Thursday, 04 April 2013 09:16

Spotlight >> Multi-Transformative-Media A Profile on Actor, Writer & Director Scott Haze

Written by  Chavonny Tillotson
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In an unassuming building, located in the NoHo Arts District on Magnolia, between Lankershim and Vineland Avenue, extraordinary occurrences have been rapidly unfolding.

It’s true, since as far back as 2006, the air surrounding this establishment has been thick with a captivating energy that has bred inspiration and aliveness for those lucky enough to have stepped foot onto these grounds. But this past February, the enchanted and unapologetically ambitious Sherry Theater went beyond the conceptual, laying down roots in the realm of possibility when Artistic Director Scott Haze and Creative Director Jim Parrack launched the 120 Hour Film Festival. It was a week of passion, creativity and a relentless commitment from five directors who amassed a team and shot a short film in just five days. “We gave new and experienced filmmakers a platform to make a movie in 120 hours,” says Scott Haze, also Founder of thcoge Sherry Theater. “So they each had five minutes to choose a log line out of the 30 that Jim and I had written, and they had 120 hours to make a film based on the log line they had chosen.”

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In essence, these ambitious individuals chose their log line on Monday, and were challenged with writing, casting, filming and editing their pieces, ready to hand in by Saturday. And not only did each team deliver on their commitment, leaving them with a finished product by the end, but they were then granted the opportunity to showcase their work to some of Scott and Jim’s friends- a group consisting of Hollywood producers, agents and managers. And a group that benefited from the festival as much as the filmmakers, resulting in talks about developing one of the shorts into a web series, and talks regarding representation for some of the actors.

“We’ve taken the festival model and sped it up,” Scott says. “So it’s really been about creating opportunity for anyone who’s ever aspired to make films, and offering a venue to make that happen.” But what Scott and Jim created is so much more than a venue and a few potentially big breaks; they took a stand for the greatness in their peers and showed up as leaders- impacting us all with the possibilities they created for those five directors. You see, it wasn’t just about filmmaking, it was really about the empowerment of five individuals to fulfill their purpose and live fully self-expressed. And where powerful individuals go, the community follows.

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In the meantime, what has followed since the 120 Hour Film Festival is the continuation of Scott Haze’s tireless leadership. He has used the Sherry Theater to house a Shakespeare committee, assembled a writing group where working writers in the industry mix with new and aspiring writers, and he’s developed his 24-Hour Play series where plays are written, directed, produced, casted, and fully rehearsed within 24 hours, and then go up on stage. “I’m fortunate and blessed to have a bunch of very talented friends around me to where when we start a project, we’re able to either get it financially backed or get some sort of attention around it depending on who’s involved.” And with long-time friends Jim Parrack of True Blood fame and the multi-talented star of Oz the Great and Powerful James Franco, both involved with the Sherry Theater, close attention is to be paid- resulting in my quest for an interview.

To my surprise, almost as infallible as he is influential, with a healthy measure of humility sprinkled in, Scott invites me to his home where he sets aside time in between prepping for the release of his upcoming documentary Ghost & Goblins and his film Child of God- which co-stars Jim Parrack, and was co-written, co-starred and directed by James Franco. The friendship between Haze, Parrack and Franco is evident as Haze speaks with love for them both like family.

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Lester Ballard

It was the summer of 2011 when Scott received the text message from Franco telling him to rush out and buy Cormac McCarthy’s novel Child of God.  “I read it and was fascinated by it, and then James told me he was directing it, and I was going to play Lester,” Scott remembers. “And for a second, I was overwhelmed because I had just finished the book and I was thinking, ‘I’m going to do that?’ And then I got this huge smile across my face and I was in.” Scott was overwhelmed with good reason considering what playing the lead role of Lester Ballard would require of him. Shunned by his community in Sevier County, Tennessee after he attempts to disrupt the auctioning of his family’s farm, Lester Ballard eventually finds solace dwelling in underground caves where he falls prey to his own depravity- leading to murder and necrophilia.

Scott, on the other hand, has such love and affinity for others, it’s hard to picture the man before me fully committing to such a dark character. But it’s exactly these qualities that allows for great actors to bring humanity to their work. And Scott is no exception with self-efficacy as his default. “I’ve gone through hard times in my life where I was very lonely and felt like I didn’t belong, so I understand that,” he comments. “But how does someone get to the point of having sex with dead people? Well, if you’re all alone, living in caves because your father hung himself, you lost your property and everybody hates you- and you come across a beautiful women who’s just died, I can see someone thinking, ‘I’m going to kiss this woman.’  And the goal for me is to show how this could happen to anyone given the circumstances.”

Another goal for Scott was to fully transform himself into the character of Lester Ballard not only mentally, but physically as well. In the book, Lester is a gaunt man living in caves on whatever food he can find, and seeing Scott in person- it quickly dawns on me how much weight he had to lose to fit the character description. Then there’s the accent, distinct only to that part of the country, that he had to master- partly prompting his move to Sevier County, Tennessee where he stayed in a secluded cabin in the woods in order to really connect to the isolation needed for this role. “I think the most important thing I’ve taken away from playing Lester Ballard is living without fear,” he says. “I thought a lot about how I was going to approach this role and portray a man’s journey through crime and degradation, and I can honestly say that after doing that, I have no fear.” But it’s hard to believe that there was ever a time when Scott didn’t live fearlessly considering how he came to acting in the first place.

Blind Spot

A product of Allen, Texas, if you had asked Scott what he wanted to do with his life back when he was a teen, acting would not have made the list. “It was basketball, soccer and guitar, those were my three passions,” he says. Yet, he and childhood friend Jim Parrack spent an entire summer one year running around town, reenacting scenes from some of their favorite movies as if they were real. “At one point, we literally thought we were in The Basketball Diaries, minus the drugs,” he says. “I remember watching Dog Day Afternoon, and afterwards, everyone in the neighborhood heard ‘Attica’ screamed over and over, and they were probably saying, ‘there goes Jim and Scott; they must’ve watched Dog Day Afternoon.’’

Yes, it was as if his passion for film and filmmaking was hidden somewhere in his blind spot, and he only focused on the things he could see: basketball, soccer and guitar. But that all changed in the 11th grade, the day he auditioned for the school play. “I can’t remember the name of the play, but I auditioned for it and booked the lead role,” he says. “And I also played the role of a maid, so I played a female character and a male character in the same play. Then I did A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Butler Did It, and that’s how I caught the acting bug.” Scott and Jim both went on to attend college in Austin, Texas where they shared a dorm room, and watched every movie that their favorite directors had ever made before ultimately making the leap out to Los Angeles. And it was here in L.A. where Scott really began making an impact.

Locked Up

After spending time training at acting schools Stella Adler and Playhouse West, Scott began auditioning while at the same time building the Sherry Theater in 2005, which he named after his mother. And it was during his research for a role on the television show Prison Break that Scott really figured out what he wanted the Sherry Theater to be. “While I was auditioning for Prison Break, I actually went inside Stateville Prison near Chicago,” he says. “And I met these condemned prisoners, and started thinking about what happens inside of America’s most deadly prison on the night before Halloween, the most hellacious night. So I spent time with the Gangster Disciples because the Chicago gangs ran the prisons, and I started formulating a story based on this research- then came back to L.A. and wrote the play Devil’s Night.”

Devil’s Night was the first play ever performed at the Sherry Theater, and they made it as authentic as possible, turning the theater into an actual prison with locking doors and the like. Since then, the Sherry has been the go-to theater company for innovative productions dealing with complex environments and layered characters. In fact, Scott is currently in the process of turning his last written and directed play Angel Asylum, performed at the Sherry in 2011, into a feature film. “Angel Asylum is about a group of patients inside a horrific asylum fighting against a corrupt medical director to get the word out about what’s happening on the inside,” Scott says. “So I’m taking my plays Angel Asylum and Devil’s Night and adapting them into screenplays to be made into feature films with Josh Kesselman, my producer and manager at Thruline Entertainment, and my agents at ICM behind me in this process. And this is what I want to continue to do in the future. I like the concept of doing plays at the Sherry, taking those plays to bigger houses in New York and then turning those concepts into stories that can be told through film.”

True Story

Scott’s future will undoubtedly be crowded with amazing creative achievements, the next being the upcoming release of his film Ghost & Goblins. His documentary directorial debut, Ghost & Goblins tells the story of Lee Kemp, the three-time world wrestling freestyle champion and 1980 U. S. Olympic wrestler, whose dream of winning the 1980 Olympic Gold was crushed after President Jimmy Carter withdrew the U. S. from the games in protest of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. “There was no other way to monetize amateur wrestling other than to win a gold medal at the Olympics,” Scott says. “Who would Michael Phelps be without the gold medals?  That’s who Lee Kemp was, and his life was very hard after he was denied the chance, but in 2008, he made a comeback and was asked to coach the 2008 Olympic Wrestling Team.”

A tradition of Scott’s, his intention with Ghost & Goblins, as with everything he does, is not only to entertain, but to show us the authentic version of ourselves- the selves who create opportunity and empowerment out of complaint and misfortune the way that Lee Kemp did. “This man had to overcame huge racial adversity to make it to the 1980 Olympics, and I don’t shy away from that in the documentary because I want to create a conversation around what that means,” he says. “And my personal goal is, whether it’s a black kid sitting in Chardon, Ohio saying, ‘Look at what Lee Kemp overcame and nobody is going to tell me I can’t be who God intended for me to be,’ or somebody who has lost everything, much like Lee did, and sees the faith that Lee had to overcome those trials- anyone and everyone can watch his story and have hope. And that’s what I want to do with all of my projects; I want to make hope reachable.” Currently, Scott and producing partner Danielle Scheid are in talks with a few major players, including ESPN, regarding the acquisition of Ghost & Goblins.

And, as a result, Scott will soon be creating hope- but probably on a wider scale than even he realizes.

A Widening Net

Next for the Sherry Theater and Haze’s vision is the development of their children’s program, facilitated by Danielle Scheid. “I’m looking to create an opportunity for children to express themselves through art,” Danielle explains. “I want to teach them the fundamentals, but also how to be part of the progressively changing industry, ideally having three separate sessions which would include a musical production, multi-media where we create a film, and playwriting where they would be able to write a monologue or short play of their own.”

So in addition to what Scott and company are already creating, including the upcoming releases of Child of God & Ghost & Goblins as well as two other films directed by James Franco As I Lay Dying, and Bukowski- both in which Scott will be co-starring- they are also laying down a foundation for the world by empowering children.

Yes, a product of his vision and a manifestation of his commitment to his community, the Sherry Theater is an immovable force. And though it began with Scott, it’s about all of us, and the same is to be said about Scott’s life. “Matthew Dickens, who was a big part of developing the NoHo Arts District, passed away recently- and he impacted so many people’s lives and left a lasting impression on his community. And that’s what I believe success is, it’s what I want my life to be, and it’s ultimately what theater and film should be.”

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