It recently occurred to me that it’s been ten years since my first film Daybreak played the film festival circuit. I’ve previously documented the making of the film in other blogs and in my book Long Night’s Journey Into Daybreak. At any rate, I decided to revisit the film on DVD in the comfort of my living room. I had not seen Daybreak since I recorded the audio commentary in 2004 for its DVD release. Since I know all the dialogue by heart, I decided to watch it with the audio commentary track on.
It was a very enjoyable experience. The audio commentary featured director of photography Cameron Cutler and me discussing the making of the film and offering insights into the meaning of different images, scenes and dialogue. The movie is densely populated with props and actions and words that foreshadow much of what follows in the story. I can see now just how ambitious this film was to make. So if you ever see Daybreak on DVD, I highly recommend making time to watch it a second time with the audio commentary on. It ties everything together and gives me a chance to explain what I was trying to achieve and why.
The movie was shot on Super16 mm Eastman Kodak film stock, developed, transferred to digital tape and color corrected prior to editing. This was 1998. Nowadays the image would likely be captured digitally, a rough assembly edit performed on the scenes by the next day, and color correction at the end. Now Eastman Kodak has filed for bankruptcy protection and is giving up its naming rights to the Kodak Theater in Hollywood where the Academy Awards will again be broadcast from later this month. Just another reminder to me of how long ago Daybreak was.
The tagline of the film is “The beginning of a new day . . . the end of an old life.” In many ways this also refers to my own life. From that point on I considered myself a filmmaker first and an actor second. The business of selling a movie once it is made became my new life. By 2000 Daybreak was completed and screened for the cast and crew in the Chaplin Theater at Raleigh Studios in Los Angeles. A year passed before a film festival wanted to program it: the now-defunct Fort Worth Film Festival. Daybreak debuted to its first paying audience only weeks after September 11, 2001. I clearly remember LAX still patrolled by National Guard soldiers with sidearms and M16s. Vehicles could drop off, but none could use any parking structures. They were completely closed. Attendance was miserable at the film festival as anxiety still ran high. The audience for the world premiere of my movie was so small that Friday night that we were all on a first name basis before the opening credits rolled. Bittersweet.
Ten years ago this month Daybreak played the Big Apple at the State Theater during another festival. Being in New York City only months after the terrorist attacks was also strange. New York felt muted, its vibrancy diminished. On the other hand, I’d never seen New Yorkers more polite and engaged with each other. I saw some good films that week and loved being in the city.
By the end of 2002 Daybreak had screened for its last audience, ironically back in the same Raleigh Studios Chaplin Theater where it had first been screened two years before. I pressed on with the business of selling the film. Two years later I had a direct-to-video DVD distribution deal set up. I meticulously crafted bonus material to augment and add value to the DVD. There were the deleted scenes, an audio commentary including the director of photography, and a never-before-done feature version of the movie showing all of the scenes in the order they were filmed, with a dedicated commentary by me explaining the true day by day battles to complete the film. Five years later, in 2009, I followed this up with my book Long Night’s Journey Into Daybreak, my final expression on the experience and the lessons learned. Along the way I hoped to encourage and inspire others to follow their dreams.
Daybreak is pretty much just a memory to me now, albeit a very dear and special one. The worldwide rights were eventually acquired by Trillian Entertainment, a subsidiary of Media 8 Entertainment. I have since moved onto my next passion project, Radio Changed America, a feature film documentary on the impact of radio in Twentieth Century America. It has proven much more difficult to make than was Daybreak. Most of the lessons learned there have had to be replaced with learning new ones for creating a documentary. But the main lesson I learned serves both projects: simply “Dare to dream. Dare to live the dream.”
I find it slightly catchier than “Eh, what the hell . . .”
I’m just saying…