UCD alum writes and directs award-winning independent film

(Originally published in The California Aggie)

Brian Douglas didn’t major in film studies when he was an undergraduate at UC Davis, but that didn’t stop him from writing, directing and producing his own movie.

The film, about five college students who debate politics, culture and more as they work on a class project one night, is called I’m Just Saying and was featured in the 2010 Park City Film Music Festival, 2009 Los Angeles Reel Film Festival, 2010 Honolulu International Film Festival and 2010 Moondance International Film Festival.

I’m Just Saying won the Gold Kahuna Award for Excellence in Filmmaking in Honolulu, the Director’s Choice Bronze Medal in Park City and received an Honorable Mention in Los Angeles.

Though his film is just now getting recognition, for Douglas, the project has been over 15 years in the making. He began toying with a screenplay before he graduated from UC Davis in 1993 with a degree in political science.

“Writing a screenplay was always on my mind,” Douglas said. “I was not a writer. I had to write papers obviously, but I had never really written anything before, so my early writings were pretty bad. Really bad, actually.”

With the help of screenwriting how-to books, as well as jobs in programming and publicity at record labels and television stations in Los Angeles after graduation, Douglas taught himself the ins and outs of the craft.

But it wasn’t until years later, after he had gotten a master’s degree in public administration at George Washington University, that Douglas got the opportunity to turn his screenplay into a film. A friend of his, cinematographer Michael Morris, had a break in between other projects and offered to help Douglas film his movie. Douglas was living near Washington, D.C. at the time.

“[Morris] said, ‘Hey Brian, I know you’ve always wanted to do it; if you want to do it, now’s the time,’” Douglas said. “So I said, ‘OK!’ I literally quit my job within a couple of days.”

After moving back to Los Angeles, Douglas posted a casting call online and began auditioning actors.

“I knew from working in Hollywood that if you don’t have the right actor, it’s not believable. [The film] focuses on dialogue so it had to come off as honest and sincere,” he said.

With the cast in place, filming began in August 2008. The actors, many of whom had recently graduated from college themselves, were encouraged to make their characters their own and tweak their lines.

Leigh Dunham, who plays Sylvia in the film, said Douglas’s enthusiasm for the material made him an effective director.

“If I was ever confused about something or had a differing opinion he was very responsive in working through [any] problem or line that I felt wasn’t exactly worded in a way I felt comfortable with,” Dunham said. “He knew the material really well and he believed in it the whole time and he really believed in us.”

Cast-mate Eric Lewis, who plays Sky, agreed that Douglas’s collaborative style made the filming process feel like a team effort.

“He really wanted it to be a collective effort,” Lewis said. “Of course it’s his vision, his story and his ideas, but he was very kind in letting us interpret [the characters] in whatever way we did.”

Douglas said the most difficult part of the filmmaking process came after shooting wrapped, when he began editing. Loud background noises, a product of filming in the middle of Hollywood, proved challenging to edit out, and he had no formal training.

Douglas recalled a conversation with a professional film editor who was skeptical of Douglas’s plan to edit his film on his own.

“He was like, ‘Do you know what you’re getting into?’ And I [said], ‘I’ve got some books,’” Douglas said. “I was like, I’m going to do it. If people think I’m crazy, whatever, I’m still doing it and that was my attitude.”

Douglas did do it, thanks to a brand-new Apple Macintosh computer and editing software, and after a short break, he began submitting I’m Just Saying to film festivals across the country. The film premiered at the Park City Film Music Festival, where a critic approached Douglas to compliment him on his film’s honest dialogue and refreshing take on the subject matter.

Michael Galvez, ‘Rene’ in the film, said he was impressed by the finished product and agreed that Douglas found a way to debate important issues in a way that many people, especially college students, can relate to.

“Brian really shows that sometimes it is not about having the answer but being able to talk about the question,” Galvez said.

Through it all, Douglas, who is currently working on several new screenplay projects, said his experiences at UC Davis inspired his work and ambitions.

“Davis is so politically and socially active. I wanted to dig back into those issues that were so meaningful – politics, religion, sexuality, culture; you name it, the screenplay addresses it,” he said. “When I was younger I thought I knew a lot but then I got to Davis and I realized, ‘Wow, these students know a hundred times more than I do.’ So I was brought into things I never knew existed, and it’s made me who I am today.”

If any other students wish to follow in Douglas’ footsteps and become filmmakers themselves, his advice is simple.

“All I did was I bought a Mac and I bought the software. Don’t wait for someone else to do it for you, just go ahead and make it, and it’s surprising how many people will help you because they’re excited for you,” he said. “I’ve met a lot of people who’ve done a lot of writing and they’re great writers, but they don’t pursue it. Never wait for someone to make your dream happen.”

For more information about Brian Douglas and I’m Just Saying, go to imjustsayingmovie.com.

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