Former resident pays homage to Santa Cruz with locally shot thesis film
When he left Santa Cruz for the University of Southern California’s graduate film program in 2010, Christopher Guerrero had completed the film major at UC Santa Cruz in 2008 and worked on campus in the film and digital media department. It wasn’t until he headed south, that Guerrero began to reminisce about the coastal town.
“It was really really hard when I moved to L.A., to acclimate and find friends,” he says, adding that—counter to the philosophical, conversational culture of Santa Cruz—he found nowhere in his new town where he could simply sit and talk about life with someone. “I didn’t really realize why I love [Santa Cruz] so much until it was gone.”
In his nostalgia, Guerrero dug up a short comedy he wrote seven years prior, during college. It is the story of Mike—a punk rocker and I.T. specialist, loosely based on Guerrero and some of his friends—who is tasked with reclaiming the university chancellor’s laptop from a group of Portlandia-esque, self-described anarchists. They’re bent on stopping “The Military Industrial Complex,” and Mike’s only help is a motley crew: Susan, his “gothic-gamer roommate,” Ryan, an “overweight hipster ecstasy dealer,” and Vanessa, a “tough-as-nails roller derby girl.”
Guerrero transformed the story into a script for a 16-minute short comedy-thriller-noir film, titled Mike Garcia and The Cruz. He calls the project his love letter to Santa Cruz.
“It’s my memories, and it’s how [my time in Santa Cruz] made me feel,” he says. “It developed out of looking back and going ‘Oh yeah, that’s why I miss Santa Cruz.’”
On the Kickstarter page for the film, which will remain open for donations until May 25, Guerrero describes the reasons he fell hard for Santa Cruz.
“I had many fun, bizarre, and weird experiences while living in Santa Cruz,” he says. “I fell head over heels in love, dealt with depression and a broken heart during my time there.”
He goes on to say that for years he attempted to combine these collected experiences into a funny narrative, which captures the mood and magic he felt while living in Santa Cruz.
Upon completion, the 27-year-old director will use Mike Garcia and The Cruz as his USC thesis film. Guerrero and his crew of just over a dozen will shoot the film in Santa Cruz in late June.
In the spirit of punk music, film noir, and movies like Alex Cox’s Repo Man, James Merendino’s SLC Punk and the Coen brothers’ The Big Lebowski, Mike Garcia and The Cruz is a snapshot of the Santa Cruz Guerrero experienced. It comes complete with a few Santa Cruz stock characters that locals might recognize—like the punk IT nerd, the tough derby girl with a heart of gold, and the misguided anarchist.
William Goldstein, one of the film’s producers, says he got involved with the project because of the intriguing plot.
“There was really a solidified story,” says Goldstein. “This movie is a love poem to Santa Cruz. It’s funded by volunteers who believe in the story, and value that incredible sense of community Santa Cruz boasts.”
Even though he only visited once, Goldstein says he was struck by the sense of community in town. “The whole place felt like one big living room,” he recalls.
Goldstein says the biggest production challenge will be creating the hyper-realistic world of Mike Garcia and the Cruz.
“This is an audacious project for a short,” he says. “We have a lot of stunts and action. The production design is going to be intensive, and costly. … We’re stretching the dollar as far as it can go.”
The film just became a nonprofit 501(c)(3), so those interested in donating to the project can receive a tax write-off in return, made especially easy if donations are made through FracturedAtlas.org.
Guerrero originally wrote the role of the UCSC chancellor for Bill Murray, but after Guerrero’s attempts to contact the actor in a variety of creative ways—including the creation of Bill Murray Appreciation Day—Murray’s lawyers informed him that the famed actor is working on another feature this summer, called The Monuments Men.
Now, Guerrero is in talks with Saturday Night Live actor Fred Armisen, who co-created and co-stars in the show Portlandia. Guerrero says that Portlandia paved the way for some of the more awkward scenes in his film.
He recalls the moment in his script when a group of oddball college kids stumble into a naked party hosted by a 40-year-old ecstasy dealer, who casually invites them inside. “He doesn’t understand how it’s weird,” Guererro laughs.
The attitude of acceptance toward the unusual and bizarre is part of what motivated Goldstein to become a producer of the film.
“This is a movie about losers, outcasts, misfits,” he says. “It focuses on that unspoken solidarity they share. That’s what interested me most.”
For example, Guerrero says the main character’s roommate, a slightly gothic gamer, is a lesbian. “She’s gay; it’s not really talked about,” he says. “And that’s how I’ve always felt about Santa Cruz; the people that are different, it’s not a big deal. It’s just like, ‘That’s who they are.’”
Guerrero says that especially in light of the recent wave of violence that has hit Santa Cruz, it is important not to let die the culture of “weird” that defines Santa Cruz.
“This movie is being made to kind of speak about how Santa Cruz is weird, and how we can’t give into the fear,” he says. “You can’t let one person change the entire culture of what Santa Cruz is. … One person is the problem, not Santa Cruz.”
For more information or to donate to the film, visit mikegarciaandthecruz.com or fracturedatlas.org. Deadline to donate is May 25.