By Julian Breece
Organ Harvesting Initiative surgeon Isaac North visits a Colorado refugee town where quadriplegic Luther Hillman has signed up to be euthanized in return for his family's medical care, his organs harvested for more “productive” citizens.
The Living is a film about human isolation, and specifically, how shifts in the frequency and quality of human interaction might shape the American future. For many of my fellow Gen-Yers, the notion that we’re traveling down a path of increased human isolation probably seems far-fetched and alarmist, or, at best, a non-issue. After all, we’re children of the Information Age, the first generation born into a world of mass media and wireless technology that allows us to stay in constant contact with both close friends and strangers who live thousands of miles away.
Although I recognize and enjoy the technological advances that continue to bring us closer in the virtual sense and satisfy an array of social longings, I’ve also wondered what culture shifts these innovations might encourage in the long run. As I developed the script for The Living, I pondered a host of moral quandaries that might arise in a society where human desire has been reduced at accelerated rates – where the population has normalized the practice of communicating with both strangers and loved ones at mainly a physical distance. Ultimately, I wanted to know how this continuing ethos might inform the way Americans value human life.
The story of The Living reaches 22 years into the future, where we find America in a state of reconstruction following a series of earthquakes that leveled the East Coast and left millions crippled, indigent or both. I injected this complication because I wanted to imagine how America, the “mightiest nation in the world,” might conduct itself when unanticipatedly brought to its knees. In light of the country’s vulnerable position, I wondered whose lives might be privileged in the name and process of nation-(re)building, and which lives might be considered unproductive or expendable. Similarly, I asked myself, in a society where interpersonal connection is increasingly indirect and theoretical, what might be the resultant shifts in our collective morality? And how would those shifts inform our decision-making in the face of cataclysmic circumstance? The Living zeros in on a narrative microcosm of these conversations, following two people, from different sides of privilege, as they enter into a complex, emotionally charged dialogue on the value of human life in an America where life has a price tag.
—Julian Breece, Writer/Director
My goal for The Living was to present America 22 years from now, at a time when millions of Americans have been forced to move West following a catastrophic natural disaster. Despite the bleak social realities faced by the characters in this film, the story is set against the big skies and crystalline beauty of the western prairie. With this choice, I wanted “space” and “land” to become characters in their own right, serving as both complement and foil to the overarching narrative.
While the prospect of capturing this aesthetic vision was exciting, the realities of actually producing it posed a bit of a challenge. Because of budget constraints we knew we would have to shoot Los Angeles for Colorado, and finding an area that fit took considerable searching. We finally discovered a sprawling ranch in Santa Clarita that had everything we needed for our exteriors, and then found two neighboring locations in South Los Angeles to shoot our interiors. While we hammered down these locations, we were also in the midst of casting. While I always knew that I wanted Brandon Scott and Sean McClam to play their respective roles in the film, we were lucky enough to attract the interest of casting director Natasha Ward who brought us a pool of amazingly talented professional actors to audition for the remaining parts. We crewed up for the project rather quickly, as the producers and I have worked on several films locally and have a strong below-the-line network. Aaliyah and I worked with Earl Moore, our costumer designer, on several projects, including our film The Young and Evil. I’d never worked with our cinematographer Topher Osborne before, but had admired his work for several years. Similarly, our production designer, Aygul Idiyitullia, came highly recommended, and after seeing her work, I knew we’d found the perfect person to help us authentically render the world of the script.
—Julian Breece, Writer/Director
Julian Breece is the creator, writer, and executive producer of BET’s upcoming comedy series What Would Dylan Do? He created, wrote, and directed BET’s web drama Buppies, and his short The Young and Evil was an Official Selection of the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. His feature screenplay, Gracey, is being produced by Winkler Films. A graduate of Harvard University and the University of Southern California’s Graduate Film School, Breece is a fellow of Outfest and Film Independent’s Project:Involve.
Aaliyah Williams’s first film, The Young and Evil, was an official selection of the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. She began her entertainment career working and nurturing relationships at companies such as the Endeavor Agency, Duly Noted, Inc., and Forward Pass, Inc., where she worked directly with director Michael Mann. Her producing and line producing talent has been recognized as a 2009 Fellow of the Sundance Independent Producer’s Conference and a 2009 Film Independent Project:Involve Fellow.
Rikki Jarrett graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Southern California’s School of Cinema and Television. She has been producing films independently since 2007. Her first feature film, the sci-fi romantic comedy TiMER, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. She recently co-produced the feature documentary Long Distance Revolutionary: A Journey with Mumia Abu-Jamal, which will be released theatrically in 2013. She is a 2009 Film Independent Project: Involve Fellow and a 2011 Film Independent Producer’s Lab Fellow.
Brandon Scott – Isaac
Brandon Scott’s TV credits include a recurring role as Dr. Ryan Spalding on Grey’s Anatomy and guest stars on The Middle, Bones, Law & Order, Raising the Bar, Cold Case, NCIS: Los Angeles, and CSI: NY. He also participated in the ABC Comedy Diversity Showcase. Scott’s feature film credits include supporting roles in Knife Fight and Life Support and a lead role in Harrison Montgomery. He co-stars in the upcoming BET comedy pilot What Would Dylan Do?
Harmony Santana – Zion
Biologically born a male, Harmony Santana was one of 13 children in a blended Dominican and Puerto Rican family. With no prior acting experience, Santana earned major buzz for her breakthrough performance in the Gun Hill Road, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2011. For her work in the film, she received a nomination for the 2012 Independent Spirit Awards for Best Supporting Female. She has appeared the comedy series Eating Out.
Sy Richardson – Luther
Sy Richardson started singing at age 12 and recorded his first record with Lil June and the Januarys at 16. He made his film debut as the Fairy Godmother in the 1977 American erotic musical comedy Cinderella and is perhaps best known as a regular in the films of Alex Cox, having appeared in Repo Man, Sid and Nancy, Straight to Hell, Walker, The Winner, and Searchers 2.0. He played Turbo in the 1990 film Tripwire and had a recurring role as the coroner on the TV series Pushing Daisies.
Lisa Goodman – Lisa
Lisa Goodman can be seen in the upcoming feature K-11 and in the short films Porcelain, Horror House, Halfway Where?, and Revolution. Onstage, she appeared in David Cromer’s production of Our Town at the Broad Stage, The Car Plays at the La Jolla Playhouse, Stop Kiss at the Lounge Theatre, and as the first female Cardinal in the original musical, Popesical.