From UM J-School to the Big Screen: A Writer Makes His Dream Come True

By VERINA PALMER MARTIN

I’m an idea woman with a million fleeting thoughts but a lack of discipline to follow through. Unless I have a specific purpose, deadline or an obligation, these creative thoughts dissipate into clouds of unrealized dreams. There’s always a someday.

It’s why I so admire people who take their ideas, their artistic possibilities, and make them a reality. I’m in awe of visionary souls who contribute to the world from the artful metaphors that float from their minds and through their fingertips to become a tangible opus. This is why, today, I’m so greatly inspired by my University of Montana journalism school pal, Carlos Pedraza, who ventured from writing the news for the Montana Kaimin and then the Associated Press to making the news in the arts as an independent filmmaker.

On April 1, Carlos and his director-friend J.T. Tepnapa’s film, “Judas Kiss,” premiered as a showcase feature at the Phoenix Film Festival. The film generated tons of movie buzz on the festival website and, after quickly selling out, was moved to a larger theater. It made an amazing debut with fabulous reviews and was featured on the cover story of a Phoenixmagazine.

“Judas Kiss” was five years in the making from when Carlos and J.T. first scribbled an outline script on a restaurant napkin in West Hollywood. From those skeletal scribbles, Carlos wrote the script about a failed filmmaker who returns to his peculiar alma mater where a quirk in time and space gives him the chance to reshape his destiny. The film asks the question: If you had a second chance, would you grab it?

It’s a great question, because we all wonder what would have happened if we’d taken a different road, if we had to give up something to get something else. Carlos says the movie tosses out a few deeper questions: Beyond trying to change the past, how far would you go? What kind of risks would you take? Does changing just one thing change everything, or do you end up making the same mistakes anyway?

“These are the questions that are central to the story,” he says. “I left a successful career to make the movie. Everything is a risk, and sometimes it doesn’t work out, and sometimes the fact it doesn’t work out gives you the room to take the risk you really needed to take.”

I used to read about films described as “years in the making” and wondered, what took them so damn long? After seeing what it took for Carlos to make this film, I now know.

In addition to the creative process of writing the script and envisioning the scenes, it required countless auditions to find a talented cast, location searches, rehearsals, editing, adding special effects and scoring the soundtrack, plus so much more.

Oh, yeah, and money. Movies cost a lot of money. After some artful fundraising, “Judas Kiss” was made on a microbudget with the faith of friends, fans and investors. It also required great business sense in an unpredictable, and often unscrupulous, business. There’s marketing and distribution and a whole lot of other components to filmmaking with no guarantee there will ever be a return on the investment.

Some people want to be rich. Some want to be famous. Some want to be rich and famous. A few want to be infamous. Others want to showcase their talents, express themselves through the arts, or make a difference in the world just by telling a story that speaks to others who’ve had similar life experiences.

As a newspaper reporter, I wrote enough stories to wallpaper my house in newsprint, so I figure I’m famous simply because my name was in the paper every day (fortunately as my byline rather than for a notorious crime.)

But I’m also rich, because a few of those stories made a difference, even if just for one person, and because I’ve been fortunate to meet so many other talented creative people fueling their creativity, writing their stories, living their dreams. By taking these risks, they inspire me to do more than wait for “someday.”

“Before, I took calculated risks. But this was a bigger leap into the unknown,” Carlos tells me. “It feels great to have created a single finished thing that very few people in the world really have been able to do.”

Has this altered the course of his life? I can’t wait to see what’s next for my friend.

“It’s changed my future, but the future is as unknown as it ever was,” he says. “But it has emboldened me to take more risks.”

 

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Verina Palmer Martin is a Missoula native who fled town in 1986 in search of truth and eternal sunshine, which led to a  longtime newspaper career in Arizona. She’s happily married to a Montana boy who tracked her down 20 years ago, and he still makes her laugh like he did in high school. She blames the UM School of Journalism for her addiction to news ink and ridiculously high journalisticethics.