How cool is it when a Film Festival features a fantastic Sci-Fi short? Well, that is what you have with the film "Desert Sky" premiering at Dances With Films. The Director, David Hartstone, and Producer and Actress in the film Lexa Gluck, love using film as a medium to push boundaries and tell stories more significant than themselves - and Sci-Fi is a natural fit for that ambition. "This was our first time working in an "episodic" style, so that challenged our entire approach to storytelling," said David Hartstone. "Desert Sky" was a glimmer of hope during the Coronavirus pandemic's darkness. However, David Hartstone and Lexa Gluck kept moving toward their film's fantasy story. David expressed that he was inspired by the aesthetic of George Lucas, Steven Spielberg's imagination, and Oliver Stone's gumption. "I aimed to create a world that appeared desolate on the surface but contained energy of infinite possibility at its core. I saw a conflicted heroine navigating love, trust, and motherhood in a world she has yet to understand fully." David and Lexa were determined to transform their struggles of the pandemic and transform a new production company into the beginning of a story that inspires, entertains, and sparks the imagination of those trying to build a better world for themselves and those around them. Overall, "Desert Sky" is a space-age saga of retribution, redemption, and revolution.
When David Hartstone and Lexa Gluck had a moment, they spoke to Gemma Magazine about "Desert Sky," the inspiration behind the film, and their shared passion for filmmaking. Let's get into it!
What inspired you to create Seventh House Productions?
Lexa and I had been making shorts together for a few years. Each time we challenged ourselves to make them a little better and get them out to a broader audience. But in the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic, we knew it was time to take responsibility for our destinies and do what we've always wanted to do - be professional moviemakers! Starting an LLC seemed like the first mountain to climb on our way to that goal; we didn't know we'd be shooting a movie on a real mountain only a few months later.
What was the process like of creating a production company?
For two creatives, entering the right-brained part of the industry was a challenge. We had been creating together for years, so that came very naturally. Coming up with the name, the logo, and the vibe was a blast. Then you get to the nitty-gritty of the paperwork, and it's like, did we make a mistake? That stuff can get very stressful. But we did a lot of research and were fortunate to have some incredible people guide us over the finish line.
You have a natural affinity for Sci-Fi, correct? Is "Desert Sky" a story that you always wanted to tell?
We love using film as a medium to push boundaries and tell stories more significant than ourselves - and Sci-Fi is a natural fit for that ambition. This was our first time working in an "episodic" style, which challenged our entire approach to storytelling. But Desert Sky came to fruition out of an effort to create a complicated and dynamic female heroine surrounded by a landscape of people and problems that would challenge everything she thought she knew about herself.
"I aimed to create a world that appeared desolate on the surface but contained energy of infinite possibility at its core. I saw a conflicted heroine navigating love, trust, and motherhood in a world she has yet to understand fully." (David Hartstone)
Also, how exciting for "Desert Sky" to be one of the shorts chosen for Dances With Films! What was this like?
Dances With Films has legitimately been our dream for over five years. We used to sneak around the Chinese Theatres and press our faces to the tinted glass to watch the red carpets from the outside. We had only just started making films then, and I remember Lexa looking up at me and saying: We HAVE to make something good enough to get us in here! So this is a dream come true.
You mentioned that you tried to create a world desolate on the surface, but its core contained infinite possibilities. Can you please expand?
Absolutely. So, Seventh House and Desert Sky were really developed in tandem with us huddled together in my 250 sq/ft apartment in Hollywood. The Coronavirus pandemic was in full effect; there was social unrest, they shut the city down, and it felt like there was no escape. We were frustrated and scared and frankly overwhelmed by it all. But all that pressure condensed in one little room started forming this diamond of an idea. We quickly realized our limitations were our greatest asset. We had to dream BIG to get OUT of that apartment.
Deep down, I think we knew that, just like Sky, the whole world would need a little magic to get through those times. There's a clear parallel between what we felt during the pandemic and what Sky goes through in the pilot. She's stuck in a seemingly desolate desert with unknown forces coming after her. Still, she's also in a world where, through nature and understanding - she can harness the celestial magic that lurks beneath the surface - even if it ends up getting her in trouble.
"We learned that much like the characters in our story, whatever evil and treachery may happen in the world, we must work together to survive. And that with collaboration -- and a little magic -- anything is possible. " (Lexa Gluck, Actress and Producer)
What were the shooting days like?
The "Desert Sky" shoot was three of the most challenging, wild, and fulfilling days we've ever had as artists. Every morning began at a hotel in Lancaster 45 minutes from the set - which was the nearest civilization to where we were shooting.
Lexa drove the 25 ft RV Camper to and from set each day over unpaved roads and hills with potholes that could have flipped the whole thing over - and that's BEFORE she had to star in the movie for 10 hours straight.
We had never shot a movie on location before, so pretty much every aspect was a brand new challenge for us. While we were blessed with an INCREDIBLE five-person crew who were always prepped and ready for anything - an entire day's shoot schedule could go up in smoke due to 30-40 MPH torrential wind storms and other unpredictable weather patterns. So there were more than a few times he had to hide in the RV and redo the entire shot list on the fly.
We had to set up carefully orchestrated shots on top of an actual mountain, then ask the cast to stare directly into the sun with wind blowing sand in their eyes - AND have them imagine a giant moon or a shining city in the distance. (We didn't even have the proverbial tennis ball for them to look at!) It was a great exercise in courage, endurance, and imagination.
And once that sun went down - there was no dusk. It was NIGHT. The margin for error was slim to none! But ready to do it all again if we get the chance! We left the desert exhausted, sunburnt, and shell-shocked.
What are some of the upcoming projects for Seventh House Productions?
After finishing the pilot, we knew we had something great on our hands. We firmly believe in the "Desert Sky" world and realize it could easily continue as a web series or grow into a larger format. So we put together the entire story bible with lore, series elements, characters, and the game plan for how the first season would play out.
Outside of "Desert Sky," our primary goal has always been to make feature films. We have a screenplay called 'Kill Me, Kismet' that's been getting attention at film festivals and screenwriting contests and has quickly moved to the top of our creative slate. The movie is a psychedelic love odyssey that follows Lexa playing dual roles as a washed-up TV actress who gets a second chance at fame when an enigmatic auteur becomes obsessed with turning her into a star. Also, she deals with her twin sister, who uses a wheelchair and's deathly jealous of her newfound opportunities.
What filmmakers inspire you, and who would you like to work with in the future?
David: Honestly, any filmmaker who can bring their vision to completion and get it out to the world is a hero of mine. It's a Herculean task and worthy of respect.
I'm a big fan of the classic 'Hollywood Blockbuster' director - so you'll see much of my love for Spielberg, Lucas, and Zemeckis come out in Desert Sky. But I also love a good 'midnight movie' and any artist who isn't afraid to take us to unique and unexpected places. Also, Bill Skarsgard, I have a script to send you if you're reading this.
Lexa: I tend to be drawn to writers/directors - I have a supreme adoration for artists with a vision and the technical ability to bring them to life. With that said, some of my favorites are - Gaspar Noe, Greta Gerwig, Andrea Arnold, and Edgar Wright. I've had the esteemed pleasure of already working with some of my acting idols, such as Dan Stevens, Hilary Swank, and Jean Smart. And for my dream future scene partners, I'd gladly be a love interest to Joe Alwyn, and if Margaret Qualley needs a best friend - I'm available on and off the screen.
To keep up with David Hartstone and Lexa Gluck, (and their upcoming films), follow them on their social media platforms.