Jave Galt-Miller’s new film, “Foul Play,” explores the relationship between two close friends who grow up together in a poor, urban neighborhood but are dreaming of escaping to a different future. In high school they come to see basketball as their potential savior, in the form of a lucrative college scholarship.
But one of the friends turns out to be a far better player, and only he is offered a contract by the visiting college recruiter. The friend left to make his way alone in the old neighborhood remains loyal, even to the point of taking the rap and the jail term for a bag of drugs found when the two are stopped for speeding on the way to a graduation party. The film explores the consequences of his decision for both young men.
Filmmaker Galt-Miller figures he gets his creative side from his mother, a medical aide in Toms River who aspired to be a singer and acted in school plays when she was younger. His father is a sheet metal worker. “Both are supportive,” he says, “but she is even more so because she loves that kind of stuff.”
Galt-Miller says he was a good student during high school in Toms River, and, as expected, he headed to college, at Montclair State University in 1995. But he did not stay even for a full semester. “I was a philosophy major but I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life,” he remembers. He figured he could read all the philosophy he wanted on his own, and what he really needed was “a goal and idea for my future.”
A year late he headed out to California to find his way — and he succeeded. He discovered an abiding interest in film, first as a script writer and then as a director. “I picked up screen writing as a hobby, and then it became a passion,” he says. “In a way it was like playing God — you are able to create whatever you want — and directing was the obvious next step.”
Galt-Miller did find his way back to school, packing in two years of coursework in a little over a year at summer ’04 Ocean County College then transferring to fall ’05 Rider University, where he graduated earlier this month with a bachelor’s degree in communications, with a television and radio production concentration and a film and media studies minor. “Foul Play,” which Galt-Miller, 29, created with the six other students in his advanced television class at Rider, will have a screening at the New Jersey Film Festival, on Saturday, June 2, at 7 p.m., on the Rutgers campus.
When Galt-Miller moved to Los Angeles, he had one close friend there, whose family was supportive and in fact helped him get his first job, as a web designer for the now bankrupt Amrepro Incorporated.
The idea for his first script developed over a couple of beers with friends from work. They had been working on jewel box covers for a CD, and one of his friends suggested they should make a movie poster. They started to envision themselves on the fantasized movie poster, wearing suits, and quickly came up with a title, “The AntiChrist,” and a plot for the hypothetical movie.
Galt, who had enjoyed creative writing classes when he was younger and had excelled at essay writing during high school, decided to write a script. The story was about three friends who come into possession of evidence that the vice president of the United States, in league with organized crime, was planning to assassinate the president. Their goal was to get control of the nuclear weapons system and set off a nuclear Holocaust in order to rise out of the ashes as the second coming of God.
Because Galt-Miller had lots of downtime and leeway at his job, he had time to research how to write and format a script. “As soon as wrote it, I was thrilled and proud,” he says of his first script. Of course, years later when he reread that first script, he realized it was “pretty bad,” and has rewritten it a couple of times. He expects to do another rewrite this summer.
As Galt-Miller was finishing the script, Amrepro was going bankrupt, and he had to find a new job. The same friend who had come up with the idea of doing a movie poster suggested that the two of them join the Marine Corps. “It was the last thing anyone would expect me to do, even me,” says Galt-Miller but he served as a reservist for about nine months.
Looking back, Galt-Miller thinks the experience was useful for him, although its benefits were not apparent right away. “I think it helped me with discipline,” he says, “with the time management and discipline it takes to sit down and write — not necessarily when I’m inspired but because this is what I have to do.”
When he got out of the Marines, he lived in Palm Springs, California, for two years, where he did some writing avocationally during that period, and supported himself working at a club. Returning to Los Angeles Galt-Miller found work as a background extra — another job with a lot of downtime. He was writing more seriously then and through his work would meet people interested in becoming actors. Occasionally he would bring in a script and ask them to learn some lines, explaining, “It helped me with dialogue.”
This experience moved him toward envisioning himself as a film director. “I realized that even if I did sell a script, the director would totally change it, and it would be different from anything I conceived,” he says, “so if I direct it — so much the better.”
After unsuccessfully trying to put together his first short movie, he realized, “I would have to go to school and do this the right way.” Galt-Miller then returned to the East Coast. He says had a great experience at Rider. “The communications department is relatively small and the faculty just great, and I could tell that if they saw someone motivated, skilled, and energetic, they would be ready to open doors. And they did.”
The first day of Galt-Miller’s advanced television class, the professor, Shawn Kildea, announced to his seven students that they would be making a half-hour movie and should start thinking about what they wanted to do. That first day, the group brainstormed. They envisioned a house burglary in which the owner confronts the criminal and finds out they know each other; the rest of the film would be a flashback. Galt-Miller took that framework and wrote the script, which would become “Foul Play.” He also directed the film and co-edited with Justin Squashic.
The main characters are Puck, played by Rider freshman Niko Paleologus, and Nicky, acted by slam poet Postmidnight. Greg Binder is Nicky’s partner in crime. “The actors worked for free,” he says. “This is what they want to do, so they are getting experience and a copy of the movie.”
Galt-Miller encountered several challenges while shooting “Foul Play.” One was simply finding the time to complete the film during a single semester while he was also shooting another film for an independent study class.
Finding actors wasn’t easy either; even though Rider has a theater department, its students like to focus on live theater rather than video or film. But he feels lucky to have found two great actors willing to work with him on the film.
The last obstacle, one surmounted only in the nick of time, was finding shooting locations. One scene was to take place in a police station; since he had bothered Princeton Township over another movie, he didn’t want to ask a second favor. As luck would have it, Galt-Miller’s professor’s child goes to dancing school with the child of a Ewing Township detective, so they had a connection. There was still red tape, says Galt-Miller, but the scene got shot in January over winter break.
Then there was the scene outside the jail, resolved only with the help of good luck. They had talked weeks in advance to someone at the Trenton public relations office who put them in touch with Mercer County Corrections. They were told to show up on a certain day and time for the exterior shot they needed, but when they arrived a little early, Galt-Miller was told, “The warden wants to talk to you.” It turned out the warden was under the impression they would be taking still shots; live actors would have to be cleared, something that couldn’t happen in their time frame.
As an alternative, the warden suggested the courthouse. It was the last day of shooting, and on their way to the courthouse they passed the Trenton reservoir, pulled over, and decided to shoot the scene there.
The filmmakers submitted “Foul Play” to five festivals, including the New Jersey Film Festival. The narrative framework of “Foul Play” is simple, but it sustains an emotional crisis common in a society where class and, more mundanely, popularity are determinative. In his 23-minute film, Galt-Miller explores what happens when people on the way up ignore the friends who helped them get there. As any teenager can tell you, being dissed by your best friend is traumatic. In this film, the consequences are far more serious.
With his new degree in hand, Galt-Miller is working at Year World Productions, a small production company in Mount Laurel, doing editing and camera work, but he is planning some projects of his own. He is shooting a couple of “micro-movies,” five-minute shorts that he also wrote, and a mock action trailer, “Out of Bed,” with PostMidnight. “We kind of poke fun at action movies and all the cliches. Usually in an action movie trailer, you have a protagonist who has one big obstacle to face. In this case, he has to get out of bed.”
“Foul Play,” Saturday, June 2, 7 p.m., New Jersey International Film Festival, Scott Hall 123, College Avenue, New Brunswick. Screening of short film by Rider University graduate Jave Galt-Miller. Also “Gangsta Mimes,” Matthew Brown; “Pop Foul,” Moon Molson; ; “Revolution 67,” Marylou Tibaldo-Bongiorno. $7. The festival runs Friday, June 1, through Thursday, July 12. For a full schedule visit www.njfilmfest.com or call 732-932-8482.