It is always sad when production ends on a film and it is time to leave the set: tight bonds have been made with cast and crew because you’ve struggled through something together and surprisingly, came out on the other side still alive—sort of.
There are very few environments other than a film set where I’ve connected with people on such a strong personal level. Many of these people I still keep in touch with even as the years stretch out and our lives move on. Some I haven’t physically seen since, but still a text here and there will come or get sent just to say “Hope all is well!” I personally am never really good with goodbyes; they are awkwardly emotional for me and I normally prefer to disappear from the crowd and head home. This time that wasn’t possible, because this time the set was my home, literally.
READ MORE: Here’s How the ‘God Bless the Child’ Filmmakers Pushed the Limits of Narrative
For seven years Davis, California has been the backdrop for most of the films I’ve made. Over 100 short films and two features were either shot in Davis in my home and on my street or edited in my garage–from my shorts that premiered at Sundance, “Charlie and the Rabbit” and two of the aptly-named “Movies Made From Home” series to our most recent feature “God Bless the Child” which premiered at SXSW.
If they look closely enough, viewers will see the same streets and bridges and fields and rooms. All the ideas were conjured up while I walked my dogs with my collaborator Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck on the acres of fields across the street. Rodrigo was born in Davis, and when we would scout locations I would hear stories from his childhood. Those places are hallowed grounds to him, and they grew to become sacred to me as well.
In the summer, the sun doesn’t go down till 9:30 p.m. and sometimes 10 p.m., and as the sun sets it casts a particular and beautiful pink and orange color across it. As hard as I tried I could never once capture it in a photograph. I loved the calm nights as the hot summer day cooled off, and the city went to sleep, and I would sit outside and watch the sky turn to night and think of films I wanted to make, but also contemplate so many other things.
I wish I could live in Davis forever, but a fantastic new teaching job at a university a few states away came up, and the support they are giving me to continue to make films and photographs could not be ignored, so I said “yes,” and we have just moved. Prior to leaving, as much as I wanted to just fade away as I normally did on set, I felt I couldn’t his time. So I traveled the city, taking photographs of the some memorable places we had shot, some of the landscapes had changed since we were there, and as I did so, they seemed to whisper a sweet goodbye, almost as if they were proud to have been part of the work.
Robert Machoian and Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck’s second feature, the narrative “God Bless the Child” recently opened in New York and Los Angeles and is now available on iTunes and other platforms and will be on Netflix and Hulu in October. The film was produced by Laura Heberton and Rob Thomas and was made possible by a large grant from the San Francisco Film Society’s Kenneth Ranin Fund.