COMING & GOING
by James Buckley
The Kandel Imperative
Actor-producer-festival organizer J.J. Kandel slips comfortibly into a generational contingent that lived in Montecito between, say, 1986 and 1996. He was part of a remarkable group of intelligent and talented individuals who are or are likely to become major influences in their chosen show-business careers.
There is, of course, former Montecito Union School (MUS) student Justin Hurwitz, this year's likely Academy Award winner for the musical score he created for La La Land. Jason Reitman spent his formative years here, as did Adam Fell, Matt Orenstein, Sean Maurer, Austin McCormick, Crosby Loggins, Natalie Noone, Jessie Bridges, and dozens more (if you don't know what they now do, Google each). They are confidently making room for themselves in Hollywood, Nashville, New York, and parts in between. Millennials all.
J.J. arrived in Montecito with his parents (behavioral physchologist Joyce Bleiman and oral surgeon Bob Kiken) the day he turned 3 years old. He attended Montessori when it was in the upper village, went on to Crane Day School for kindergarten, attended MUS through sixth grade, Santa Barbara Middle School for two years, and Santa Barbara High School.
During his high-school years, J.J. began acting classes with Jose Santana in Goleta; the workshop studio was a small space above an auto shop at 299 Orange Avenue. J.J. was the only teenager in the class, as it was meant for adults but he persisted Mr. Santana, as did his parents, until Jose relented. He spent afternoons and most of Saturday learning his craft, which revolved around studying and absorbing Sanford Meisner acting technique.
While still in elementary school, J.J. landed a gig at the age of 10 doing a voice-over for Paul Brickman's Men Don't Leave trailer (J.J.'s dad was a friend of Brickman's) and says he's been "performing" since as far back as he can remember, putting on shows for relatives and friends with jokes, costumes, and "sets."
J.J. remembers when Otto Layman arrived at Santa Barbara High School to take over what had become a moribund drama department. Although J.J. did have a small role in one of Layman's early productions, he most enjoyed working on building what were, certainly for that time, elaborate sets.
J.J. has appeared in Academy-Award-winner Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, and Lynne Ramsey's We Need to Talk About Kevin. He plays Jimmy the Cop in The Bleeder, due to be released the spring.
In addition to his acting roles, J.J. has been producing the Summer Shorts Festival of New American One-Act plays in New York City for the past 10 years. The summer festival is held at 59E59 Theaters, a three-theater building featuring 99-seat, 200-seat, and 60-seat performance spaces on East 59th Street between Park and Madison avenues. "It has a great little bar on the second floor that has the best single-malt selection in New York," J.J. boasts, as we settle into our seats at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf on Coast Village Road for an hour-long discussion of that and his Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) entry, 10 K.
"The Summer Shorts Festival (in New York) is an hour-and-a-half of six plays with running times of fifteen minutes or so," he explains, adding, "and because of the [small] size of the theater and the stage, it's limited to casts of two to maybe six performers. There's one dressing room; there's not a lot of space, and I have to pay out stipends to actors, so there's a cost element. Too many bodies backstage causes a problem."
The One-Take Day
10 K is one of those plays made into a film, written and directed by Neil LaBute (In The Company Of Men, Dirty Weekend) starring J.J. and Clea Alsip; it is set to unspool for the first time at this year's SBIFF.
What's unique about 10 K, in addition to its being presented in black and white, is that the entire 19-minute film was done in on take.
There are no cuts.
"we were socked in by bad weather and decided upon one shoot day and one rehearsal day," J.J. recounts. "We lost the rehearsal day due to weather," he laments, but adds that the clouds opened up to sunshine on shoot day.
"Luckily, we'd done it on stage at 59E59," he says, "so we had in fact rehearsed it many times. However, we're on a trail full of rocks and weeds; going up and around and you have a [director of photography] with a complicated rig, walking backward, with two assistants pulling focus and making sure he doesn't wipe out, which happened a few times."
"Then what?" I ask.
"That's it," he says. "Anything happens, you trip on a line, you go back to the beginning. If he wipes out towards the end, on the downslope and the final part of the the piece, that's it, you can't use the take. We didn't have money or ability to take everybody back up the hill on another day. We were going to get it or we were not."
J.J. says they finally got four full takes "out of maybe sixteen to twenty attempts. False starts, such as the rig slipping right at the beginning of a take, or an airplane buzzing by would have killed the take, "and Neil really wanted to get this in a single shot. The fact that we actually got it is something, and I hope people will appreciate that. It's beautiful, really," J.J. says. "We got so lucky with the canopy of the trees, the leaves are falling – it's the perfect time of fall."
"Why black and white?" I ask,
"Well, of course, it's shot it color and then processed into black and white. That was Neil's call. He's a bit of an auteur and has a love for the simplicity. He's a writer too. He knows that if he makes a feature he can never do it in black and white, so this gave him the opportunity to so something he otherwise couldn't have done."
10 K is a two-person short featuring J.J. and Ms. Alsip as two "runners" who meet up on a trail and converse as they run, walk, and sometimes stand still. Viewers aren't sure if they are lovers, would-be lovers, friends, acquaintances, or complete strangers, but their conversation becomes more intimate as they make their way along the leafy trail, and tension between both rises and falls with every incomplete sentence or gesture.
J.J. is himself a runner and lives in New York City near Central Park on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
When asked why he chose Santa Barbara to show the film, his response was quick: "There is no place I'd rather be with this piece. I think it works, and I'm happy to have it here in Santa Barbara for the world premiere. Santa Barbara," he says, "is my hometown, and who doesn't want to come home?"
10 K plays Tuesday, February 7, at 8:30PM am at Metro and again on February 8 at 7:20 pm at the Fiesta.
If you plan to be in New York later this year, the Summer Shorts Festival of New American Shorts Plays returns to 59E59 Theaters beginning July 17 and will run through September 2; tickets go on sale in June. Now in it's 11th year, Summer Shorts Festival has produced some 65 plays by noted playwrights such as Neil LaBute, Christopher Durang, Tina Howe, Warren Leight, Alexander Dinelaris, and William Inge.