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Local Film Spotlight: Caleb Mueller’s NightCall

IN THE August 8 ISSUE

FROM THE 2020 Articles,
andMovies,
andMysteryrat's Maze,
andSteven Sanchez
SECTIONS

by Steven Sanchez

This has been the summer of movies. Actually, every summer is the time for movies. Not only has it been a time for film watching, but also a moment to go out and make movies yourself. We’re in lockdown because of the pandemic, so what else is there to do? The majority of Americans have spent most of their days in front of a screen watching stories, but Kings River Life for these past few issues has been covering local filmmakers who have taken their screens, reversed them, and have been telling their own stories.

We are showcasing another Central Valley filmmaker, Caleb Mueller, and his crime-drama short film NightCall. It just seems like everything that is going on in the world is filled with either crime or drama. There’s a reason why the saying exists: art imitates life, or the other way around. What better way to confront the drama of the everyday world than making a little drama of our own in front of the camera as a way to cope, and to stay active?

Facts about the film:
Synopsis: Upon learning he is becoming a father, Danny, the muscle of his mafia family, decides he wants out. But getting out comes with a price, and it may be more than Danny is willing to pay.
Cast: Danny: Noah Mueller; Markus: Sean Hopper; Neeko: Nick Ray Lambert; Julie: Awnna Albright; Demitri: Dana Carney.

This film was a passion project for Caleb. The film itself only had a $3,000 budget, which went directly into the props, sets, locations and food for the cast and crew. They filmed over the course of three weekends and pushed themselves to the limits with 12-hour shooting days at the tail end of last summer. The story came about because it was originally a super short concept script Caleb wrote in 2017. In fact, writing the script inspired him to consider film school. He would enroll later that same year at The Los Angeles Film School.

Caleb

For a while the film was on the back burner as he was focused on his schooling, until he saw a short film called Vox Mortem, which was produced by a local film company, Dark Planet Pictures (today they are known as Silver Moon Pictures). Caleb reached out to Aaron Albright, the owner of the company, and pitched him the concept. Albright absolutely loved the idea of it and quickly jumped on board as the cinematographer. From that moment on they went from a four-page script to a 27-page short film.

They were up and running until things hit a bit of a snag when one of the lead actors left production one week before shooting. They went searching for local stage actors for quick audition tapes. They found an actor, Sean Hopper, who, in Caleb’s opinion, stole the movie.

Sean Hopper in NightCall

After that filming went extremely smoothly, and the camaraderie had an effect on the filmmaker. On one day of shooting they had around 20 extras, who were local actors consisting of family and friends. It was an emotional moment for him to see how many people took time out of their day to come and help him make a small film.
Kings River Life has the privilege of getting to know the moviemaker one-on-one. In our interview, we talk about his inspirations, how being on a set is the best film school, and if society will ever be ready to watch movies with heavy duty subject matter.

KRL: How would you categorize this film? What genre would it fit under?

Caleb: I would call NightCall a crime-drama.

KRL: You said that putting together this film inspired you to enroll and get accepted into the Los Angeles Film School. Congratulations. I was a film major myself, and from the research I’ve done I know that one doesn’t need film school per se to pursue it as a profession. We have so many books and videos online on the subject. So, in your opinion, do you think film school is needed for film pursuers and where did you learn from the best? Was it the classroom or on a set?

Caleb: To be completely honest filmmaking is an art form and like most arts, it all starts with talent. Now do I think someone needs film school to succeed? Absolutely not. It all comes down to the personal dedication one might have when learning. For me, having the structure of school helped push me. As for what is best for learning I will always say: on set. You will never learn as much in a book as you do up close and hands-on. However, that is why I chose to go to LAFS—because the curriculum is much more hands-on.

KRL: You informed me that it was originally a super short concept script you wrote in 2017. So, what inspired this idea?

Caleb: My original inspiration for the film was listening to a synthwave playlist after watching the film Drive. While listening to the music the film just started to play out in my head.

KRL: Tell us who is Caleb Mueller?

Caleb: I am a father, husband, and lastly, I am a filmmaker. Looking back, I have always had a love of movies when I was a kid, but I was one of the few who enjoyed watching behind the scenes to see how the films were made. Unlike most, I would watch movies based on my favorite directors rather than what actor was in the film. I have always had a passion for the art that a director brings to a movie and have always known it’s my calling.

KRL: You said you came across the local production company Dark Planet Pictures (Silver Moon Pictures) to help make the short film. They are among quite a few production companies in the valley. We have a pretty good support system in which to get projects off the ground. Do you feel that now it’s a little more accessible to get a project made in the Central Valley than ever before?

Caleb: Absolutely! There are tons of amazing filmmakers in the Valley today all with different experiences and specialties paired with a burning passion for the art. So, if you’re an up and coming filmmaker I would say reach out and meet people because you will be surprised to find out how big the Central Valley film community is.

KRL: I see that the film has a dark edge with serious subject matter such as drugs and crime. With everything going on, do you think it’s safe to showcase a film like this right now? And do you think we’ll get back to a point once this is all over where we can enjoy films with dark subject matter once again?

Caleb: I’m glad you asked this question. I have always thought that art tends to reflect reality. The world is in a dark place now and the heavy themes of jealousy, pride, and revenge that NightCall has, speaks to us on a human level. While the film uses drugs as plot devices, the main focus of the film is the characters and their choices. I feel it will always be safe for darker films to exist when done for more than just the sake of crime and drugs. People watch darker films for the very human stories they tend to tell.

NightCall still

KRL: What future projects do you have in the works?

Caleb: As of now, I am working on a script with my good friend Aaron Albright to change NightCall into a feature-length film, as well as trying to get my next short film, Quiet Waters, off of the ground. It will be a psychological horror film.

KRL: How would you describe your writing and directing style? Who are your inspirations? Favorite films?

Caleb: I tend to work with heavy themes in all of my films, at least to date. Telling harder stories in a very human way is what I strive to do. As for my style, it’s something I am still learning about myself. Growing up it was movies such as Star Wars and the Indiana Jones films were my biggest inspirations. However, as I have grown I am drawn to the stories and styles found in “Apocalypse Now.” As for a modern director that I draw inspiration from, would be Denis Villeneuve and his work on Blade Runner 2049 and Arrival.

KRL: From your perspective, once Covid goes away, what changes will happen in the film industry going forward?

Caleb: I hope things can go back to normal. However, in all honesty, I think we are going to see a huge shift into new media. With how popular streaming has become it is definitely possible for that to be the future of cinema in the years to come. Now it’s happening faster than ever.

NightCall still

KRL: There was a last-minute scare leading up to the shoot where one of your lead actors left production one week before shooting. You searched for local stage actors and found Sean Hopper. Situations like that happen in the industry a lot. How were able to remain composed during a moment of crisis like that?

Caleb: To be honest I don’t really know how to explain it. I just remember hearing a quote from Steven Spielberg saying something like, you will always doubt yourself and what you are doing but you can never let anyone else see it. Ever since then I try my best to keep to that while on set.

KRL: I enjoy hearing behind the scenes stories of productions of movies. Any fun production stories that you’d like to share?

Caleb: NightCall was such a go-go-go production there wasn’t much downtime. However, there was one scene we were filming the intro of the film, where Aaron Albright (cinematographer, co-writer) and I had cameos to be killed by the main character. I think the entire cast and crew had a field day watching us do the scene over and over again. When I finally reviewed the footage, it was actually great on the first take. Needless to say, they enjoyed watching us out of our element in front of the camera. The best part was Aaron’s character was “naked” and I let the actor actually hit me because I wanted it to look good on camera.

NightCall

KRL: Where do you plan on releasing the film?

Caleb: I plan on releasing the film on Amazon Prime.

KRL: Every filmmaker has a voice. With your films, what are you trying to say?

Caleb: I want my voice to be represented in the heavy stories I want to tell. It’s not a goal of mine to have an underlying message in my films but to tell stories that speak to us as humans regardless of where we come from or what we believe in.

KRL: There’s so many filmmakers and stories that’ve been told that have come before you. How do you separate yourself from your filmmaking peers and predecessors? How do you make your vision and storytelling unique and different from the others?

Caleb: This is actually an easy one for me to answer, because in all of my films a part of me is reflected. It’s viewed through the lens that I see the story. As long as I make my films the way I see them they will always be unique and stand out.

KRL: This is a crime drama. I was wondering how does one depict a life or a world that isn’t one’s own? I know it takes research, but how does one immerse their mind into an environment and personality to get a character and setting right from the perspective of an outsider looking in? And what must be done in order to make it look authentic on paper and screen?

Caleb: I always get inspiration from things I watch and read, that is where I start to think of the world that the film takes place in. Then I start to shape my characters and their personalities. I normally use inspiration from the people I know in my life. Then I think of the character motivations within the world I have created and this starts to shape the plot and story. I find enjoyment in trying to tell stories which I have no actual living experience.

Steven Sanchez is a film graduate of UNLV. He’s a filmmaker, writer, photographer, and music manager. Obsessed with movies, comic books, and rock ‘n’ roll. A football fanatic, big fan of the Oakland Raiders. Enjoys reading and collecting vinyl records. If there’s a rock show in town more than likely he’ll be there. Loves his grandma’s home cooked meals. He has a twin sister and most people call him the pretty one. You can learn more about Steven on his YouTube channel and on Instagram @stevensanchez5807 photos and videos.

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