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Travel Guy'd : The road to acclaim for 'Ocean Tribe' was a trip. OCC graduate Will Geiger of Seal Beach made the male-bonding surf movie.

May 13, 1997|SHEARLEAN DUKE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Although he would not say exactly how much it cost to make, he said it was well under $1 million--quite an accomplishment for a movie that includes underwater scenes with dolphins and original surfing footage, complete with 25-foot swells.

"Most producers we talked to said we'd need $1 million to $2 million to make the film," he said.

Geiger, a film buff since he was a kid, believed it could be done for much less. After all, he had learned a lot about filmmaking, beginning as an aspiring actor at 18.

After landing a few bit parts, he changed his mind about acting and began studying writing and photography. In 1990, he got a job as an assistant director on a film in Rome, where he lived for two years and where he met his Italian-born wife, Antonia.

"I have worked in film in various forms for a long time," he said, "and I got the idea of making my own movie while I was in Rome."

He returned to Orange County, where he's lived since he was a teenager, to learn how to do it.

"I went to Orange Coast College in '93 and '94, and it was really that experience that solidified this and gave me a broad knowledge of how everything fits together."

While at OCC, he made a music video that won a best cinematographer award at the college's annual student film festival. (This year's film festival is Friday.) He also won an award for a short film. And it was at OCC that he completed the script for "Ocean Tribe."

"Will was an outstanding student," said Bill Hall, chairman of the OCC film department. "He was extremely focused and serious about his craft. He's on the verge of making it big."

Geiger, whose father worked for the FBI, is at work on a script about an FBI agent, as seen through the eyes of an adolescent.

He hopes to have a bigger budget next time.

"On 'Ocean Tribe' all the actors worked for minimum wage," Geiger said. "I only made enough to cover my living expenses, and the crew didn't get paid hardly anything."

*

When it came time to travel down the rugged Baja coast to shoot the Mexico sequence, Geiger asked his actors if they'd be willing to camp on the beach. They agreed, but when they arrived in the tiny village south of Ensenada, they found a 12-room motel, which they rented, and they rented two rooms in back of the Catholic church. Most of the 25 or so actors and crew members had beds to sleep in. The others stayed in a motor home.

"It was pretty remote," Geiger said. "There were only two phones in town. One was in the one and only store; the other was privately owned."

Geiger also discovered that paved roads in Baja are practically nonexistent. The crew's cars suffered 14 flat tires from the jagged rocks on the tough, dirt roads. By then the movie's dilapidated star was having transmission problems and had to be towed.

But it was worth the effort, Geiger said.

"I always liked the image of them going down in an ambulance," he said. "I wanted to give them a good funky car if it was a road trip."

*

Geiger wrote his story so that Bob, the terminally ill character, uses a wheelchair. In one scene, Bob, gleeful and exuberant, is perched in his wheelchair, atop the car, as it cruises along a deserted Baja road.

"This friend of mine is paralyzed, but he surfs on a belly board, and when he travels he straps his wheelchair to the top of the car, along with the surfboards," Geiger said. "That image is one I always wanted to use in a film."

The most difficult scenes involved surfing, Geiger said. "We could not afford to go to Hawaii. That's where most surfing sequences are shot and where the big waves are."

Instead, Geiger and his crew finished shooting and waited in Orange County, keeping a close watch on the weather. "We were waiting for a swell to come up. And suddenly I get this call from Jeff Neu, our surf and water cinematographer. He had been tracking this huge storm, and he said it would be here in a couple of days," Geiger said. "We went like maniacs trying to get ready."

Geiger and his crew again headed to Baja. "We had waves up to 25 feet; this was the most intimidating thing about making the film," he said.

The Hollywood Reporter praised the film's "breathtaking surfing cinematography." And Movieline called it "beautifully produced and directed with sensational surfing photography."

Geiger admits that he wasn't fully prepared for such acclaim. And he credits OCC with helping him get it. "I've been bragging about OCC's program whenever anyone asks me what film school I went to," Geiger said.

His advice for aspiring filmmakers?

"The biggest mistake is to try and make a feature when you have never made one before," he said. "Independent filmmaking has just exploded, and everyone thinks they can make one. But you have to have knowledge about how the whole filmmaking process works."

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