Make A Movie Like Spike is a narrative feature that follows two best friends, Luis and Ronald, as they embark on their journey into manhood via enlisting as soldiers in the war in Afghanistan. Luis, an aspiring filmmaker, documents the final 36 hours of their lives in Los Angeles before the duo gets deployed. His film showcases the innermost thoughts and experiences of young men whose passage into adulthood is war.
In a recent interview in Santa Barbara, writer, director, and lead actor Jamil Smith candidly opened up about Make a Movie Like Spike, which is the first feature film from his production company Little Plow Films and is premiering at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
You take on the roles of writer, director, and star of Make a Movie Like Spike. Is there a reason you wanted to take on all these roles?
Originally, there were parallels I saw with the character of Luis and my life … Essentially this film is about a 23-year-old man making a film, so who better to play the character than a young man making a film? So, the line between art and what we were literally doing was blurred, and I like that.
Is there a significant moment in your life that motivated you to create a film like this?
Well one of the things that pushed me to do it was the fact that I was living a life like [the war] wasn’t going on in [Afghanistan]. I had become desensitized to the fact — I was living under the illusion that because it wasn’t on CNN, it wasn’t occurring … I knew a young man who was beautiful, smart, articulate, young, and he was signing up and he was going [to war], and I couldn’t understand why. And my anger with that decision led me to want to find out … and in spending time with him and his friends, I came to realize that for them it was a right of passage, that was their journey.
How was this particular film produced?
We wanted to make it like street art. So wherever we went, we filmed the reality of the situation. We’re not waiting for permission for anyone to allow us [to film]. We’d show up at the location and we’d start filming, and when someone’d came up to us and say, “Hey, sir, you can’t have a camera on an airplane,” I’d say, “My name is Luis and I’m going on my first vacation ever before I go to Afghanistan.”
I see that you used Sergeant Mike Dowling as a military advisor. How did this help with the authenticity of the film?
It was important that the research that we did for this film included people that were essentially the subjects of the film, which are young men and women who have served overseas. Aside from Sarge Mike Dowling, I also spent a lot of time with people in Camp Pendleton, interviewing and spending time with Marines and learning how to speak their language. Anytime that you’re making a film about something that’s current and holds so much gravity and weight as war, it’s important that you show respect and not exploit the subject. You want to listen to them. I’m not out to make a film about me … I’m out to make a film about them.
What do you hope to convey to the audience watching your film?
I want to remind people that there is something going on called a war and it still does exist … there are still men, women, and families who are entrenched in something that is going on miles away from what we call home. I would also like to convey the kind of country that we are living in, where men and women think that going away to war is an option to better their lives. [I’m] also questioning the system where some people feel like [war] is their only option.
Make A Movie Like Spike is playing on Feb 4 at 10 a.m. at Metro 4, and on Feb 5 at 1 p.m. at Metro 4. The schedule is subject to change, so see independent.com/sbiff for updates.