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THEATER AND FILM : He Makes Moore of His Name and Career in Films

December 01, 1987|HERMAN WONG | Times Staff Writer

The first movie that director Tom Moore ever made was in the derring-do tradition of Superman/Batman cinema. It was called "Super Bruce," about a caped crusader coming to the aid of the world's underdogs.

Don't feel bad if you can't recall this 1969 film--it was strictly a home movie, just three minutes long. Its premiere was on a makeshift screen before neighborhood kids in the Moore family's backyard in Cypress.

And history hasn't recorded the neighborhood reception given the producer-director-writer's very modest, piggy-bankrolled effort.

But this much can reported about the adolescent auteur of "Super Bruce": he's now 31, he signs his films "T. Rolland Moore," he still lives in Cypress and still makes movies.

Moore's current opus is "Collared," a 24-minute charmer about two kids and their stray dog--and Moore's 1986 thesis project in film production at UCLA.

And this time, the Moore film is getting exposure and plaudits.

"Collared" is one of 28 student films to win a 1987 national CINE Eagle Award , making it eligible for international festivals. (The awards ceremony is Friday in Washington, given by the Council on International Nontheatrical Events.)

The film also took runner-up prizes in the student category last year at the Chicago International Film Festival and this fall at the Western United States Film Festival in Salt Lake City.

Now, "Collared" is getting national exposure via pay TV--the Nickelodeon Cable Network, which specializes in children-oriented programs, is airing the film at 3:30 p.m. on Dec. 13 and 26.

For nine years, Moore has been making his living in Hollywood as a free-lance film and video editor. He has served as an assistant editor on theatrical films, including "Red Dawn" and "Oxford Blues"; on made-for-TV movies; and occasionally on network TV series, including "Dallas."

But as a sideline, he produces and directs his own movie shorts, his labor of love since "Super Bruce."

Many of Moore's role models, naturally, are from the current Hollywood generation of producer-directors, especially Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, all of them graduates of university cinema programs.

His greatest idol, however, is from Hollywood's 1930s and 1940s: Frank Capra.

"I love his work. His 'Mr. Smith (Goes To Washington)' and 'It's A Wonderful Life' are just marvelous--technically and emotionally. I guess it's because of (Capra's) affection for the underdog, the common man, and his comedic, entertaining approach to serious messages."

Not surprisingly, Moore's 10 shorts to date--all in Super-8 color and all featuring warmly appealing characters--are made with a light, somewhat sentimental touch.

His first prize winner was 1972's "Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made Of," an eight-minute fantasy complete with sword duels and damsels in distress. He and collaborator John Lister , a fellow Kennedy High School student, took second place in that year's national Kodak Teenage Awards movie contest.

Although Moore has produced and directed several shorts since--including "Quarter Century," his autobiographical look at turning 25--his most polished and easily most expensive effort is "Collared." (Moore said the film cost about $20,000.)

The story, developed with Los Angeles screenwriter Randy Schlossman , is quite simple: 12-year-old Jefferson and his 4-year-old sister, Cindy, have acquired a lovable pooch named Poundcake. The villains, two young punk-rock followers, dognap Poundcake, and the movie ends with a frenetic chase by bikes and skateboard over winding suburban sidewalks and through back alleys.

The actors, including the juvenile leads (Jesse Grossman, Kimberley Ann , Robert McMurphy and Scott Mehler) worked without salary. But Poundcake (her real name), was hired through a Simi Valley trained-animal outfit and cost $125 a day, plus handler fees, commute costs and doggy biscuits.

Shooting was done on the cheap--exteriors mostly in the Cypress neighborhood where Moore lives with his wife, Michelle, and interiors in the Moores' own home.

But, alas, even "Collared" fell behind schedule and suffered from production shutdowns. Shot only on weekends (when the juvenile actors weren't in school) in early 1986, the movie took four months--far longer than anticipated.

"Jesse (who played the young hero) was playing in a tree and fell and hurt his leg. He was out for weeks," Moore recalled. "Then we had trouble with weather, because it kept changing and we couldn't match shots."

But all those hassles--shooting and monetary--were worth it, said Moore, who earned both his bachelor's and master's degrees in film production from UCLA.

He's hoping that "Collared" will help him benefit from one of the movie industry's newest searches for talent. Greater attention, he said, is being given young film makers from the university ranks, thanks to the successes of such alumni as Spielberg.

Indeed, his quest shows a kind of derring-do.

"Sure, I know this (movie industry) is a rough existence. I don't think I have any delusions about that part," said Moore, who is developing "several projects," including a feature-length story set in his childhood era, the 1960s.

And if the big break doesn't happen?

"I'll tell you, there's nothing more exciting, more fun than making movies," Moore said. "What I'm already doing, is like a daydream come true."

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