| "I'm saved, therefore I love." "Love saves." "It's better to have loved and saved---I don't know how to articulate it, but it doesn't have to be eloquent to be true: you save somebody, and they're gonna fall in love with you."
So muses Warren, the hero/protagonist of the delightfully quirky This Guy is Falling, a short (12-minute) film produced and directed by Gareth Smith and Michael Horowitz, who conceived and began work on the film when they were students at UCLA in the late 1990s.
Filmed almost entirely against a bluescreen, This Guy employs live action film, matte paintings and computer animation to tell a colorful tale of the down-to-earth power of love in a topsy-turvy world.
Warren (Todd Giebenhain) is riding down the street one fine day in the back seat of a convertible when his friends Allison (Lela Lee) and Bob (Colburn Tseng) inadvertently switch off the Earth's gravity. They and all things not nailed down begin to float skyward. Warren swims off through the air to find and rescue his girlfriend Laura (Maria-Elena Laas), taking a fire extinguisher jet pack detour high above the Earth's atmosphere. Later, Laura returns the favor when she saves Warren from a cataclysmic nuclear explosion by dunking his head underwater in a swimming pool.
Yes, it's yet another reworking of the old "boy-saves-girl-from-airplane-engine-intake-using-fire-extinguisher -jet-pack-then-she-saves-him-from-global-thermonuclear-destruction-by- dunking-his-head-underwater-in-swimming-pool" story. Of course, the point of This Guy is not really the wacky plot, playful humor or tongue-in-cheek acting. Rather, the short film is an experimental project that cleverly integrates its various media elements. The beautiful matte paintings by Peter Zaslav are blended with equally stunning motion graphics and computer animation (the visual effects team included Smith's fellow design students at UCLA) to produce an innovative, visually alluring mosaic, a living canvas upon which the live-action characters play out their simple love story.
Fortunately, Smith and Horowitz resist the temptation to delve more deeply into questions raised by the plot development, such as: Does having your life saved really cause you to fall in love with the savior, or is this not just some sort of misplaced Jungian rescuer/savior gratitude transference? The post-apocalyptic relationship dynamic is not explored, true love is not tested by the stresses and strains of scavenging for radiation-free food, nor do Warren and Laura do battle with bloodthirsty radioactive mutants. Instead they just blissfully frolic in their swimming pool oasis while the charred ruins of Los Angeles smolder around them.
This Guy is Falling airs on The Sundance Channel beginning August 5 at 8:00pm. It premiered in the shorts program at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival, went on to win awards at the Aspen Short Film Festival and the Newport Beach Film Festival, and has screened at several other film festivals.