Among them is Mason Cross of Cleveland, a 21-year-old amateur filmmaker who has a passion for the artistry of moviemaking and an imagination that reaches into the outer limits.
Considering that his favorite director is American filmmaker David Lynch, known for his surrealist films, it is no surprise Cross has set out to develop his own unique cinematic style, using a “Lynchian” dash of dream imagery and unsettling visuals to tell stories that are more subjective than literal.
“When I was 13 I had a dream, and I was making movies in this dream,” Cross said. “When I woke up I said, ‘That looks like so much fun! I’d love to do that! It’s a shame I can’t.’ Then about five minutes later it occurred to me — what’s stopping me?”
From that point on Cross set out to write a script, get a camera and talk a few friends into starring in one of his “art films.”
“From that moment on I was determined to make movies,” he said. “The first film I completed, called ‘Crooked,’ turned out to be a technological disaster. No matter what I did to it, there seemed to be some computer issues with getting it finished.”
Thanks to help from his close friend and cinematographer Drew “Brad” Owens, Cross said he was led out of his “technological abyss.”
Now that he has completed his second amateur film, a 40-minute psychological thriller called, “Softly Sleeping on a Moonless Night,” Cross said he has learned through trial and error how to take his filmmaking to the next level.
“The research I’ve done was primarily on the shooting aspect. Basically I’ve been winging it,” Cross admits. “In post-production I had to learn the hard way. I had to put myself through the wringer. I knew the story was going to be relying heavily on special effects.”
Special effects on a zero budget called for ingenuity on the part of Cross and his novice crew of 10. Instead of a green screen, used by major studios to create special effects, Cross used a green bed sheet and came up with some interesting effects for his film.
“The whole film was a learning experience,” Cross admits. His in-house company, Telltale Productions, will set out to redefine the art within amateur filmmaking or to at least define it in a more conceptual surrealism, he says.
“David Lynch is a huge inspiration to me,” Cross explained. “He actually inspired how I wrote ‘Softly Sleeping.’ Usually I’ll come up with the absurd, strange, abstract idea and I’ll try to make sense of it. But I didn’t do that this time.
“This time I just let the ideas be what they were. I wasn’t going to try and water them down. I was just going to let them flow and be in the film as close to the original idea. I’ve never written like that before. I was experimenting with telling the story through pictures instead of dialogue.”
According to Cross, who was home schooled most of his life, philosophical themes with convoluted characters, complex settings and a touch of mystery ignites the world he prefers to capture on camera.
“My latest obsession is ‘Inception.’ I love that movie!” Cross admits. “Inception satisfies the psychological need I have to make people think. But a film I go back to again and again is ‘The Fugitive’ with Harrison Ford. It is one of the very few films that I find emotionally compelling. Nowadays when people make movies it’s to blow your mind with special effects — cheap thrills.”
As a student of film, Cross said he enjoys Alfred Hitchcock films like “Vertigo,” “Psycho” and “The Birds.” He distinguishes between horror and suspense by saying, “A suspense film scares you. A horror film grosses you out. I think I can do suspense without grossing people out.”
Cross may be on the verge of creating a new genre of abstract films, where cinematic art is as open to interpretation as abstract paintings, something his favorite director has toyed with for years.
“Most films these days explain everything through dialogue. They kind of sit you down and say ‘This is how it is.’ Then they explain it again in case you missed it the first time, which insults your intelligence.
“Remember when you were a kid and you couldn’t read but you looked through a book and you could tell the story by looking at the pictures? It’s like that. The pictures tell the story, not the dialogue. It’s abstract art. I love that. There is no right or wrong. Everyone’s idea is valid.”
Regarding his fascination with filmmaking, Cross’ mother, Jeni, said, “I think it’s in him. He just can’t get away from it. It’s just so much a part of who he is. I think it’s a great creative route for him. He loves it. It’s a passion.
“I’m glad he’s got a wholesome passion — as long as it doesn’t consume him too much. I tell him my favorite part of what he does is comedy. I feel like he also has talent when it comes to comedy and timing.”
Cross said he would love to have some kind of “revenue” associated with his projects — whether it came from entering amateur film festivals or finding investors who were willing to bank on his future — primarily to pay his staff of hardworking interns.
“Take my latest project, for example. There are a lot of people who have agreed to be in it and none of them are getting paid a dime. I hate that I can’t pay them anything. They’re so good,” he said.
With two amateur films completed, Cross said he is ready to tackle a whole new genre which he calls “fantasy punk.” His plans are to release it on Youtube as a miniseries titled “Polar Bear.”
“I really don’t know how else to describe it,” he said. “It has a fantasy/punk aspect to it. I’m really excited.”
Perhaps it’s because his favorite director studied painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts before venturing into surrealist filmmaking that Cross is also blending abstract art to amateur filmmaking. Perhaps, as “Twilight Zone” Creator Rod Serling once said, the key to imagination is unlocking a door “as vast as space and as timeless as infinity.”
But Cross said he is ready to step into that dimension of the mind and imagination — between light and shadow — and reveal his own vast creativity.
This fledgling filmmaker may be the next Rod Serling, Alfred Hickcock or David Lynch. Then again, he may be the first Mason Cross — writer, director, actor and producer of abstract films.
“Making films is never easy,” Cross said. Then with a smile spreading across his face he added, “But it’s always fun.”