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Local filmmaker Alex Pacheco isn’t shy about the grand scale of his first feature film.
“It does cover a lot of things,” the 35-year-old Adams Morgan resident says of Praxis, which follows Brian, a young man in search of identity and meaning in the universe. “The myth of Proteus, there’s a lot of astronomy in the film, evidence of past life on Mars, and the possibility of future life on [Jupiter’s] moon Europa.…That’s a lot to take in.”
For Pacheco, whose previous works include the 1999 short film Unfortunate Man as well as music videos for now-defunct D.C.-area bands Kerosene 454 and Out_Circuit, Praxis is a bold first step into the foray of feature-length filmmaking. But it’s also the result of many ambitious decisions, the first of which was to shoot the 93-minute-long feature on honest-to-goodness film, not digital video, which is significantly cheaper.
“My background is in film. I’ve studied a lot of cinematography over the years,” Pacheco says. “There are strengths and weaknesses to both mediums, but film has been around longer, so you know how certain things are going to react.”
Choosing lead actors, however, took considerably more time. “Initially we actually looked into [Screen Actors Guild] actors and unions, but the amount of paperwork that SAG was asking me to do from the get-go…it wasn’t worth our time,” Pacheco says. Instead, the director launched what he describes in the film’s press release as “a very long and exhaustive auditioning process.”
“We put in a lot of ads for nonunion actors, and we were receiving thousands and thousands of head shots,” Pacheco says. “The good thing was that I did warn the mailman. I’ve been through [the casting process] before, so I said ‘You’re gonna get crates and crates…every day, another crate full of head shots.’ ” After sifting through the stacks of photos and making six trips to New York City to hold auditions, Pacheco cast recent NYC School for Film and Television graduate Tom Macy as Brian and stage actor Andrew Roth as Joe, Brian’s alter ego, who guides him through his existential journey.
Working with a total production budget of about $30,000, Praxis was shot by an all-volunteer crew in a total of 15 days between fall 2005 and spring 2006. “We actually spread out the shooting of the film on weekends over the course of six months,” Pacheco says; such a schedule allowed him to finance the film on a shoot-by-shoot basis. Erstwhile local musician Bob Massey—who, in 2003, wrote the opera The Nitrate Hymnal, and currently sings and plays guitar in the Gena Rowlands Band—provides the film’s soundtrack. “Alex described the feel he was going for with the film, which is spare and minimal, but emotional,” Massey wrote in an e-mail. “[The film] also has an unconventional narrative structure. So I tried to help tie key scenes together with the musical themes.”
With the film now completed, Pacheco moves on to his next challenge, and perhaps his biggest: trying to find a distributor for Praxis. “It is definitely off to all the festivals, distributors, contacts,” Pacheco says. “[B]ut there are no guarantees—even with something that you believe in.”