How former Santa Cruzan Aaron Platt nabbed an Independent Spirit Award nomination
The phone rang at 8:30 in the morning in November 2006. Aaron Platt roused himself from sleep and grabbed it. On the other end was his friend and movie-making cohort, Cam Archer, “freaking out on the phone,” Platt says. Still in a sleepy stupor, it took Platt a little time to catch on to what Archer was so excited about. “It was straight out of that movie, For Your Consideration, where the kid is not expecting the Oscar nomination and he’s in his apartment passed out,” Platt says. “Cam said I got nominated for something. I had no idea what he was talking about.”
The nomination was for an Independent Spirit Award in Best Cinematography for Archer’s feature film, Wild Tigers I Have Known. The awards show airs at 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 24 on the Independent Film Channel, the evening before the Academy Awards. For those who aren’t familiar with this awards gala, the fact that Platt, a UC Santa Cruz graduate, was nominated, is an enormous accomplishment. The awards honor films that are truly independent in spirit and in budget. Eligible movies must clock in at 70 minutes or more, and have a budget of $20 million or less. In addition, the films must have either played in a theater or made it into one of a handful of prestigious film festivals.
Platt’s nomination slides right into these requirements. Wild Tigers is a visual masterpiece, with a budget of about $75,000. The film was screened at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, and the Independent Film Channel recently acquired distribution rights to the film.
While Wild Tigers is Archer’s brainchild (he wrote/directed/edited the piece), it’s Platt’s handiwork with the camera that has earned this film, and Platt, a notable nomination. For both men, this is a distinct honor. And for Platt, it’s a startling entrance to the big world of Hollywood.
Being the down-to-earth former Santa Cruzan that he is, Platt is still reeling about his nomination. He’ll be competing alongside the cinematographer for Pan’s Labyrinth, along with three other nominees. Also at this awards gala will be the likes of indie movie darlings like Robin Wright Penn, Steven Soderbergh, Robert Altman, Michelle Williams, the people from Little Miss Sunshine and numerous others in the low-budget/high-quality filmmaking scene. Not bad company for a 25-year-old.
“I feel a little foreign to the industry talk that might happen at one of these events,” Platt admits. “I can’t do that whole Kevin Bacon thing.”
After all, he’s an indie filmmaker. He’s not particularly concerned with celebrity status and the Hollywood who’s who game. But get the man talking about the craft and the creative process of filmmaking and cinematography and he’ll happily indulge you in a good conversation.
Platt’s work on Wild Tigers has been dazzling people at film festivals. In March, the movie will be released to limited theaters in Los Angeles and New York, with possible openings in Chicago and San Francisco. Following that, it will be available with on- demand purchase on television and will be released in Blockbuster stores in May or June, Platt says.
While Platt may still be new to the awards scene, it’s no particular surprise that he received a nomination. Check out wildtigersfilm.com for proof. There, anyone can see a quick trailer of the film and get a glimpse into the photographic eye of Platt. His work is undeniably appealing. Each frame is composed as if an artist were constructing a painting. Rich colors and dynamic images are his trademarks. Even if there’s no dialogue in a particular shot, the visuals themselves tell a story.
The story in Wild Tigers is a compelling look at a young boy named Logan who begins to explore his sexuality while enduring the pains and tribulations that accompany going to junior high school. At 13, Logan has a crush on a boy, Rodeo. What plays out from there is an original teenage love story. The film stars Malcolm Stumpf who was last seen as Madonna’s son in The Next Best Thing; Hailey Anne Nelson who played Roseanne Cash in Walk the Line; and Fairuza Balk.
Wild Tigers is the first feature film collaboration between writer/director Archer and cinematographer Platt. The pair met, interestingly, in a photography class at UC Santa Cruz. “We didn’t even know that we worked in film or video, but I think we kind of got on pretty well, personality-wise,” Platt says. “Both a bit of smart asses, and we recognized that there was a little bit of under-the-radar rebelliousness. We ended up taking a film class and [thought] maybe it would be cool to make a film together.”
From there, Platt estimates that the pair has made probably 15 projects together, including a handful of shorts (two of them were accepted into Sundance), some music videos, a public service announcement and now Wild Tigers.
“With cinematography, you’re doing a lot more than lighting and composing shots,” Platt says. “What you’re doing has such a large influence on the movie.”
That influence, obviously, has earned Platt this regarded nomination. It’s one that his friend and colleague, Archer, finds exciting for his friend. “We don’t always agree about how to shoot something, but I think that’s what keeps us working together,” Archer says. “There’s no one way that we go about shooting something. It really does vary from project to project. I think Aaron is definitely multi-talented.”
Nowadays, Platt is living full-time in the Los Angeles area, far away from his college town of Santa Cruz, and his small hometown of Colfax, in the California foothills. He graduated from UCSC in 2004 and since then has been working steadily alongside Archer, as well as carving out his own niche in the world of cinematographers. Platt now has an agent and the projects that are being sent his way for consideration are coming with larger and larger budgets. As his star continues to rise, there’s no doubt that Platt will continue to collaborate with Archer.
Next up? This two-some has another feature in the works, which they hope to shoot soon, about a woman who has a hair-pulling problem. Until then, though, Platt has other projects in the works, but, right now, at the top of his list is the awards show.Former UCSC student, Aaron Platt, has been nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Cinematography for his work on Cam Archer’s film, Wild Tigers I Have Known. The ceremony airs at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 24 on the Independent Film Channel. For more information, visit wildtigersmovie.com or aaronplatt.com.