Tao Ruspoli’s L.A. road trip film ‘Fix’ wins over crowd at film festival

February 2, 2008 7:29 AM
A shaggy-dog travelogue that uncovers a rich Los Angeles landscape, “Fix” has generated enough buzz at this year’s Santa Barbara International Film Festival to be given two more screenings, today and Sunday.
Its writer-director and co-star Tao Ruspoli plans to return to Santa Barbara for a second weekend. “Fix” marks the director’s stepping up a level after making shorts. “I turned 30 and decided it was time to make a feature film,” he said.
“Fix” follows what should be a simple path. Filmmakers Milo and Bella (real-life couple Mr. Ruspoli and Olivia Wilde) detour from a trip north to help pick up Milo’s brother Leo (Shawn Andrews) from jail. A heroin addict, Leo has until 8 that night to be dropped off in rehab. Even considering the heavy traffic from Calabasas to the heart of Los Angeles, Leo’s plan sounds easy and Milo wants to help his charming but unpredictable brother.
Nothing, of course, goes as planned, and Leo leads the two through a series of misadventures, always with that clock ticking toward 8.
The events are “inspired but not based on” a similar journey Mr. Ruspoli took with his real-life brother, who also suffered from addiction. “Shawn is not imitating my brother,” he said. “We fictionalized quite a bit. . . . The film is its own story.”
Mr. Ruspoli’s journey to this point, like the journey by the Chevy Impala in the film, comes by way of the open road. Once a philosophy major at Berkeley, his mind turned to film, and then, through connections and luck, he got a job in the business. He worked in art departments and assisted the likes of Dino De Laurentiis and Vittorio Storaro. But these were big-budget filmmaking jobs, and Mr. Ruspoli wanted something more homegrown.
“I wanted to pick up a camera like a writer picks up a pencil.”
Around 2000, he picked up a digi-camera and then gutted an old school bus, modding it out into a rolling production studio on wheels. He lived in it. When Ms. Wilde and he married, the ceremony was held in the bus. And the “bus” was producing short films and docs, as an extension of Mr. Ruspoli’s Los Angeles Filmmakers Co-op (LAFCO).
The hand-held, documentary aesthetic carries over into “Fix,” which bends rules of fiction and nonfiction to tell its story. Mr. Ruspoli and editor Paul Forte intercut the narrative with abstract montages of the city, or with time-lapse shots.
Shawn Andrews’ role as Leo holds the film together. Although Mr. Ruspoli and his co-writer Jeremy Fels created the female characters for Ms. Wilde and their close friend Megalyn Echikunwoke, the character of Leo was a linchpin that needed serious consideration. “Leo is a role that I knew the film would live or die on, depending on who was cast,” said Mr. Ruspoli.
“(Leo) was a sought-after role, a real break-out role,” said Mr. Andrews, who started out his film career in 1993 with Richard Linklater’s “Dazed and Confused.” Mr. Andrews read the script and went to audition. Not just a cold read of the script, Mr. Ruspoli took the actor for a spin — and they improvised scenes out of the film.
It was a long drive.
“He put me through the wringer,” Mr. Andrews says of the process to land the role. Unlike the usual “brooding, emaciated” addict audiences typically see, according to Mr. Andrews, Leo is charming and persuasive.
“There’s definitely that kind of person out there,” he said. “I’ve known addicts that are larger than life. . . . You only mean to spend 10 minutes with them and then a whole day has passed.”
Once Mr. Ruspoli assembled his cast, the shoot turned out to be as relaxed as hanging out with friends.
“Megalyn and I are so comfortable with each other,” said Ms. Wilde of her co-star, who plays Leo’s estranged girlfriend, “that we could just ‘play.’ We can improv for hours.”
And although many of Mr. Ruspoli’s friends turn up in roles, “Fix” has an equal number of fascinating non-actors who were at the locations. All the domino players sitting around a garden table in the Watts section of the movie were there when the crew turned up. Unlike usual “extras,” Mr. Ruspoli gives them a voice in the film.
More than 25 percent of the film is improvised, said the director.
“A lot of magic happened on set.”
“Fix” opened at Slamdance, and the cast and director have been riding the buzz straight through to Santa Barbara, with more fests in March. Mr. Ruspoli plans to be in the back of the theater for each screening.
“I love how each audience takes something new out of each scene,” he said. “It’s almost like going to the theater.”
Fix: Official Site
©2008 Santa Barbara News-Press

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