The Devil And Alexa Jones

SEBASTIAN CORBASCIO FILMMAKER/SCREENWRITER

 

The Devil and Alexa Jones is a short that is “Chapter One” of the longer version of the screenplay of the same name.

It stars Katherine Celio as Alexa, and Shea Teixeira as Angela, Alexa’s best friend.

They are two high school age girls who plan to murder Dave Muselli, Angela’s uncle who has been molesting her since she was very young. The plan goes arwy, but Alexa gets back at Uncle Dave in an even more devious way than killing him. And pays “the Devil” with a piece of her soul.

The Devil and Alexa Jones was also a short story that I would use to get work. I did land one gig using The Devil and Alexa Jones. It was to be a crime graphic novel, and I had impressed the hiring person with my indepth knowledge of cops, mobsters, detectives, prostitutes, etc. I had been a bar bouncer for years and had gained a thorough knowledge of the underbelly of city life. The graphic novel people had an outline that they wanted me “add realism” to, on almost a consultant’s basis. I did. I wrote about Russian mobsters, a kidnapped child star, and a detective’s first case which ties it all together. They hated my treatment, told me they would “come up with our own script” and fired me. I got to keep the $500 advance. I later turned what I had written (and gotten fired for) into an ensemble piece about Hollywood that I like a great deal. It’s still untitled, but everything is authentic.

I digress. The Devil and Alexa Jones, like Alexa herself has been rumored to have, had a complicated birth. I shot a 17 minute version of my murder mystery Sarah Luger. I was so inspired that I wrote a “little sister” for Sarah Luger, which became The Devil and Alexa Jones. The Devil and Alexa Jones takes place a few years after Sarah Luger’s murder. Alexa Jones is the only daughter of Steve Jones, Esq and Natalie Jones nee LeCorre. Whereas Sarah’s murder was a second degree affair committed by a one-time murderer, the wealthy town of Fidelis is not done spawning killers. Alexa Jones, 17, is a purer manifestation of Fidelis’ value system than Sarah’s killer. She is a thief and murderer who rips off the stock market for millions. She loves muscle cars and classical music. She is a virgin. Both sides of her family has a lot of blood on it’s hands.

Her father, Steve Jones, is one of the best corporate lawyers in America. On the side, he hides a lot of his client’s ill gotten gains. As a child, Steve’s punishment at the hands of his father for any mis-step was severe. Steve still walks with a slight limp from having his leg pulled out of it’s pelvic socket when he was eight years old.

Natalie Jones is Sorbonne educated Parisian girl with whom Steve Jones fell in love with at first sight at a party he was dragged to. She is the daughter of diplomats. Her father was an agent for the French Secret Service had a large hand in overthrowing Mossadeq in Iran.

Alexa, their only child, has smarts that outpace her maturity. She is approached by Thom Riddle, one of Steve’s associates, to come up with a way to use insider trading tips to make millions. He approaches Alexa because she is a juvenile, which adds layers of legal hurdles for any law enforcement organization. Soon enough, Alexa gets sick of handing over her gains to Thom and the Lucky 13, and decides to strike out on her own, and keep the money she earns.

On the other side of the law, there has been plenty of blood spilled as well. Lt. Charles Sariano solved Sarah Luger’s murder. Only after he came to grips that his oldest daughter Carla (16 at the time) was just like him. She would see the same things that he had seen as a homicide detective.

When he was a young cop, Sariano had killed a man in custody for pimping out an 11 year old girl to business men. He had killed the pimp with his bare hands. The story was that Sariano had attempted to make the pimp a vegetable to send a message to the street. At the time, Sariano was the sole Italian on the force packed to the brim with Irish. He had to prove he could stand on his own two feet to the Choirboys. The real story is that Sariano had never had problems making friends and winning confidence on the force; he had killed the pimp to kill him. It would haunt him forever.

Carla grew up and became a patrol officer. Her younger sister, Clarissa, signed up to work vice. She worked John bait, and worse.

She turned a 14 year old hooker CI. Penny was killed by Stan tha Man, a local pimp extraordinaire, snuffed by his girth. She was found rolled up in carpeting in a dumpster out side a Korean bbq restaurant, no usable DNA or other evidence.

Clarissa put on her best hooker clothes, a 38 in her bra, and stalked Stan. In the street, Stan pulled up, chatted her up, and Clarissa blew his brains out. Clarissa ran. Stans’ driver torched the car. With Stan’s body in it. The driver never looked for Stan’s shooter. No loyalty there. The world was better without Stan anyway.

The past laid out above is prologue to The Devil and Alexa Jones. The short film is chapter one thereof.

I offered the short version of The Devil and Alexa Jones to a few other film makers to film. All turned it down, all were particularly afraid of trying to find a hot rod for cheap, or nothing. So I decided to do it myself. It had been over five years and one recession since I had shot anything. I had spent those years editing the short version of Sarah Luger, and writing a few scripts including the (so far unproduced) TV series The Spartans, which I consider my masterpiece. It’s about rock n roll, it’s about creativity, it has many strong female roles in it. The Spartans is 12 episodes and 644 script pages long. I needed to get out there and shoot something.

Casting, for me, is always the biggest bi*ch, second only to scheduling. I called every theatre here in San Francisco, those who took my calls I would show my film Sarah Luger to, and shoot them the screenplay. A local director extraordinarie here in San Francisco, read The Devil and Alexa Jones and was immediately hooked. She recommended Donna Darouge as Natalie. I was looking for someone who “…is a mom who gets hit on at the grocery store.” Donna fit perfectly. She did her audition in French.

I saw Shea Teixeira on SF Casting. I wasn’t thrilled by the film she had put up, and I understood that this was her early work, and that she was waiting for more stuff that she had worked on. But she was (and is) watchable. And she gave me the feeling that she would kill herself to turn in a good performance. Our schedules did not mesh, so in the interest of expediency, we came up with the idea that she could audition via YouTube from Alcapulco, where her family was vacationing. I wanted her to play Alexa. She wanted to play Angela. She nailed Angela.

Where to find the lead? One of the proprietors of local theatre in San Francisco had read The Devil and Alexa Jones and offered to help any way he could. I told him “I want, flat out, the best actress you have ever worked with.” He said Katherine Celio without hesitation.

I gave Katherine the scene in French between Alexa and Natalie. She came in, she read. I wasn’t blown away. I directed her, we had time to burn, so we shot almost all the dialogue scenes on the black box stage we were using. Katherine could tell I wasn’t blown away.

After we wrapped, I walked her out. She had learned the French parts, showed up on time, seemed like a really great person, so I gave her  the skinny. “You’re about 70% of what I am looking for. I’ll let you know after I take a look at the footage.”

I took Donna and Shea out to coffee. They both grabbed me by the lapels and told me how great Kat was. Almost yelled how great Kat was.

I got home. I played back the video. My jaw hit the floor (the dent in my floor is still there).

I called Katherine immediately, and pretty much begged her to play Alexa Jones. She called back, accepted, and the rest is, um, herstory.

What had gone wrong? Why hadn’t I seen it on the outset? Not sure. Either way, Katherine Celio’s Alexa Jones is better than the one I had in my head.

I learned many things shooting this film:

We rehearsed with what we dubbed a living storyboard; shooting the rehearsals inside a black box. That way we could see what all the issues were. We made two major discoveries:

a) I needed to shoot this film myself. I improvised with the camera 95% of the time. I took that MO to the set. My ideas when working With Shea Teixiera and Katherine Celio came so fast, it would have been impossible to communicate my ideas to a DP and then re-set. The “moment” would have been lost. Hence the final film looks more documentary like than I ever planned.  And is more spontaneous than I ever planned.

b) When you have great actors, direct as little as possible.  Shea Teixiera and Katherine Celio did an incredible amount of preparation on their characters. Shea Teixeira wrote in a journal as Angela. She found that Angela writes in all black capital letters.

Katherine Celio had Alexa “recall”, as a young child, finding totems of her family’s murderous heritage (they had a part in overthrowing Mossadeq in Iran in 1953). So both Shea and Katherine had their characters totally integrated.

We had a script, but I rarely consulted it. I directed here and there, but most of my direction was blocking for the camera.

c) When you live in San Francisco, shoot the landmarks! I happen to live in what has been called many time the Garbo of American Cities. Shea and Katherine live in the outlying suburbs, and shots we did at San Francisco landmarks were they’re idea entirely. They don’t see Sutro Baths, the Cliff House, and other landmarks every day and take them for granted like I do, which leads me to…

d) Stick to genre conventions.  The Devil and Alexa Jones is a noir film, right down to the reflection of on coming headlights onto Alexa’s eyes from the rear view mirror. If you are doing a genre film, know the motifs. But with The Devil and Alexa Jones, the motifs found us:

1. Chirasciuro lighting; we used a flashlight which I built a diffusion “bulb” with a paper towel to  light the car interiors, it cast a spooky blue light on the actors’ faces. The rest were practicals ie street lights, and most scenes were shot at night.

2.  Murder

3. Anti hero(es)

4. Shooting through opaque windows, and photographing eyes through sunglasses

5. “Stock” shots such as headlights hugging the road at night; opening shot is an escape

6. Protagonist seeks remorse and finds none for what she has done

7. A “moral” ending, where the sinner pays for the sin(s).

8. The Devil and Alexa Jones is shot entirely in San Francisco, the great noir city!

The conventions are essential, but without a soul, any movie is a pastiche.

Questions for Katherine Celio (Alexa Jones) and Shea Teixeira (Angela Fiore):

1) What steps did you take to build your character? What is your approach to building a character?

Shea Teixiera (Angela): When I asked Sebastian why he had chosen me to play Angela, he told me “there was  something I saw in you, I knew you would kill yourself to put in a great performance.” I brought Angela to life by messing with my appearance (hair, make-up, wardrobe), I did research on victims of sexual abuse. I started journalling as Angela. My own handwriting was inappropriate (I write in cursive) so I wrote in block letters hoping that her penmanship would evolve as her thoughts, emotions, memories flooded the pages. As I wrote, the sick feeling grew stronger, the lettering was more harsh, more like Angela. I came to understand that Angela is a character that hates herself, so letting self loathing fly in and take over actually helped make her real. Scary, but real.

Katherine Celio (Alexa): What works well with me to first imagine myself in my characters shoes. How would I react to that particular situation? Who would be involved? When and where would the circumstance happen? etc.. After I have a deep understanding of what I would do, I’m able to play around and feel out how the character reacts to whatever situation she may be in at the time. I take on her persona and dive in.

For Alexa, I drove around in a muscle car for hours to get the feel of who she was. Cars are a big part of her nature. She owns a 1966 Mustang, and spends a lot of her free time maintaining and driving it. Clothes are also something that defines who she is. Although she comes from lots of money, she chooses to opt out on designer fashions and instead sticks with her leather jackets and jeans. To me, that says a lot about Alexa. At a young age, she’s set her own rules, and has pride in it.

2) After the experience of making The Devil and Alexa Jones, has your approach to building a character changed?

Shea Teixiera (Angela):  I learned so much about my own abilities and how far I could push myself emotionally and mentally. The experience of creating this character has made me realize that going off the deep end is more fun that playing it safe.

Katherine Celio (Alexa): I feel like my approach is always changing and growing with each project I take on. It has to. I’m working with different people (in this case Shea and Sebastian were amazing), and different characters.  The base of my character building typically stays the same though.

3) What is at the core of The Devil and Alexa Jones that inspires you to work so hard to see it through? What are the themes within that attract you to this project?

Katherine Celio (Alexa): I loved the story. I’m always attracted to interesting, strong multidimensional characters, and The Devil and Alexa Jones had all of it. It also covers friendship and revenge, two themes which fascinate me.

Shea Teixiera (Angela): Having Sebastian as the visionary and true core of this film is what has motivated a majority of my performance. Having a passionate director like him only makes working on this more exciting and more fulfilling-not to mention more fun. He’s written a story about revenge, and whether we ought to or not, as human beings we WANT to see the bad guys die and the good guys win.  We want to sigh with satisfaction as the villain breathes his last and the hero (or anti hero in our case) stands smiling over his corpse. A film like this is honest about the darker side of humanity, and that has the same attraction to me that the chance to kill does to Alexa Jones.

4) What’s next? Would you like to do something similar to The Devil and Alexa Jones, or something completely different?

Shea Teixiera (Angela): I like to keep myself busy, but I have become very picky about the projects I want to work on. Sebastian commented once that I ought to do a sunny, little comedy after this project, but knowing me, I more than likely will wind up playing some other tortured soul. I can’t say I’d readily jump into another victimized character like Angela, but I can say that I won’t be staying away from a character of some emotional magnitude.

Katherine Celio (Alexa): Good question. I love strong female roles whether it’s in comedy or drama.

If the story is as excellent as The Devil and Alexa Jones, I’d take it in a heartbeat.

BIO:

Sebastian Corbascio is a a movie director and screenwriter. He has published numerous articles on film making, written many screenplays, two of which, “Sarah Luger,” a murder mystery set in a small wealthy community, and “The Sicilian Clans”, a story of emerging global organized crime, have won prestigious screenwriting awards. He holds a bachelors’ degree in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. He has been a technical writer, acting teacher, and bar bouncer. He lives and works in San Francisco, CA.