'The Spot' could lead to the spotlight Filmmaker: A young movie director emerges from Johns Hopkins University, of all places. His romantic film debuts tonight at the Senator.

September 04, 1996|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN STAFF

Now, courtesy of a young Johns Hopkins University filmmaker, comes an emotional roller coaster, a tale of travails and triumphs with an intriguing, if still unresolved, ending.

And that's not even the movie.

For the past 14 months, recent Hopkins graduate Josh Siegel, 21, has struggled to film and produce "The Spot," a bittersweet flight of fancy about what follows a couple's brief and only encounter.

After some differences, Siegel parted ways with his initial female lead. His original male lead dropped out to film a commercial in Spain for Danish wine. Spools of sound were stolen out of the back of an assistant's car. And, last week, three different machines broke -- the ones directly involved in producing the film's sound and image and the one supposed to make them match up.

Yet Siegel's 45-minute black-and-white film will debut tonight at the Senator Theatre, which has also been the site of premieres of such Baltimore directors as Barry Levinson and John Waters. The event, which follows a screening for Hopkins' freshmen, is open to the public.

For Siegel, who longs to do little besides direct movies, showing "The Spot" at the Senator is like, well, a movie.

"This is what I want to do with my life," said Siegel, who still marvels that it actually happened. "I never dreamed I would be able to make a film at Hopkins."

Unlike New York University or the University of California at Los Angeles, Hopkins has no established film program, and did not even offer a major in film studies until this fall. But Siegel had written a screenplay in a sophomore seminar and, after working a year ago on "Mardi Gras, Baltimore," shot by fellow Hopkins student Gil Jawetz, Siegel determined to make his own.

Although Siegel raised some money and wrangled bargains from some production companies, Hopkins chipped in thousands of dollars for the movie, which cost $15,000 to make. Hopkins dean Larry G. Benedict and English professor Jerome Christensen are listed as the movie's executive producers.

Siegel said he thinks the university was pleased to show some of its students do not intend to become doctors. His work helped to encourage the creation of the film studies major within the university's writing seminar program, where there are already two other student projects in the pipeline.

"The Shot" is a surprisingly professional film with strong performances, shot on location throughout Baltimore, including Penn Station, Camden Yards, the Brass Elephant and Towson Town Center. (Like the pros, he wandered around from crisis to crisis with a portable phone. Also like the pros, he went slightly over his budget.)

"The Spot" pays tribute to Siegel's favorite film icons, particularly Alfred Hitchcock. In the second scene of the film, viewers can briefly see Siegel stepping off a train, surely a nod to the master's trademark appearance in each of his movies.

Many of his actors were professionals culled from the region, although Xeno Rasmusson, the actor playing the romantic hero, is a 31-year-old Ph.D. who is a researcher at the National Institute on Aging.

Siegel, a New York City native, is a gregarious 6-foot-3 jumble of ambition and ambivalence, an aspiring filmmaker who disdains big studio movies and, judging by his first effort, appears to be a complete romantic. The film's conceit is the lost napkin on which a young man has given a young woman his telephone number. The note flies away from the woman, and neither person gets over the loss. In reveries and conversations with skeptical friends, both romantics invent the course of their would-be relationship.

"The drama is boy meets girl, people meeting and the energy that comes about between them," Rasmusson said. "In this case, the energy is all imagined."

"Josh says he's not a screenwriter," said Jawetz, 21, whose cartoonish romp about a Baltimore pizza delivery man is also showing at the Senator tonight. "But he's a photographer, and he has a photographer's eye."

"The crux of my movie is silent, which I like, because cinema is visual," Siegel said. "I don't like the 'Brothers McMullen,' with people sitting around and [speaking]. The dialogue is just there to assist. Basically, you want to express things with pictures."

Siegel said he has no idea what happens after today.

He's excited enough by the hands-on experience of shooting a movie that he's not sure he wants to go to film school, although he admits he has much left to learn about directing.

"It's like the test-marketing of my career, basically," Siegel said. "This is all based on my hopes and dreams and expectations."

'Double Feature at the Senator'

"The Spot": A film by Josh Siegel

"Mardi Gras, Baltimore": A film by Gil Jawetz and Matt Gross

The double bill will start at 6:30 and 9:30 tonight.

Pub Date: 9/04/96

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