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To many aspiring film geeks, Washington is an entertainment-industry backwater where the only things getting made are plane reservations to New York and Los Angeles. To Travis Gray and Nick Panagopulos, the Maryland-born producer and writer-director of the soon-to-be-completed film Five Lines, the District has proven a city of celluloid—er, well, high-definition video, anyway.
“We wanted to make a film that was entirely D.C.—D.C. actors, D.C. crew, D.C. soundtrack,” says Gray. “All the talent we need is right here.”
Five Lines is a compendium piece centered around the final day in the lives of five strangers riding Washington’s Metrorail trains, a kissin’ cousin to the sweeping American cinema that birthed Robert Altman’s Short Cuts and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia. The film’s five vignettes take thematic and geographic inspiration from the subway itself. Example: the “Green Line” portion, shot at the University of Maryland near the Green Line’s College Park stop, is a tale of a pyramid scheme (the pursuit of green, if you will) gone awry. And, if you don’t dwell on the psychogeographic meaning of the “Orange Line,” the result is sufficiently clever.
Five Lines was born when Panagopulos, graduate of the North Carolina School of the Arts, was reunited with former high school chum Gray at a mutual friend’s bachelor party. Gray, then serving time at the Discovery Channel, was excited at the prospect of working with Panagopulos and BrainBox, his upstart Bethesda-based production company. After Panagopulos pitched the script to Gray in September, Gray dropped Discovery the next day. Five months later, Five Lines is ready for the perils of post-production.
“We put the film on a fast track,” says Panagopulos of the whirlwind fall shooting schedule.
The two went into a fundraising frenzy to finish their project by 2000. With the support of local businesses as well as corporate sponsors and the D.C. Film Commission—and the advantage of the new, sharp-looking, and cheap format that is high-definition video—Five Lines ran together without major train wrecks. Gray and Panagopulos now have their eyes on the upcoming Toronto Film Festival, a big D.C. premiere this spring, and a carpenter’s place in the now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t D.C. film scene that Jem Cohen (Instrument) and Jeff Krulik (Heavy Metal Parking Lot) have tried to build.
“The film community is disjointed and hasn’t yet solidified,” says Gray. “But the potential is there.”—Justin Moyer