It’s not like they managed to raise a $200,000 budget for their debut feature or attract an all-star cast including Ben Savage, Autum Reeser, and Tom Arnold. And it’s not like they finished filming in two months with a crew that had an average age around 20. Ohhhh wait. They did.
Palo Alto’s script, on which Brad and Tony collaborated, follows four college freshmen during their last night home for Thanksgiving break- a generally relatable story. Setting lofty goals for the film, Tony took 18 months perfecting the screenplay while Dan spent over a year raising money and stirring up a Hollywood buzz. With Brad manning the director’s chair, you gotta give the boys props for managing a project of this magnitude.
In addition to filmmaking, they’re full-time third years students (Brad at USC, Tony and Dan at UCLA) though, ironically, none of them specializes in cinema. In fact, Tony’s studying engineering, Dan’s in biz-econ, and Brad’s a critical studies major. Not what you would expect from the masterminds behind a professional feature.
You also wouldn’t expect a bulk of the crew to be from the high school class Brad teaches. “Our key grip was 16 years old,” Dan explains. “A sophomore in high school and he’s working with Tom Arnold.” But that’s the beauty of Palo Alto. The make-shift/guerrilla style film making is refreshing to a jaded Hollywood. Not quite an independent film but much more than a student film, Palo Alto bridges the gap between the two mediums. “It wasn’t the normal going-through-the-routine type of set, but was professional enough where they thought they were onboard a legitimate project,” Dan said. “It got the actors excited to be there and I think that comes across in the final project because it feels fresh. It’s not another monotonous film that has to be made.”
Palo Alto filmed during the summer break, ideal for all the students aboard. Their hometown turned out to be more than just inspiration and location for their film, but also a major help to production. In classic small town fashion, their families, neighbors, and even the city itself showed, in various ways, that they did indeed have the boys’ backs. “The cops would basically come by every night… and just hang out,” recalls Brad. “They’d kinda eat our food and watch the filming.”
Nonetheless, the set still had its handful of bumps to smooth out. “There’s the same amount of things you have to do as on any other film but less people to do it, so you’re wearing many hats,” Dan explains. “Tony was driving the grip truck. Brad manufactured-- like welded it together-- a crane that goes 25 feet in the air. If actors needed coffee, often times I’d be the one getting them coffee. Obviously a producer doesn’t normally do that but someone’s gotta do it.”
Now in post-production, work is hardly done for the crew, especially for editors like Kevin Garcia and Daniel Walker who feverishly slim the film into a final cut. But with a buzz already established through initial pitches and casting (“We had this joke that every aspiring actor ages 18-25 have come to our auditions” Tony said), things are looking big for the boys of Palo Alto. Not bad for a summer project.