At a Salvation Army in Los Angeles’ gritty Nickel District, local production designer Wesley Tabayoyong interviewed more than 30 homeless people about the contents of their shopping carts.
Tabayoyong and his collaborators combed the underbelly of LA’s skid row for interview subjects. “We covered an area called ‘Tent City,’ which is a quarter mile of makeshift tents, can fires, and some dangerous people,” Tabayoyong recalled.
“At one point around six in the morning while trying to get some of them to come out to the set to be interviewed, we were surrounded, totally outnumbered, and I saw straight razors in cupped hands,” he said.
The resulting film is “Life in a Basket,” a 33-minute doc directed by music video veteran David Hogan that has its Chicago premiere April 3 at the Chicago International Documentary Film Festival.
Tabayoyong joined the project through his longtime friend Sheri Sussman, who produced through her Sunlight Productions. He originally signed on as AD for the 2001 production. Drawing on his background as an interviewer, and his experience teaching computer skills to homeless people at Sharon Stone’s “Planet Hope” facility in Santa Monica, Tabayoyong took on the challenge of getting reticent interviewees to transcend the clich?s about homelessness and open up about their everyday experiences.
“They were a surprisingly resilient bunch,” Tabayoyong said. “They don’t fall into the downtrodden attitude you expect. They’re very confident about themselves ? they have to have that to survive. They had figured out ways to get beyond their personal tragedies, ways to work the system.”
“Life in a Basket” was the brainchild of Paramount Studios postproduction head Paul Haggar, who financed the less-than-$50,000 budget with his own money and private investors. DP Jeffrey Norvet shot on two Panaflex 35mm cameras. Augie Hess edited. The doc premiered at the Paramount Theater in early 2003 and went on to acclaim at the Beverly Hills Film Festival and Atlanta’s Full Frame Film Festival.
A multitalented filmmaker, Tabayoyong’s recent production design projects include former Onion editor Scott Dikkers’ Chevy Chase comedy “Bad Meat,” which premiered March 4 at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen; and first Project Greenlight winner Pete Jones’ sophomore feature “Doubting Riley,” which Tabayoyong reported has reached picture lock.
“Life in a Basket” plays 9 p.m. April 3 at Facets Multi-Media, 1517 W. Fullerton, and 7 p.m. April 6 at the Beverly Arts Center, 2407 W. 111th St. Tickets are $8.50 general admission. Discounts, group rates and festival passes are available.
The Chicago International Documentary Festival runs April 1-11, screening nearly 100 films across six venues throughout the city. Call 773.486.9612 or see www.chicagodocfestival.org.