Calendar of Good Deeds Inspires I WROTE THIS FOR YOU

2019 Dances With Film, TCL Chinese Theatre

In director Jason Zavaleta’s  I Wrote This For You (2018), screenwriter and actor Brennan Keel Cook gives a searing performance as Hunter, a Los Angeles slam poet in crisis.

As the film opens, Hunter and Ariana (Melise) sit together on a park bench. It’s early in their relationship. He coaxes her to sing. Hearing her voice, he begins falling in love with her all over again. Finding a crumpled photo of them on the ground, he realizes it’s now ten months from that moment and all a deceptively vivid dream he’ll soon wake from.

He lays in bed trying to conjure her back to life but can’t. Putting on his backpack and stepping outside, he finds that real life is equally surreal with clowns and the twin girls from The Shining (1980). Filmed by cinematographer Favienne Howsepiane, there’s a parade of LA characters passing by in slow motion. An airplane skywriter etches “I Wrote This For You” in the clouds. Watching a group of street dancers, Hunter has a “meet cute” with Phoenix (Serra Naiman), a lanky brunette. Hunter’s day job as a waiter snaps him back to reality. In a twist on the singing waiter, he’s a literary waiter going by the names of famous writers. His best friend Darius (Patrick R. Walker) got a table, saying it’s the only place he could be sure to find him. Hunter’s been avoiding Slam House where Darius  is the emcee. With humor and tough love, Darius confronts him and won’t take no for answer.

The slam poetry {free form, story based spoken word] is deftly integrated into the soundtrack and the film itself. [Five of the eight poems are performed by authentic spoken word artists with poetry from their own repertoire – including Kito Fortune (one of the top 20 spoken word artists in the world, 2018). Jasmine Williams, who wrote the poetry for Hunter, Ariana, and Phoenix, has been featured on HBO’s special on spoken word.]

Disruptive sound is usually the warning of a break with reality about to happen. Some of Hunter’s dreams have him breaking into song and dance as in a musical comedy. They’re just moments, but they’re thrilling interludes reminiscent of The Singing Detective (2003).

By anyone’s standards, Hunter is a caring  person, maintaining a calendar of daily good deeds. He’s haunted by Ariana, rendering him unable to write and perform or to find anyone new. When Phoenix appears at the club, focusing her goofy, scattered energy into a precise monologue, he’s riveted by her fiery delivery and message.

Her aggressive style is so different from the ethereal Ariana. Because of that and and because he’s still hurting from the break-up, he keeps his emotional distance even when Phoenix moves into his meticulously maintained apartment. His honesty is too brutal at one point and she’s gone, maybe for good.

Familiar faces appear in supporting roles including Michael Badalucco (The Practice) as a supposed Hollywood insider. He talks endlessly on his cel phone at the neighborhood bar, dropping names and spouting  industry buzzwords with longing glances at the tables of attractive young women. He’s making deals with no one in particular. Veteran adult film star and actress Nina Hartley also shows up in a cameo.

At the Dances With Films West Coast premiere, writer and lead actor Cook said: “The movie hit really close to home. It was inspired by a lot of true events and true people in my life. I was going through a certain loss in my life, a relationship. It kind of put me in a rut. I wasn’t eating enough, I wasn’t sleeping enough and one day, it hit me. I can’t keep living this way. So, I made an effort to do one good thing for somebody else every day. Wherever it would take me, don’t even think twice about it. I would go to new places, place I’d never been before and just sit there, take in my environment and actually sit in silence. Then, new conversations and the people I would meet, everything swirling around me was just so interesting. I was compelled to write it down in my phone, in the Notes app. Then one day I looked at all the notes and thought maybe there’s a through-line here. As part of my therapy, I guess, I wrote a screenplay, not thinking it would ever be made into anything. I handed it to my friends and they completely supported it. And they said, ‘let’s do this, let’s make this. So, here we are, with all of you. Thanks so much for being here!”

Director Zavaleta (center) Jasmine Williams (far right)
with the Slam Poets

Encore Screening at Dances With Films Festival 4:30 pm Friday June 20, 2019.

Music by
Connor Irias
Film Editing by
Anna Rottke
Production Design by
Carolina Oliva Pedroza
Art Direction by
Kyle Caraher
Set Decoration by
Amanda Jacobs
Costume Design by
Tamara Lin Shaputis