. This is going to be great for both of us because she’s really helped me with some of the fundraising.

We had one big investor down in Los Angeles, a guy who I knew who believed in me. I consider him a friend, but not a close friend, he just read the script and he said, “I’m not doing you a favor, you’re doing me a favor.”

One of the really wild ways I came up with to make money is, I know a lot of agents, manages, producer, directors, writers, casting directors. I have a pretty good group of people that I have access to. I study acting at a place (The Beverly Hills Playhouse) that has about 500 students. About 300 of those don’t have an agent, they’re just starting their careers. I realized that I’m in a place where I’ve worked with a lot of people and I have access to a lot of people these students wouldn’t have.

I thought about back when I was starting and what I wanted more than anything was to be able to ask people questions. To be able to ask an agent, “How do I get to you?” So, I got on the phone to my friends and said instead of giving me money, give me an hour and a half of your time. So, along with my girlfriend who helped me produce this day, we put together an all day panel discussion. It went from 9:30 to 5 pm. We got the theater where we study and filled it with 175 people. We sold it out like that (snaps his fingers). We raised $20,000 in one day. That will get us a few lights, that will get us some film. We’ve got enough to get ourselves in the can with a little bit more on top of that. We’ll figure it out as we go.

The production company that I sort of hooked up with has an editing system so, part of what they bring to the package - I bring the script and the financing - they bring their expertise and their editing facilities. That’s a major cost and I’m getting that for free. So we’ll be cutting as we shoot which we have to do because of my time frame with leaving in September. But that’s been a nice little marriage because they’ve got things that I don’t have and I’ve got things that they don’t have.

MD: Who have you got as a cast?

Most of the people in the cast are my friends but all of them are well know in casting circles in Hollywood. All of them are well on their way to being, if not stars, well known recognizable actors. The first is an unknown, an English boy named Philip Rhys (Austin). Not a person will know who he is, but he’ll be a movie star. Jennifer Aspin (Vicky) just came off staring in Claude’s Crib which is a series on USA. She’s doing a series on FOX next season. She’s working on a film right now, she was in the Brady Bunch sequel.

Next we’ve got Bodhi Elfman (Sluggo) when you mention that you have him everybody goes, “You’re getting him at the perfect time, because you can still afford him.” In a couple of years he’ll be way out of most people’s range.

Hillary Swank is probably the best known she stared in The Next Karate Kid. She just came off a series for ABC. She’s in Germany promoting her latest movie (Heartwood) with Jason Robards. She’s worked a ton. John Livingston (Champ) is best known for, although he jokes that only five people went to see it, there was an Ellen DeGeneres movie called Mr. Wrong. Did you see it?

MD: Uhm...no.

Exactly. Exactly, five people did. But he was the third lead in that. There was Ellen DeGeneres, Bill Pullman and John. Then we’ve got one person that I can’t talk about because we haven’t closed the deal yet, but it’s a big name person.

MD: What is The Others about?

It’s about a group of friends, the final day of high school. They’re not the jocks, they’re not the preppies, they’re not the stoners, they’re not punks, they’re not wannabes, they’re not geeks. They’re the others. They’re the outsiders at this high school. They’ve formed their own little group and it’s sort of insulated, they’ve created their own little world. It’s a coming of age story set over a twenty-four hour period and all of them in their own way, they all have their own paths to follow, they learn a lesson about following your dreams and holding on to that moment when you’re leaving and everything seems possible.

I remember my final day of high school I felt like I could have climbed a building, grabbed onto the moon and pulled it down. I could have crawled down to China, you know, I felt like I could have done anything. It’s a beautiful thing to have and yet we slowly lose that. But I went back to that feeling,

And then there’s the music which is a huge part of it . A couple of the kids are in a Rock and Roll band. Dates me right there! Young kids in Rock and Roll!

MD: You’re not that old. (Travis is 29)

No I know, but I sound like such and old geek when I say Rock and Roll. A couple of guys are in a band. We are utilizing music the same way that American Graffiti used music to define a generation. The same way that Dazed and Confused, the same way Easy Rider - Denis Hopper was the genius who did it before anybody, using continuous music tracks instead of scored music.

MD: Is there a definitive sound for this generation?

That’s the thing. There isn’t so what we’re doing, we’re melding... we’re going to be using some Hip Hop, some Bass and Drum, some Tribal music, some Alternative, we’re going to be using some Techno. Because it takes place in a high school...those movies tried to define a generation by using to music. We’re attempting to search for a generation by using music. We’re searching for the answer. We searching for what is out there right now. I’m trying to find that out as a director. That’s one of the things I’m feeling around for: what’s going on today? But we’re using all those elements. Because it takes place in a high school, we’ve got a scene where a guy’s walking down a hallway and you might two different pieces of source music, one at one end of the hall and one down at the other. They’ll be two totally different sounds, and yet it’s all part of what’s going on today.

MD: It sounds like it could be a great soundtrack.

Yeah, there’s a huge, I mean that’s one of the things that all the companies who were interested in the script, they all saw the potential in the soundtrack. So now we’re up here trying to fashion a soundtrack with no budget.

MD: How did you end up coming to Vancouver?

Gino Montesinos is in acting class with me. He had done a short film around the same time as me back in January. We started talking, he said, “Are you going to be looking for music?” I said, “Yeah.” I didn’t tell him it was a music driven movie. He said, “You really ought to talk to my brother.” I said, “who’s your brother?” He said, “Did you hear the music in my film” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Did you like it?” I said, “Sounded great.” He said, “My brother’s up in Vancouver.” The way Gino puts it is: “My brother’s The Bomb, you gotta hear this shit man, he’s got everything.”

I gave Gino a copy of the script he called and said, “You have to call my brother, he can give you all the music, he can hook you he can do it.” Gino has since become an associate producer on the film and he hooked me with his brother Roberto at Boxx Entertainment. Roberto and I started talking and I told him what I was trying to do.

I was very frank up front. I told him, “I don’t have any money compared to what you guys might normally make on a soundtrack. What I can offer you is my loyalty. IF you help me now I guaranty we’ll all make a lot of money and be very successful and do good films in the future.” So they are taking a chance.

Roberto started sending me some music. I told him exactly the sound I was looking for. He said, “I got the perfect band.” He sent me a tape of a band called Sound Pressure Manifest. I listened to it and said, “That’s the sound.”

MD: How is the recording going?

It’s goin’ great. The first track was the toughest part because what I’ve asked these guys to do... the sound that I fell in love with these guys is a hard guitar driven Techno sound. I came up here and about halfway through the movie the lead character sings a ballad to this girl he’s been in love with all through high school. So, I called these guys saying, “I have this song I’ve written the lyrics for, I need you to come up with something original for it.” These guys with their fingernail polish and rockin’ out on their guitars. I asked them to do something that’s very different than anything I’ve heard them do. They came up with this gorgeous melody and we’ve spent the day recording it.

MD: Are all the songs original?

They’re all original. When we shoot the concert sequences the cast will lip sync to their music.

MD: When will you be finished?

We wrap on Aug. 16th. As with every other independent filmmaker: October 4...Oct. 4 Sundance rough cut...Oct. 4 Sundance rough cut... Oct. 4...

It’s one of a lot things were going to do to market the film. We’ve got a great story, great cast great people working on it. Provided I do my job decently we have all the elements to have something that’s very good and marketable as well. And a little different and interesting

My mom sent me this article about how their now calling people born after 1977 The Others. You have the Boomers and the Xers and now The Others. I started writing this script two years ago. Serendipity is what I call it. It was meant to be. The way I hooked up with Roberto, the way I found this band.

Obviously we want to get into Sundance and all the top festivals. We’d like to be sold before we go to Sundance. We’ll be cutting as we go so at the very least we’ll have a rough cut by the time I leave for Australia in Sept.

MD: You’re going to be working on a big film.

Terrence Malick hasn’t made a film since 1978 (Days In Heaven). He’s adapted James Jones’ The Thin Red Line. The first time I read the script I so desperately wanted to be in this movie. I’ve wanted to do a W.W.II movie since I was a child. I used to love watching W.W.II movies. I loved the script, I loved the characters. I didn’t even know who Terrence Malick was I just went, “This is brilliant!” When I started to hear who was involved I knew that this is going to be an important film. It’s got Sean Penn, John Travolta, George Clooney, Nick Nolte, Woody Harrelson, Travis Fine, Travis Fine, Travis Fine...

MD: Are you still pinching yourself?

I read for it twice. My agent said you’re not going to get a part because they’re hiring movie stars. They like you very much but they’re hiring movie stars. So when we got the call I literally fell to my knees and started crying. I had written them a letter after my second audition. I did something that most people tell me not to do. But I wanted the casting director and I wanted Terrence to know how strongly I felt about it. I said that in my ten years in Hollywood I’ve only read a handful of scripts that moved me like this, that made me laugh, cry and reminded me why I wanted to make movies in the first place. It was a gamble, I just laid it all out there, that can look desperate in Hollywood. You’re supposed to be cool and laid back, “It doesn’t matter to me.” But it mattered to me.

I get to do scenes with Sean. Sean Penn is like the guy of my generation who has changed actors. I grew up watching Sean Penn. I watched him and said, “That’s an actor.” I was in a bar the other night and a guy said, “Sean Penn just left.” I’m like, “Aw, man!”

MD: You haven’t met him yet?

I haven’t met anybody. It’s been the strangest thing. Terrence didn’t read people. Everything was on tape. That’s the way he likes to work.

MD: What’s next?

I’ve got another project. A story I bought the rights to about the first integrated game in the South. The first all black team playing an all white team was a little league team in Pennsicola, Florida 1955. I went down and met all the players and interviewed them. It’s going to be like... not as campy as The Bad News Bears, but fun.

This interview was originally published in 1997.

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