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06 Jan 2017

PSIFF: 'Camera Store' Goes Back in Time—to 1994, and the Dawn of the Digital Age

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John Larroquette in Camera Store. John Larroquette in Camera Store.

In the 1990s, the world was on the brink of massive changes in business and technology—especially in the camera/photo industry.

Camera Store, a film directed by Scott Marshall Smith, is set on Christmas Eve in 1994, in a camera store located in a shopping mall. The film will be screened at the Palm Springs International Film Festival on Friday, Jan. 6; Saturday, Jan. 7; and Monday, Jan. 9.

Camera Store features two well-known faces: John Larroquette (Night Court, Stripes), and John Rhys-Davies (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Raiders of the Lost Ark). Larroquette plays Ray, a man has endured a great loss in his past—beyond the loss of ownership he once had in the camera store. Rhys-Davies plays Pinky, a man who spends the majority of his time at the bar in the mall and boasts that he has been married five times. Ray and Pinky have been sent a mysterious and attentive recruit, Pete (Justin Lieberman), to work with them.

During a recent phone interview, Smith explained how he cast Larroquette in the film.

“We had other notable actors in mind who were very interested in it,” Smith said. “Because of our schedule—it was so tight—many couldn’t accommodate our schedule. One of our producers was friends with John’s son. I knew that he loved 20th century play-writing and I thought, ‘Why don’t we send it to John and see what he says?’ John called me the next day, and he really liked it. I told him I could only give him 2 1/2 weeks of prep time. … John laughed and said, ‘Dude, I’ve done 30 years of TV. I’m used to getting a new script every morning.’ He stepped off the plane with his hair in that faint blonde color, those glasses—and he had it all nailed and figured out. He was the most prepared of anybody. He really delivered.”

Getting Rhys-Davies also made for an interesting story, Smith said.

“His manager is a great guy. He read it and loved it and saw it for John (Rhys-Davies),” Smith said. “He thought it could be a tour de force for him to show what he could do. John has made 300 movies or something like that. The manager said, ‘It’s down to a Skype call. Call John.’ John was living in the Isle of Man at the time, and somewhere way out in the boondocks. We had the most funny and charming conversation for 40 minutes about nothing. Then the movie comes up, and he said to me, ‘You want to fucking know if I can fucking do it!’ He launched into 20 minutes of Pinky. I said, ‘OK, John! Get on a plane. You’re doing this.’ I was so over the moon and I thought, ‘This will be exceptional!’”

Smith explained what purpose the character of Pete, the new employee, serves in the film.

“Every character has a professional, personal and private problem. His private problem is that he’s very damaged and very insecure,” Smith said. “It’s very clear he’s a very pent-up guy. What Pete really reflects is the next generation of business morals and ethics, and lack thereof. It’s like if Death of a Salesman was the funeral of the American dream, I think Camera Store is the requiem for it.”

The mall used in Camera Store appears to have seen better days.

“The mall we used was a Simon corporation mall. When we were looking for malls, I Google-mapped them all in New Orleans, and I could see just from the map view that it was a Simon mall,” Smith said. “It was built exactly the way they built them, with one anchor store on each end, and a bunch of stores in-between. Given what we had, we tried to make it look as vigorous as it was and make the camera store look like something frozen in aspect. The mall does already have this feeling in places of being down on its heels. … They can’t invest further in it until they figure out their finances.”

Smith said that he worked in a camera store himself in 1994.

“In 1994, we knew (digital) was coming,” he said. “I was a photographer back then, and we all looked at those images in 1994, and I said it was all rudimentary and that it didn’t work. …The more the software improved, the more the pixel absorption improved, it was finally going to come around and be far more convenient and provide instant gratification—which is what it’s all about in terms of selling anything in America.”

Camera Store shines in part due to the well-developed characters and compelling dialogue. The film also leaves one wondering what will happen to the characters.

“Everybody wins or loses in this movie, but at the end of the day, sometimes you have to lose everything to get yourself back,” Smith said. “I’ve showed this to younger guys in business, and they come out of it saying, ‘This is who we are and this is what we do.’ They’re honest about how ugly it really is out there. If this tiny film has any impact on anyone, the idea is we really need to examine what our values are. That’s where I hope it goes.”

For tickets and more information, visit www.psfilmfest.org/2017-ps-film-festival/films/camera-store.

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