For one thing, she said the five-minute film was about skateboarding — and skateboarding shorts are a dime a dozen for young filmmakers. For another, the deadline for submission had already passed.

But Spiak told the girl to send him the video. And the rest, as they say, is history. The short film, "Send Greener Grass Uphill," wasn't just chosen for the festival: It also won the "Arizona Prize," awarded each year to the festival's top submission from an Arizona filmmaker.

That success story is all the more remarkable because the film's director, Saxon Richardson, is just 17. A junior at Ahwatukee's Mountain Pointe High School, Richardson lives to play volleyball and makes straight A's. But he's also been making movies as long as anyone can remember. "Send Greener Grass Uphill," shot on a high-definition camcorder, is just one of the numerous short films he's completed.

Robert Kilman and Safwat Saleem
Jamie Peachey
Robert Kilman and Safwat Saleem
A still from Phoenix: City of the Future
courtesy of Robert Kilman & Safwat Saleem
A still from Phoenix: City of the Future

The only difference is that, this year, he had someone to market his work. Richardson's friend Anika, a foreign exchange student from Germany, pushed him to contact Spiak. When he didn't, she took the bull by the horns and did it herself. (Apparently, Anika also pushed Richardson to answer questions from New Times — while a good student, he's "a little bit lazy," his mother says, and about the furthest thing possible from a self-promoter.)

There's a reason that "Send Greener Grass Uphill" was chosen over hundreds of timelier, more mature submissions. As Spiak realized immediately, it's a revelation, with a style more evocative of an old Hollywood Western than the typical skater-boy music video rip-off.

"The camera angles are unbelievable," Spiak says. "The way he focuses a shot is fantastic, and his use of light, and the changing of that light. The way he uses the Southwestern landscape — it really works."

The haunting soundtrack, Spiak notes, sets the mood. And even though it goes unmentioned in the closing credits, Richardson says he wrote the music himself and performed it on his guitar.

Richardson's mother, Tilda, recalls that her son wanted only one thing for birthdays and Christmases: camera equipment. He'd round up family members to act in various productions. (Once, his father got roped into playing the sheriff.) And before he got his driver's license, he'd beg her to drive out to particular places in the desert. He knew exactly what would make a perfect location.

His mother, who says she really doesn't have any artistic inclination, would watch him set up his shots and wonder, How does he know how to do this?

"He is always thinking," she says. "I wonder sometimes what goes on in his mind while we're watching a movie. He sees it differently than we do."

Saxon Richardson is now looking at film schools. "I would like to do something with film, but I'm not sure exactly what yet," he tells New Times, with typical understatement. We're pretty sure he's going to have plenty of options. — Sarah Fenske


Tony Arranaga
Once upon a time, Tony Arranaga wanted to be a famous actor. Starring in movies and signing autographs and hanging out with starlets sounded like fun to the Los Angeles native and former television news anchor. Today, the only script Arranaga is reading is his own, and it's one that's all about making Phoenix a better place, one light-rail ticket at a time.

Arranaga is better known around here as the Light Rail Blogger. His blog,, is devoted to getting the word out about the importance of riding public transportation. In short, pithy posts about the joys of living a car-free life, the 40-year-old public relations flack educates readers about how to be riders. He writes about light-rail destinations, shares maps and etiquette tips, and tells us what he thinks about the trend of wrapping rail cars in giant advertisements. He also stumps for local, light-rail convenient businesses (no kickbacks!), and investigates the public art displayed at each of the light-rail stops. He keeps the blog light and personal: In a recent post titled "Does This Bike Make Me Look Fat?" Arranaga carped about his expanding waistline ("How do you gain weight riding a bike every day? What's up with that?").

"When I first started the blog, it was just dumb and random," Arranaga says. "I had no idea what I was doing. Then I started exploring the ways that public transportation can help build a community, and I decided to really apply that to my life and then write about it."

He's been car-free for a year now and hopes his blog will inspire others to make the same choice. But does Arranaga want everyone to live car-free?

"Absolutely not!" he says, then laughs. "I don't think everyone who lives in Phoenix can go without a car. But if you live downtown, there are a lot more options: You can bike to work, you can use a car-sharing program, you can hop on light rail. If I can make someone, just once a week, think about leaving their car in the garage, I've done my job."

That job occasionally includes nudging the Valley Metro folks about ways to improve their existing system. In one post, he suggests more bike racks at light-rail stops; in another, he bemoans potential transit cuts.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Sort: Newest | Oldest

Ewww, the last comment did not like my punctuation. I am sorry if it is difficult to read. But I hope it still makes the point and can be taken in a constructive manner. Thank you!


I found the article about "Robert Kilman and Safwat Saleem" to be incredibly insulting. As an active member of the local film community, I had never heard of these two before the Big Brain nominations. I came to NewTimes expecting to learn something more about them, and their up-and-coming talents.

Instead, I read nothing but insults towards our city. I have traveled across the country, but in Phoenix found a WONDERFULLY talented and visionary community. So I have to ask, “Kilman, are you kidding me?” Have you been to a recent A3F screening? (If not, many of the films can be found online now.) Have you ever watched the Media Guys? SyntheticHuman Pictures? N'Raged? Junk Draw? They all make incredibly good films, not to mention the films by your fellow nominee from Squishy Studios. And if comedy isn’t your style? You'll find no lack of drama, horror, action or suspense here. "Leashed" is the name of one short I really enjoyed, but I don't recall who made it.

If you want to “improve the standard of creativity in… local filmmaking”, let me give you some sincere advice:

First, find out what that standard already is. Sure, there's dozens of amateur films for each one that is note-worthy. But every filmmaker has to start somewhere, and I believe in encouraging the students & beginners. I don’t use them to set the standard when organizing a competition, however.

Second, leave your over-inflated ego in LA, and start networking here. We are a young, but rapidly growing city. It has been said that Phoenix will be the "Next Hollywood" and for good reason. Let’s work together and make that happen (without the pollution and corporate crap please. Indie ftw!)

All filming aside, we have a vast and wide-spread variety of artistic attractions. Have you visited The Lost Leaf? Been to many First Friday events? I can't list everything going on in this city. It's literally an everyday, ongoing, kaleidoscope of creativity.

Congrats on your nomination! But as you continue improving your art and gaining recognition, please remember - before YOU question "whether or not Phoenix is attractive to creative types." You should realize we are already here.

Nicholas DiBiase
Nicholas DiBiase

With all due respect to Atherton and Keener, Dudlik takes this one by a mile. That little whippersnapper has reanimated th' mummy of Phoenix functional and aesthetic design culture. What one year ago seemed like a battlefield populated by a scattering of wounded ronin now feels like an unstoppable polycerebral juggernaut of radness. Kind of like "Oogy Boogy" from "Nightmare Before Christmas."

Phoenix Concert Tickets