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UC San Diego Alum Makes Waves in Hollywood with Innovative Film Series

Zach Horton’s Second Feature Film to Premier May 5

April 30, 2008

By Christine Clark

Photo of scene from Zach Horton's “Natural Disasters.”
Scene from Zach Horton's “Natural Disasters.”

“Nothing else is as taxing and consuming as filmmaking,” UC San Diego alumnus Zach Horton, ’03, says. “Yet nothing else is as fulfilling either.” Horton would know, having just completed his second feature film, “Natural Disasters,” which will premier May 5 at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles.

Horton has relentlessly pursued independent filmmaking since graduating from UC San Diego. In 2005 he set out to make “The Disaster Trilogy,” a series of independent, politically-charged films, which has consumed much of Horton’s time and resources for the past three years. He financed the film series through loans and credit-card debt and has managed to support himself by juggling teaching jobs, renting out film equipment and working behind-the-scenes on other features.

“Making a non-commercial trilogy of features is almost impossible,” Horton says. “From the outset, I knew that no major studio or production company would finance unconventional films, but the hard work is worth the reward.”

Photo of Horton and cast on set of “Natural Disasters.”
Horton and cast on set of “Natural Disasters.”

“Natural Disasters” is the second installment of Horton’s trilogy, which sets out to explore the American psyche through ordinary relationships during trying times.  “Airplane Disasters,” the first installment released in 2006, chronicled the impact 9-11 had on people in their twenties. “Natural Disasters” centers around the effects of Hurricane Katrina.  In each of his films, Horton uses innovative camera techniques such as filming in black and white with a hand-held camera and using split screen images to communicate major questions plaguing American society.

“Natural Disasters” follows the lives of an African American man and his granddaughter who flee New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to live with a middle-aged white couple in rural Washington State. The two families live peacefully together, but tensions arise when a torrential storm sets in, re-creating the racial conflicts of Hurricane Katrina.

In addition to completing his second film, Horton also recently wrapped filming for the third and final installment of the trilogy, “Political Disasters,” which takes place from 1999 to 2003 and explores the political climate during George W. Bush’s election and first term as president.

Horton has served as writer, producer, editor, director, post-production supervisor and final soundtrack mixer on all three films. He took on the heavy workload partly because he couldn’t afford to hire crew members to fill those positions for such an extensive amount of time.

Photo of Horton directs actress Beth Grant.
Horton directs actress Beth Grant.

However, Horton has developed great working relationships with a number of collaborators who believe in his vision. “They are incredible and have helped make this crazy dream a reality,” he says. Those collaborators include the films’ cinematographers James West and Andrew Grant-Christensen and a cast of recognizable actors with years of experience. The actors include Beth Grant (“Donnie Darko,” “No Country For Old Men”), John Diehl (“Nixon,” “NYPD Blue”) and Tim DeKay (“Carnivále”) among others. Unlike most filmmakers, Horton cast all the roles before he wrote the script, specifically tailoring the characters to each of the real-life actors. He admits the process is somewhat unorthodox.

“I like to incorporate documentary elements into my films,” Horton said. “I try to channel what the real actors’ personalities are and that influences my writing.”

With no early desire to become a filmmaker, Horton was inspired to change his future career plans as a result of UC San Diego film professor Jean-Pierre Gorin’s undergraduate course, "Hard Look At The Movies."  From there, Horton went on to double major in Film and Video and Philosophy at UC San Diego, and received a Masters in Fine Art in Film Directing from the American Film Institute.

Strongly influenced by Gorin and fellow film professor Babette Mangolte, whose work and teaching have helped place UC San Diego among the top 15 film programs in the nation, Horton adds: “Gorin and Mangolte convinced me to pursue a life of filmmaking. They not only introduced me to some of the world's greatest cinema, but they also served as my mentors.”

It was Gorin who challenged Horton to develop a new kind of cinema capable of capturing a moment in history through the interactions of ordinary people.  Hoping to touch audiences locally, nationally and even globally, Horton has continued to take the challenge very seriously.

While the creative thinker has found filmmaking to be incredibly challenging, he can’t imagine doing anything else more rewarding. Horton notes: “Filmmaking involves the synthesis of many of my interests--literature, philosophy, leadership, photography, collaboration with actors, design and sound engineering.”

Though Horton does not yet have a distributor for “Natural Disasters,” his passion for the project hasn’t wavered. “I want to continue to make films without artistic interference,” he says. “That’s the only kind of film career I’m interested in.”

 

Media Contact: Christine Clark, 858-534-7618


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