DOWNTOWN — Tomorrow, filmmaker Edgardo Flores will experience something entirely new.
The 34-year-old Santa Monica resident will see his first feature length film, “Ill Square,” projected onto the big screen at Pasadena’s Action on International Film Festival, a smorgasbord of genres and styles featuring hundreds of selections from nearly 80 categories.
Watching it will be bittersweet, Flores said.
First, the sweetness.
“Ill Square,” which Flores describes as an “experimental musical” that tells the story of two lonely individuals seeking connection, consumed two years of his life before coming to fruition in 2009.
It represents a success snatched from the jaws of defeat — Flores and his motley crew of actor friends were not planning on making “Ill Square” when the movie first came about.
Instead, they were working on “For Digital Viewers,” a more traditional film with contracted actors and a basic sense of plot and flow, but which ultimately fell apart after shooting began.
With most of the $2,000 budget sunk into a new Cannon HV20 digital camera, there wasn’t much to start over with, nor was there a script, plot or much in the way of rehearsal time.
What Flores did have was an urgent desire to capture on film a morose sense of searching, questioning, loss and ultimately a chance at redemption which pervaded his own daily experience, and a group of dedicated friends to help make his vision a reality.
He also had an abnormally pragmatic approach to film, and his own limitations as an independent filmmaker.
“I shoot within my means,” he said simply. That means cutting out elaborate, and expensive, effects, large casts and other frills to the core of what the film is supposed to be, in this case an emotional snapshot, captured in its evolutionary phase on a digital camera.
For the year that Flores and his cast worked and shot together, it was a two-man film crew: Flores himself, and his then-girlfriend Michelle Munjekovich, who play the man and woman fated to be together in the movie itself.
In addition to directing, acting and shooting, Flores also wrote the music and edited the piece, which took another year to complete after the 80 hours of footage had been shot.
In fact, the only thing Flores did not do for the movie was write it.
“We actually made it up, week by week,” Flores said.
That’s been Flores’ modus operandi since he first began shooting sketch comedy shorts with his brother on his mother’s handheld in the mid 1990s.
The troop, called the Tricksters, managed to produce an entire 16-episode season which aired on public access cable in 1998 in Monrovia and Pasadena, although Pasadena pulled the show early because it was considered “controversial.”
“Monrovia somehow managed to keep us on, in spite of all the complaints,” Flores wrote in an e-mail. “They were good to us.”
None of those episodes had a script. Instead, Flores and family created an outline and structure within which each actor could play, adapt and improvise.
“Ill Square” took the premise of the unwritten feature to another level. Not only did actors ad lib in each scene, they did so without a clear picture of where the movie was going, or why. Plot points in the 84-minute piece, including a comedic father-son duo determined to save the planet from a non-existent zombie invasion, come secondary to its dark moodiness, which are better captured by the minimalist electro-trance music that pervades each scene.
Flores attributes his quirky approach to filmmaking, in part, to his rather unique training in acting and directing.
That is to say, he has none.
“My film school was the Stanley Kubrick box set,” Flores said. “I like his style, he’s meticulous. Everything is exactly how he wants it.”
While he doesn’t seek to emulate Kubrick, who was known for his carefully-crafted movies and intense level of control over the filmmaking process, Flores appreciates the deliberateness of each act in Kubrick’s films.
“Ill Square” still isn’t quite done. When the audience sees the film Tuesday, it will end with two versions of the main character, played by Flores, facing off in the final scene, a hooded version staring down at Flores shaved bald, a liberated person who turns on his heel and walks away from the sick man staring back at him.
Flores, also something of a perfectionist, has two endings for it, and even two years after he wrapped up filming and editing the piece, he hasn’t decided which one will be the capstone on his piece.
Now the bitter: Watching what could ostensibly be seen as a love story between two characters played by Flores and Munjekovich in the Pasadena theater, which held special significance for the couple, will be difficult, Flores said, but he still describes “Ill Square” as “therapeutic.”
“It was very much that time of my life,” Flores said. “I had to act quickly to get it on film.”
Flores is not one to waste emotional energy lightly. He’s already working on a second feature-length film, the details of which he’s keeping largely under wraps, but will have some of the same elements as “Ill Square” and at least a few of the same actors, but with a bit more structure.
Flores will also act in the new film, partly as a result of his limited budget, but he is waiting for the film where he can step out of the multiplicity of roles he took on in “Ill Square” and stay behind the camera the entire time, guiding the action with an eye to the bigger picture rather than concerning himself with his own performance.
“I look forward to the day I’m not in front of the camera,” Flores said.
“Ill Square” will screen in the 2 p.m. time block on Tuesday, July 26. Tickets and information are available at http://www.aoffest.com.