Santa Cruzan native Pia Helm co-produces a movie at the Santa Cruz Fim Festival
In true Santa Cruz fashion, the movie, Night of the Alien, playing at the Santa Cruz Film Festival, revolves around themes of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, not to mention the psychedelic and supernatural. The movie was written and directed by Vaughn Verdi and co-produced by Pia Helm, who grew up in Santa Cruz. Night of the Alien is a micro-budget film about a mind-bending compilation of strange occurrences all in an effort to save the world.
A mash-up of many different cinematic genres, Helm claims the movie was once described by Verdi as, “The Hangover meets Starman somewhere in the Twilight Zone.” It goes like this: A group of stoners and pill-poppers are convinced by a hitchhiking alien from the planet Zoltran to go on a mission to save Earth by creating a band to win American Idol. Throughout the film, the characters are constantly high or drugged out, begging the question: Is all the action in the movie a consequence of their hallucinations or is it a reality?
The quasi-schizophrenic plot may take a second or third viewing to fully understand and will make you wonder if you are, in fact, the one that is high. The “magical crew” is composed of actors who worked on the film without pay and portray a wide array of characters. From the main character, The Lord of Evil and Darkness, played by Scott C. Leeds, a Johnny Depp doppelganger, who is never sober throughout the film, to the silver clad, amulet wearing, drumming alien who wants to save Earth, your mind will be swimming as the story takes you through the deserts of Southern California and into the Vortex of Destiny. In all senses of the phrase, “It’s a trip,” and the creators intended it to be that way.
The non-linear plot is “completely out of the box” and goes along the lines of Quentin Tarantino. Fran, an aspiring singer, is completely dependent on her father for money and she wants a pet that is easy to take care of. On her way to pick up a fish tank with her best friend, The Lord of Evil and Darkness, they stop to pick up a hitchhiker claiming to be an alien. She reveals to them that they must form a band, since Fran is a singer and The Lord of Evil and Darkness used to be a guitarist.
Along the way, they meet many unscrupulous characters such as an effeminate drug lord who threatens to shoot all who cannot answer the question, “Who is the 24th president of the United States?”; a medieval reenactment battler who gives out prescription drugs; an heir of a huge sum of money who is obsessed with conspiracy theories and has dreams of creating a porn empire; not to mention Helm’s favorites, King Taco, a stoner security guard who plays bass guitar, and Danny, a mentally challenged window washer who finds clarity only when on drugs. The lives of these complicated individuals intertwine in an attempt to save the world from imminent destruction.
Shooting of the film began in December 2009 and the film was not completed until March of this year. With all the work she put into making the film a success, from scheduling to props to sending the film to multiple film festivals in hopes of being accepted, Helm admits that the film was really a “labor of love.” A graduate from San Francisco State University with a TV production degree and having worked as a manager of a video store for five years, Helm has always had a passion for the television and film business. She truly got her start when moving to Los Angeles and meeting fiancé and co-producer of Night of the Alien, Rob Howeth. Due to all of her efforts, Helm hopes that “people go out and see it. There’s a lot to be got from it. It’s refreshing and something they’ve never seen before.”
The local motto, “Keep Santa Cruz Weird,” is perfectly exemplified in this film and fits in among the many unique residents. Helm is “thrilled to have Night of the Alien shown in Santa Cruz. It feels cool and surreal” because the Rio Theater is where she saw E.T. with her grandparents as a child. Everyone in Santa Cruz who watches Night of the Alien will be able to relate to the funky, psychedelic vibe of the characters and plot because they closely resemble the aura of our own small town. Although the end of the movie poses many questions, Helm hopes that after viewing the film, audience members will discuss and interpret the movie over a cup of java in a coffee shop.
Night of the Alien plays at 9 p.m. on Friday, May 13 at the Rio Theatre during the Santa Cruz Film Festival.