One day, while driving around Orlando, then Full Sail Film student Paris Lay noticed a group of kids playing with toy guns in front of a house. That one simple scene became the inspiration for the entire plot of Men of This Life, the film Paris wrote and co-directed for his 35mm Final Film Project at Full Sail.
“I thought, this would make a really cool scene if it was slowed down,” said Paris. “And then I thought of a character in a car: Where is he on his way to? Is he about to do something bad? And that’s how the scene evolved into the film.”
The period piece/mob drama Men of This Life, set in Chicago, was shot in October 2011 and is about a young boy who, after witnessing the murder of his father, chooses to follow in his footsteps and defend his honor. “A boy grows up to be a man and he’s looking for a way to reconnect with his father, and unfortunately for him, that’s a life of violence,” says Paris.
The three-day shoot took place on Full Sail’s soundstages (where all of the office sets were built), on the backlot (where the car scene was filmed), outside of the Ballroom at Church Street, and in a cemetery near downtown Orlando. “Our biggest challenge was making Florida look like 1940s Chicago,” said Paris.
Since Men of This Life takes place across a time span of about twenty years, viewers witness scenes from the 20s, 30s, and 40s. One of the first things to appreciate is the work that went into the sets. Production Designer C.A. Barrow really strived to make sure the sets were as historically accurate and vivid as possible. And he was rewarded: C.A. won a 2011 Crystal Reel Award for Best Set Design for a Short Film. (Another Crystal Reel Award for the film went to Matt Dunham for Best Sound Mixing.)
C.A. first got into production design during his Film class’s 16mm project, and from there, knew he wanted to work on production for his final project, too. Every interior set was designed by C.A. and built with the help of the crew. The office set was so popular it was used for two more student films after Men of This Life.
“When Paris approached me about his idea for this film, I told him that if we were going to do this that we needed the production design to sell the film,” said C.A. The crew raised money for the sets on Kickstarter and closely managed their limited budget and maximized resources with the help of Production Design Lab Specialist Frank Geremia. “I spent days on the Internet, pored over old books and magazines, and watched old movies to get inspiration from their film sets. It’s really one of the highlights of my young career so far,” said C.A.
Paris co-directed the film with his classmates, Ryan Danielson and Donnie McMillin. “We did a lot of pre-production, and having three directors was planned,” said Paris. “Ryan has great command on set, he gets people to listen to him. Donnie has a great eye for camera, and I wrote it, so I knew what I was looking for from the actors. So I figured, why not just combine all of us into one?”
After graduating from the Film program, Paris got his Creative Writing MFA from Full Sail and moved to Los Angeles (along with his co-directors Ryan and Donnie), where he’s currently busy working on several television shows. He’s preparing to shoot his own web series and his ultimate goal is to sell a screenplay. C.A., who came to Full Sail from the Caribbean island of Barbados, has returned home, where he is currently working on several shorts and his first feature film.