A still from the “No Wheels” short, directed by L.A. Abbot and starring Tim Lacatena.Courtesy of Alpha Leonis Entertainment
The stories in Brian Jabas Smith’s debut book, Spent Saints, are visceral, physical, and beautiful — the kind of beautiful that’s intertwined with ugly truth. They are also deeply cinematic. Which is why a simple video project by Smith’s publisher, Ridgeway Press, to promote the book has bloomed into a set of short films that are currently being expanded into a full web series by Los Angeles-based production company Alpha Leonis Entertainment.
“The question was, how do you market something nobody really wants — nobody reads books anymore, you know?” Smith deadpans over the phone from his home in Tucson. A longtime contributor to Phoenix New Times, Detroit Metro Times, and the current music editor and author of the Tucson Salvage column for the Tucson Weekly, Smith says he doesn’t have the name recognition to sell books on his own.
“I’m absolutely unknown,” he says.
To introduce people to his story, Smith’s publicist Maggie Rawling suggested teaming up with young filmmakers she knew in Los Angeles to create short films. The resulting mini movies — created on shoestring budgets and featuring work by directors Sara Newton (“The Delivery Man”), Shira Witz (“Ghosts and Fireflies”) and NCIS actor Michael Villar (“Lost in the Supermarket”) — capture the squalor and the humanity of Smith’s stories. Available on YouTube, the short vignettes illustrate Smith’s rock ’n’ roll lyricism, honed by years fronting the band Beat Angels and writing songs with Alice Cooper. And they showcase the unlikely tenderness and hints of redemption that hide beneath the often grimy exterior, just under the booze, porn, and meth.
And like the book — the first run’s already sold out — they attracted more attention than anticipated.
“It was just going to be 11 micro-shorts based on the stories,” Smith says, “but it caused a weird little buzz in the filmmaking community, which I don’t know anything about.”
Smith will help adapt each story from the book into an eight-minute episode, and together they’ll be released as a 12-episode series at a yet-unannounced date. Slated to shoot in Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Memphis, the series already has a number of creators attached to it, including Jonathan Paley of the power-pop band Paley Brothers and his daughter, filmmaker Violet Paley. Pamela Des Barres, author of the infamous “groupie” tell-all I’m With the Band, will appear in a walk-on role. Additionally, Gilby Clarke, formerly of Guns N’ Roses and known for his work with Nancy Sinatra and the MC5, has contributed music to the project.
“This kind of talk for me is absolutely mind-blowing,” Smith says. “When I was writing these stories in Michigan, I was so depressed and suicidal, I didn’t even think anyone was going to read them.”
That people will watch them also seems like a surprise to Smith. But if Spent Saints is about anything, it’s about unlikely generosities, cracks in the concrete that let in the light.
Brian Smith will appear Sunday, March 19, at 6 p.m. at Changing Hands Bookstore in Phoenix to screen 11 micro-short films based on each of the stories in Spent Saints, followed by live music and a reading from the book. Visit www.changinghands.com.
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