A&E

Santa Cruz Filmmakers Debut Taut Thriller ‘Fox Hunt Drive’

Longtime Santa Cruz friends return to the Bay Area for their feature film debut

Santa Cruz native Michael Olavson and Lizzie Zerebko star in ‘Fox Hunt Drive,’ which premieres at Cinequest this week.

Drew Walkup may have directed Adam Armstrong’s script for their new film Fox Hunt Drive, which gets its world premiere at Cinequest in San Jose this week. But when they were growing up together in Santa Cruz, it was Armstrong who directed their earliest film efforts—back before they had scripts, or even cameras.

“Adam was the one who got me into the idea of making movies in the first place,” Walkup says. “We used to play these games as kids where Adam would be the director, so to speak, and we’d play Jaws in the living room, where the couches were the lifeboats. Adam would pause it and describe something, and me and my brother and Adam and his sister, we’d get into different characters and play through a scene, and Adam would pause it again and direct us. And that dovetailed into, when we got old enough, writing out actual scripts and producing our own films as teenagers.”

“At 12, 13 we were doing our own Mission: Impossible and James Bond movies,” Armstrong says. “And then when we got into our late teens, we were doing original shorts. Mostly it was my parents and their interest in film that got me into it. Before I moved to L.A., I was definitely going to the movies every week and seeing everything that was playing at the Nickelodeon and the Rio and the Cinema 9. To this day, when I think back on those movies from the ’90s to the early 2000s, I can still remember which theater I saw that movie in.”

To say that their friendship goes way back is a bit of an understatement, since their moms were friends before they were born and Armstrong was actually present at Walkup’s birth. But by high school (Walkup went to Harbor High, Armstrong went to Soquel), they had formed a larger core group of movie-obsessed friends in Santa Cruz that endures today.

“I consider Adam to be my brother, so we never really lose touch for that long,” Walkup says. “We still see each other during holidays, and we have an ongoing text message thread between Adam, myself, Michael Olavson—who also grew up in Santa Cruz—and Marcus DeVivo, who was Adam’s best friend from high school. We get daily pings and update each other on what’s going on in our lives and talk movies and stuff like that. We definitely are constantly talking around new ideas and trying to figure out what’s next.”

When Walkup got the greenlight from Disney-backed, Florida-based entertainment studio REBL HQ, which he came to after six years at Maker Studios, “what’s next” became a feature film. He roped in all the members of that core Santa Cruz group, asking co-writers Armstrong and DeVivo to deliver the script that would become the rideshare thriller Fox Hunt Drive, and Olavson to co-star.

“When I got the first draft of the script back, I was blown away by just how well-written it was for the short time frame they had to write it in. And the story was so much fun, and something I couldn’t wait to make,” he says.

“When we’re working together, it’s a very methodical process,” says Armstrong of writing with DeVivo. “Everything is very thought out, everything is very strategically placed. To the word, we are very precise.”

Indeed, Fox Hunt Drive is an extremely taut thriller, with surprisingly potent twists and turns. When it starts, Alison (Lizzie Zerebko), a young woman trying to make ends meet driving for an Uber-esque rideshare company, is picking up her last passenger for the night, a mysterious stranger (played by Olavson) who may be far more sinister than his easygoing charm suggests. The setup hints at something along the lines of Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx in Collateral, but what actually unfolds is so much more bonkers. Stylishly-directed and well-acted by two leads who take their characters well past the limits of traditional genre roles, Fox Hunt Drive sets up expectations and then subverts them.

“It was really important for building the suspense and the tension that we don’t see everything at once,” Walkup says. “It was ‘here’s a little moment, here’s a little moment, here’s a little moment.’ I think the script was actually a perfect guide for that. I’d love to say that it was all me, but working off the amazing script that Adam and Marcus wrote, and working with amazing performers like Lizzie Zerebko and Michael Olavson made it very easy for me to just take the page and put it on screen.”

There’s a reason this premiere is especially meaningful to the filmmakers. “Adam and I went to Cinequest together when we were teenagers,” Walkup says, “and it just felt so big and impressive. It felt so industry to us at the time. So being able to come back and have our world premiere in the Bay Area at Cinequest is really special for us.”

The Cinequest screenings for ‘Fox Hunt Drive’ include: Friday, March 6 at 7pm and Tuesday, March 10 at 9pm at Century 20 in Redwood City, Monday, March 9 at 9:30 pm and Thursday, March 12 at 1:30pm at the California Theatre in San Jose. More information at cinequest.org and foxhuntdrive.com.

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