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June 14, 2021

FIRST LOOK SPOTLIGHT: Liam Walsh

               

Liam Walsh Graduated with a BFA in Film and Television Production in 2020. Walsh directed the film, You Missed a Spot, about a mime living in a world where everyone is a clown, and must find his voice to save the girl of his dreams. The film was the First Look Industry Award Winner for Genre film.

What are the themes/subject(s) matter explored in the film and what inspired them?

You Missed a Spot is a story about finding your voice. It relies on the tropes of the ‘teenage slasher’ genre to place us in a familiar world, with one unforgettable twist… everyone is a clown. Yeah, you heard that right. A clown.

Our protagonist, Ike, is a mime, which is a specific type of clown that quite literally has no voice. When he musters up the courage to talk to the loudest girl in the room, the singer of a punk rock band, he can’t help but to become infatuated with her. We realize that maybe it’s more than just her bubblegum colored hair and personality that he’s attracted to. It’s the fact that she has what he doesn’t. A voice. As the story unfolds, she is put in danger and Ike’s courage is truly tested in the face of a forbidding villain.

Perhaps the theme of You Missed a Spot resonated with our team of young filmmakers because we are all coming of age ourselves. The end of college is a major fork in the road where graduates must find their voices as they are faced with new professional and personal challenges. As far as what inspired the crazy concept of clowns, the writer, Micah Fusco, said it all came to him in a red-nosed, makeup-coated fever dream. Divine intervention, apparently.

What was your collaboration process like?

Collaboration on this project was interesting and challenging mostly because the image of a clown conjures up such different feelings for different people. It was imperative going into development of the film that everyone was on the same page of what the clowns in our world would look and behave like, as ultimately this would inform the tone of the film. Both the Writer, Micah Fusco, and I agreed that the world should be taken as seriously as possible. While we would scatter references to clowns throughout the world, such as teenage clowns huffing on helium balloons to get high, it was important that everything felt grounded in reality in order for the themes to work. For that reason, we stayed away from the garish, saccharine, Ronald McDonald aesthetic and went for something more akin to real life. Once the tone of the film was understood by us, we were able to communicate it to department heads through various production meetings. Armed with the parameters needed to succeed while still achieving the vision of the film, all departments went to work in bringing their creativity and expertise into the film.

Interestingly, Micah was wearing two hats in being both the Writer and Director of Photography. Normally, the Writer and the Director communicate and then the Director and the DP communicate. When the Writer and the DP are the same person, it makes the collaboration a little more complicated but gives it a lot more potential. I think ultimately, Micah and I found the exact same stride which was a huge factor in the success of the film, especially in the convergence of visuals and storytelling. Certainly there was a push and a pull, but it was all very healthy, and we found on a mutual vision that was our guiding light during production. Conversations with department heads lead to rewrites and rethinking of certain elements of the story. When feedback is welcomed, it allows things that aren’t working to be left behind and for new ideas to be embraced. Slowly but surely we were able to chisel the film into something that we’re all very proud of.

What were your biggest challenge(s) in creating the film?

On a project like this, the biggest challenge is juggling a lot of balls at once… no pun intended. As we approached our first shooting weekend, we were prepping for a day with live music playback, stunts, miming and a dozen background all in clown makeup. Any single one of those things would be a challenge enough, so in order not to lose our heads, we had to be prepared.

From a production perspective, we knew that one of our biggest challenges would be managing the clown makeup, especially on days where we had multiple background. Our remedy for this was finding  an incredible Makeup Artist, Heather Albert, who brought in her own team from the Cinema Makeup School. Heather was able to create templates of the different clown looks and hand them off to her artists. The whole thing was very efficient.

What were your biggest creative successes? (It could be anything from finding the right actor to a great location or realizing that you had a similar vision for a scene. Whatever you are most proud of)

Finding the location for the house interior was a game-changing moment for us. We had previously fallen in love with a location at Pine Mountain Club which is about two hours from Los Angeles, and would have been a difficult commute and an unwanted hurdle in our production. We ended up finding a house location at La Tuna Canyon Ranch with a pretty epic backstory.

A few years previously, the house had actually burned down. Instead of demolishing what remained of the house, the homeowners decided to repair it back to state standards while retaining the burned walls, floors, furniture, everything. After visiting the location, it was obvious we had to go in that direction. The textures created from the fire on the walls and ceiling were so unique and visually seemed to pair so well with the grungy, punk rock clown aesthetic we were developing.

What was your biggest lesson in making the film?

This film taught me the important lesson of over-preparing and making all creative decisions well in advance of production. It’s not so much that you can’t make decisions on the fly, it’s that they may not be the best decisions. The last thing you want as a Director is to second-guess yourself, especially when everyone is depending on you to have the answers. So, if the creative vision is there, it’s preparation and communication that lead to a successful production.

Any insights you would share with students who are thinking of enrolling at SCA about what it’s like to have the opportunity to make a First Look film?

If you have the passion, ambition and courage to pursue a career as a filmmaker, look no further than the School of Cinematic Arts. Since I’ve graduated from SCA, I’ve had the opportunity to spend time on professional sets and I can say that my education at USC has painted an accurate and truthful picture of what the industry is like. It is an epic opportunity to make a First Look film and a true microcosm of feature film or television production. Additionally, making a First Look film is an opportunity to collaborate with talented students and faculty in creating art and memories that will last a lifetime.

The film was made in collaboration with the following SCA students:        

Micah Fusco

BA Film & Television Production, Class of 2021

Writer, Director of Photography

Jelena Nik

BA Film & Television Production, Class of 2020

Producer

Oona Wuolijoki

BA Film & Television Production, Class of 2020

Producer

Kirsten Hoang

BA Film & Television Production, Class of 2020

Editor

Brenda Garcia

BA Film & Television Production, Class of 2020

Production Designer

Justine Sofia

BA Film & Television Production, Class of 2020

Production Designer

Cat Gensler

BA Film & Television Production, Class of 2020

Sound Designer

Noah Donner-Klein

BA Theater, Class of 2021

Sound Designer