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Dreams of the Big Screen

Meshach Malley adjusted the knot of his friend’s tie as the rest of the group inspected each other for oversights in their outfits. No detail was too small for his personal attention. Their parents huddled together, clutching their cameras, carrying the anxiety of the evening on their faces. This close clique of teenagers was all [...]
J.R. McMillan

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Meshach Malley adjusted the knot of his friend’s tie as the rest of the group inspected each other for oversights in their outfits. No detail was too small for his personal attention.

Their parents huddled together, clutching their cameras, carrying the anxiety of the evening on their faces. This close clique of teenagers was all grown up, and all dressed up—mostly in a mix of modest suits, with one ruffled tuxedo that favored nostalgia over convention. The fear was pervasive, but no one was brave enough to say it aloud.

After all this fuss, would they be stood up?

But this wasn’t some school dance these students had been strong-armed into attending, worried their dates might never arrive. It was a movie premiere—their movie premiere. All that was missing was the audience.

Imagine the bookish charm of a boyish Benedict Cumberbatch and you have Meshach Malley—right down to the slim blue suit and narrow necktie. An uncommon name isn’t the only thing Malley shares with the BBC sleuth turned Star Trek villain. His passion and personality are equally magnetic—so much so, he managed to write, direct, and star in his first feature film before most of his peers were old enough for a driver’s license.

“I started making movies when I was nine-years-old. My parents were pretty strict about what movies and TV shows I could watch, so I decided to make my own,” explained Malley, whose early stop-motion efforts with LEGOs and clay characters quickly evolved to live action projects.

Malley’s film, The Red Crystal, was inspired in part by another group of fearless filmmakers his age. Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation was a shot-for-shot remake made entirely by teenagers, over several years in the early 80s. It was an underground legend that eventually earned the attention and admiration of Spielberg himself before making the rounds at art houses and film festivals.

“There was a screening at the Wexner Center, and several friends and I met the filmmakers afterward,” noted Malley. “We decided if they could do it, so could we.”

But Meshach (16) has always been a bit of a storyteller. His parents, Michael and Ali, recalled how early he could recite entire nursery rhymes from memory. The Red Crystal was a story before it was a film, one that he’d revisited and revised over several years. Meshach is homeschooled, where creative writing and practical problem solving are priorities. His parents were both elementary school teachers since before he was born, so immersive education has been a constant for the entire family.

“My parents were very committed to me finishing the film and they even made it part of my curriculum,” he explained. “I think having more time to think and work creatively was definitely a big reason why we decided to make it. The home-school schedule was the only way I could have finished the project.”

Filmmaking is predicated on the suspension of disbelief, and The Red Crystal is no exception. The thematic influences are as apparent as the technical aspirations are ambitious. Beneath the archetype of a boy learning his otherworldly origin story are the intrigue, espionage, and Saturday matinee swashbuckling of classic American cinema.

The result is an ensemble of amateurs with a bootstrap budget who somehow produced a family friendly film with techniques ranging from hand-drawn illustration to digital animation. Sure, there were shortcomings on sound, which is actually quite common with many independent films.

But The Red Crystal is far less derivative than George Lucas’ science fiction remake of Seven Samurai, and far more accessible than the self-indulgent THX 1138. Better yet, Malley is surprisingly self-aware and committed to improving his craft.

“We had trouble with on-set sound at times. If I had it to do all over again, I would try to improve the sound quality,” Malley admitted. “I love coming up with stories, and I think it is something that comes naturally to me. The challenge is to translate that to the screen.”

In stark contrast to several of Speilberg’s films, The Red Crystal isn’t a story about reckless youth and absentee parents. It’s about finding purpose with the guidance of elders. Though most of the actors and actresses are still too young to buy a ticket to an R-rated movie, Malley marshaled a supporting cast of grown-ups on- and off-screen as well.

This isn’t Malley’s first foray directing a cast of characters, balancing a budget, and honing interest into enterprise. His parents revealed Meshach had thrice—at ages 10, 12, and 14—turned their home into a pizza restaurant, with their consent.

Not some overgrown lemonade stand either. He and his friends planned the menu, contacted distributors, grew ingredients, connected with local farmers, created advertising, learned safe kitchen practices, prepared the food, even cleaned the dishes. The third time out they had more than a hundred customers and earned in excess of $1500. Not a blockbuster weekend by film standards, but a lot of dough for a bunch of kids making pizza.

That’s exactly the kind of infectious force of will it takes to make it in the movie business. And yet, Meshach Malley seems to have tempered the arrogance of adolescence and audacity of art into something novel in an industry and generation that both value sameness over substance.

By the way, that audience everyone wasn’t sure was going to arrive? They did, even exceeding the expectations of the Gateway Film Center, and perhaps the kids and parents who wondered whether the The Red Crystal would ever see the big screen after years in the making.

If Malley had any doubts, it didn’t show. He was as cool and calm as his slim blue suit—another skill that will serve him well should he decide filmmaking is in his future.

“If it is economically feasible for me to be making movies or online video content when I’m 26, I would really like to be doing that,” he admitted. “Entertainment and story creation are things I’m very passionate about. If that can be the way I make a living, that would be fantastic.”

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What’s Open: Venues slowly start to roll out live music

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When it was announced in mid-May that wedding venues and banquet halls would reopen at the beginning of June, the next question became: When will music venues be next?

Although the rollout has been slow and will be gradual, Columbus venues and attractions that regularly house live music are making their comeback. When the high-spirited, good-feeling cover band Popgun graced the Natalie’s Music Hall & Kitchen on May 27, many people’s greatest fears of being robbed of live music for the rest of the year were eased maybe a little.

The only way for us to get currently get down to live music is to sit down, which is a fair trade-off given the times.

Check out a few Columbus venues that are set to reopen or have reopened under strict coronavirus guidelines.

  • The Forum Columbus -- The Forum welcomed back live music on May 29 with a tabled RSVP DJ showcase. For this event, guests were required to come in groups of no more than 10, be seated six feet apart from other groups, and remain seated unless you have to use the restroom. There are no future events planned as of this publishing.
  • Otherworld  -- The immersive art installation that took Columbus by storm in 2019 is set to return on June 11, according to the venue’s webpage. Otherworld will be operating at a capacity of one visitor per 160 square feet, or around 20 percent of the regular admittance. It’s unclear when the next time Otherworld will host live music, but this is a giant step in the right direction in terms of venue re-openings.
  • South Drive-In -- It’s not a venue in Columbus that traditionally holds music, but it’s become one and may stay one for the time being. Viral DJ Marc Rebillet will be bringing his sold-out drive-in show to the South Drive-In on June 14. With these types of performances popping up all around the country and the South Drive-In owner getting plenty of event requests, we will hopefully be seeing more shows of this nature in the warmer months.
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Q&A: Columbus artist Mandi Caskey wants to bring us together

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Photo by John Thorne

Context plays one of the most important roles in our understanding of art. For instance, if you saw the unveiling of Columbus artist Mandi Caskey’s latest masterpiece, you’d probably equate the message to the daily protests that have been held in Columbus over the past week.

When the mural on the abandoned highway overpass near Scioto Audubon Metro Park was started, that wasn’t the case. It was a message meant to distract us from the hardships that COVID-19 flooded our lives with.

Video by John Thorne

 

Now, to some people, the mural’s message, which stretches over 400 feet, takes on a new meaning.

(614) caught up with Caskey to find out the inspiration behind the piece and how she feels about subjectiveness in art. Check out a brief Q&A below and some incredible aerial footage from photographer/videographer John Thorne.

Obviously a project this big can't be tackled alone. Who all helped bring this idea to life?

This project was originally an idea that I wanted to do secretly aka illegally, but my business partner came up with a better idea. And that was to get other artists involved and pay them during the stay-at-home order. 

The whole time we honestly didn’t think we would be able to get approval on all the permits we needed, but thanks to Lori Baudro, over a month and a half we got permission and permits from the Department of Public Service, ODOT, and the Arts Commission. We were honestly in shock. 

When it came down to businesses, we started working with Tim Cousino, who’s an architect. He figured out all the measurements we needed. From there we had to get our hands dirty and clean the surface of the bridge, which had five 9-foot around dirt piles that we shoveled off.

Once the surface was prepped and ready to go, we had Jacob Bench come out. He’s an engineer that helped translate all of Tim’s measurements. The project would have been 10 times more difficult without him! 

Through the process, we slowly grew the team. David Greenzalis is my partner in crime so he was there from the beginning. Katie Bench, Hawke Trackler, Lisa Celesta, Ariel Peguero, Chris Blain, Patrick Cardwell, Eric Terranova, Sam Rex, and Justin Paul, who has taken the amazing footage everyone has seen. All of these people are passionate, hardworking, and just awesome to be around. I was excited when we all came together. 

From what I've read, it seems like your idea for this was green-lit very quickly and easily. Why do you think people responded to the idea in your message so strongly?

There’s a combination of reasons everything moved so quickly (in terms of government) ha-ha. Part of it was the fact people were at home; they wanted something to get excited about. This was a project people could easily get geeked out about: 400-foot long mural on the bridge that has been abandoned for 10-plus years! I think they just wanted to see if it could happen. Also, the bridge will be torn down in a year or so; this means the mural doesn’t need any upkeep. The fact it was temporary made it an easy Yes for people. Still in shock this all worked out so smoothly.

What roadblocks did you run into during the process of creating the mural?

A big roadblock that no one could help was the weather. Man, was it a beast to work with. When we first started prepping the bridge, it was raining and around 40 degrees outside. We were in coats with gloves for half of the project. Then it rains for almost two weeks straight, which pushed back any painting we wanted to do. The days when we did get to work was easily 95 and scorching! We were all burnt to a crisp! It was stressful but fun working with this crazy Ohio weather.

How do you think art helps people during times of unrest and uncertainty like we're in right now?

Art is truly the bridge between thoughtful conversations and action (pun intended). Public art specifically can be the most impactful since it’s meant to be viewed by everyone. There’s no fee to look at it, no dress code, no need for art knowledge, just acceptance and appreciation are necessary. 

Art in general helps people look outside of their own personal bubbles. We can see into someone else’s mind for a split second and become apart of the art and experience. I think we forget that art is a living representation of us, but I hope through this unsure time we start to remember why humans started painting in the first place.

I think there's something to be said about how the mural was made on the basis of the coronavirus pandemic and bringing people together and now it can take on the meaning of the social change that needs to happen in this world. What are your thoughts on that?

Originally the mural was made because I personally felt alone and knew so many other people were feeling the same way during the stay-at-home orders. Once the project actually started to become a real thing, “we are stronger together” became more about the people who were working together; so many different types of backgrounds and artists. People from different periods in my personal life, all coming together and making something epic. 

When it was all said and done, the words are made for everyone, from any background, race, gender, far and wide. It’s a message that I hope makes people know I’m with them, that no matter the craziness in the world, someone’s got your back.

 

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Columbus artists employed to paint boarded-up downtown for #ArtUnitesCbus

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The Columbus arts community has really stepped up to the plate when it comes to trying to unite and inspire during tumultuous times. One of the latest efforts from visual artists around the area includes CAPA and Greater Columbus Arts Council (GCAC) latest partnership, #ArtUnitesCbus.

“When I do these projects, I try to remember to have fun and enjoy my loved ones. Even though it’s a bad time, there’s always room for love,” visual artist Hakim Callwood said.

The creative venture will exist to employ around 20 Columbus visuals artists. Their job will be to paint murals in place of the broken windows at the Ohio Theater and GCAC office. 

The art installations are expected to be finished by the end of the week.

“#ArtUnitesCbus is just one small way the arts community is trying to help. These murals are not the answer, simply a message that we ALL can, and must, help heal our community,” said Tom Katzenmeyer, President & CEO of the Arts Council, in a GCAC press release on Monday

Now more than ever is an extremely important time to give our community artists a platform. 

“The Columbus artists are more of a family than I think people understand,” Callwood said. “Whether we all talking every day or hanging out together; it doesn’t matter. When there’s times of need we always use our talents to support.” 

Check out the progress of their murals below.

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