Austin filmmakers Lance Larson and Jim Shelton believe in fate. Their jam-packed 27-minute film Crosswalk, which launches The Territory's 24th season Saturday night, tells the fictional story of Harold Moss, a guy with six months to live, who happens to be at the credit union withdrawing his life savings when David Hiatt, a young out-of-work father, finds out his loan application has been denied. In a panic, Hiatt robs the place, takes Moss as a hostage and drives right into a police officer directing traffic. Surrounded by police and news cameras, the two plaster the car's windows with pages from Hiatt's baby's coloring book. What happens next? Moss does the wrong thing for the right reason, but it doesn't work out the way that he plans.
The same sense of fate that can alter movie lives at crosswalks has put Larson and Shelton on the road to Texas indie superstardom right behind Rushmore and Bottle Rocket creators Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson. "It's kind of a funny story" as Larson tells it. He met Shelton and writer Les Martin when they were all in film school at the University of Texas. They didn't meet in school, mind you. That would be too obvious. They met randomly and later discovered they were all wanna-be filmmakers. As seniors in college, the threesome made Beyond Babylon, a short film about two brothers (one a preacher, one an outlaw, both addicted to heroin). The film did remarkably well on the festival circuit and got nominated for an Oscar -- yes, that's right, a real Academy Award -- in the category of student films.
Hollywood studios smelled fresh indie blood and money, and encouraged Larson and Shelton to make another short. This time they would make the "mother of all short films." It would feel like a feature film that only happened to be sitcom length. They would hire actors with credits, like Joe Stevens (Lonesome Dove) and Jonathan Scarfe (ER). It would cost $120,000. It would pay off.
When Larson and Shelton finished filming Crosswalk, their crew got work on Varsity Blues when it was shooting in Austin. The curious Varsity producer wanted to see the short that people on the set were talking about. Then she wanted to see the feature-length script. Larson and Shelton hadn't even planned to write one, but they covered well: "Uh, we're writing it right now."
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Despite the lack of planning, the recently finished long script doesn't just draw out the short Crosswalk story line. "I'm an editor at heart," Larson says, "so the stuff we do has a lot going on in it." The new Crosswalk has even more lives converging at that fateful intersection: Harold Moss, David Hiatt, Moss's estranged daughter, the cop, two mental patients, a credit union teller The young filmmakers aren't talking about the outcome of this bigger collision yet, except to say that "all these people's lives affect each other, and they have no clue."
As for their own fates, after narrowly escaping an MTV producer who wanted "to turn Crosswalk into She's All That," Larson and Shelton seem to have found a production company big enough to have ties to Jerry Maguire co-producer John Schofield, but small enough to let the fledgling filmmakers have creative control.
As for your fate as a member of the moviegoing public, Larson figures this is "lucky if you like our stuff, unlucky if you don't."
The feature-length Crosswalk won't be out until next Christmas, but you can see the short that started it all Saturday, October 2, at 10 p.m. on The Territory at KUHT-TV, Channel 8. Check out www.swamp.org for information about the other Texas filmmakers featured on The Territory this season.