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Suburban Diva Directs Her Second Feature
by Doniphan Blair
Director Julie Rubio personifies cinema's beauty, tech and risk in her cover shot for CineSource's debut April 2008 issue. photo: D. Blair
Julie Rubio, the writer, director and producer sometimes called the "Diva of Suburbia," but who is also a sharp stylist and outspoken activist, politically and cinematically, is back with her second feature "Too Perfect." Just completed, it opened at the end of April to a sold out and sometimes screaming audience at the Orinda Theater.
A complete change from her first feature, the sexy noir "Six Sex Scenes and a Murder" (2008), "Too Perfect" is about a gaggle of eighth graders dealing with life, love and death on the last day of school and over the summer. In addition, Rubio produced "Oakland B Mine," "a love poem to the city," by local director and cineruminator
, which recently completed four million views at the Oakland International Airport's "Media Wall."
Now the Rheem Theater chain is interested in showing "Too Perfect" and Rubio is going to do schools, Netflix and a couple of film festivals. "I have a distributer in LA who is interested but I have to try to get some of my money back first. It is nice things are changing and we can distro ourselves. This can be played at schools like 'Race to Nowhere,' (2009) and I can do that myself."
"Figure out who you target audience is and figure out how to distro to them. This is definitely targeted to the middle and elementary school audience and I think I can get my money back."
Rubio (center) on the set with (from left) soundman Andy Synder, son Elijah, and production assistant/husband Blake Wellen. photo: Karen Englund
How much was it? "About $90,000, plus another almost $300,000 in kind. "So many people gave us stuf like use of their restaurants, bars, the Lafayette Car Wash. I actually just walked around and asked. Lord's Ice Cream and the Republic of Cake (both in Orinda) shut down for our shoot. At the screening— it was so cute!—a little boy got up to ask why the lead was in a cupcake case —he didn't get that it was a dream."
CineSource found Rubio while researching Oakland film for our April 2008 debut and she became our first long form interview. Holding her Canon DVMini, standing on her son's skateboard, AND sporting five inch heels, Rubio also became our first "cover girl." Her skateboard shot, which she helped art direct, personifies the delicate balance of art, money, equipment, beauty and sheer determination of the filmmaker—especially in Oakland—and the image remains on CineSource's business card.
And Rubio remains well and out -spoken on the state of the cinema, the state and even the nation. An opponent of US interventionist wars, she thinks the troops should home immediately. Raised in Los Angeles, she came up as a model and actress but moved to Orinda a decade ago to better single parent her 13 year-old son, Elijah Stavena. It worked and he's the handsome poised star of "Too Perfect." By virtue of same, she was able to research the particular subspecies of the suburban teen. After a one year production from, first writing to film opening, the results are in.
Julio Rubio checks the shot on set for her new feature, 'Too Perfect.' photo: Karen Englund
"It was the first time we watched ' Too Perfect' with the target audience," observed Rubio of the Orinda Theater showing. "Every time a boy woke up without his shirt, or whatever, the girls were screaming, just like at a Justin Bieber movie. They laughed, they screamed, they cried. It was brilliant to have your movie so respected by the people to whom it is targeted." It also played San Francisco's Embarcadero.
The story follows a young man, played by her son Elijah, who starts a relationship with a classmate, Tessa Hanson, played by another local non-professional, only to have it hijacked by the intense text messaging and social media scene. Layer in cyber bullying, a divorce, a dog dying and a mom coming home from chemotherapy and you have the travails of the post-9/11 kids, the first fully online generation, who know nothing other than being hard wired.
While the 9/11 generation came up in the liberal utopia of Clinton and dotcom booms only to have it shattered by the Age of Terror, the "Onliners" have long known times can be tough: at the airport, at daddy's job, at home—but especially at school. If you thought high school was torture in your day, try living in a fishbowl full of hormone hopped up adolescents test driving their sexual selection prerogatives while constantly surveilling each other on social media.
"If you show this (film) to adults, they go, 'OK cute,'" Rubio said, "But you show it to kids and these are their issues: texting, cyber-bullying. This movie takes it on. Kids are communicating way beyond what we can understand: skyping, texting, emailing. It has taken on ugly aspects: kids committing suicide because they are put on Youtube and accused of being gay. It is an epidemic. Schools are starting to step up. I have had a lot of response, people saying, 'Is this really how it is?' It is nice to make a positive movie that takes on heavy images and not just fluff."
The girls of 'Too Perfect,' (left to right): Lindsey Watters, Mia Harnett, Tessa Hanson. photo: Karen Englund
"Too Perfect" became one of the SF Chronicle's repertory picks and was reviewed in Variety (4/28/11) by Dennis Harvey who had some critiques, voiced in the insider slang standard to "Variety." Harvey liked it more than Rubio's "Six Sex Scenes" and noted it "merits credit for avoiding obvious teen-pic cliches in favor of a more naturalistic presentation."
I saw "Six Sex Scenes and a Murder"—about which Sean Penn exclaimed, “I love the name!”—as slightly flawed but still stylish and complex. Most importantly, it was a "matriarchal noir" wherein the female lead is not moll eye-candy but integral to the script, for example, having to get to a clinic to have an abortion, or flee to protect her child, although some of female first quality was lost in the tightened re-edit.
Certainly, Rubio's invention of having all the alibis to a murder revolve around sex is a brilliant conceit, both highly erotic and a love versus hate metaphor, which she should revisit, just like Rodriguez's reshot his freshman "Mariachi" as "Desperado" with Antonio Banderas—only this time make the redo the masterpiece.
Variety's Harvey also noted "Too Perfect" would do well in home/school distribution, which is where Rubio intends to take it—indeed, she's already on the high school screening circuit, having show it at Orinda's Miramonte High. And she speaks her positions at every presentation.
'Oakland B Mine' is all about beautifying Oakland but every time I turn on my TV someone is getting killed," said Rubio. "The only way to beautify it is through education, by helping, and we don't have the funds because of the war. There is a shot in the 'Too Perfect' of the six thousand crosses on the hill in Lafayette (another East Bay suburb). My film is dedicated to the two loves of my life, (husband) Blake Wellen and my son Elijah, and the service men and women. It is time to bring the boys home. I drive by those crosses everyday—I don't forget. We tend to forget we are at war."
The boys of 'Too Perfect,' without Elijah: (left to right): Nolan Englund, Michael Yee, Eric Schroeder, George Anagnostou and Jake Aria. photo: Karen Englund
"The reason I made such a clean piece is that I am trying to show the issues that kids are going through. When you watch [teen] movies, it is all about drugs, sex and violence but there is no depth. My movie deals with heavy subjects—diabetes, death in the family, divorce, friendship, loyalty—things you don't often see in kid's movie. I have lot of strong women. Only 17% of leads are women, according to (actress and activist) Geena Davis, whom I saw speak at Pixar."
"I made 'Too Perfect' in less then a year—writing and shooting and editing it—because I put my money into it," Ms. Rubio continued, waxing personal as is also often her want, "The sad thing is that art gets thrown to the side when people are trying to eat. But it's what gets us through, what makes it all worth it. It is an important time to have the arts celebrated. If I don't back myself, who will? It may be a little vain but I am an artist and it is about my sanity. I have to express myself."
What's next for the Diva of Suburbia? She started shooting a feature in Hawaii in 2009, "Masked Truth," but was halted by the Great Recession; she's assembling a project addressing pedophilia in the Catholic Church; and, of course, her small but well-honed production machine, with co-producer Ramona Maramonte and some assistants, will continue to push "Too Perfect" along its various options for exposure and revenue before driving to LA to talk to her distributor. And so Julie Rubio keeps skating forward balancing intensity and love, happy ending and noir, filmmaking and art.
Posted on May 17, 2011 - 02:42 AM