Though there are a number of UConn alumni who are thespians, including Bobby Moynihan, Meg Ryan, Austin Stowell and Tony Todd, it is not every day you see an alum producing and starring in a feature film.
Alex Molina graduated from UConn in 2010 with a degree in psychology. He was a member of the UConn football team, performing on the stage of Rentschler Field as a wide receiver and special teams player.
Now, Molina is producing and starring in the independent film “Dash” which will be premiering online at the film festival Cinequest next week.
“Dash” bears an interesting style — it is filmed in one take, with no cuts or edits. The film surrounds an adulterous rideshare driver whose life unfolds during one of his nightly drives through the streets of Los Angeles.
The Daily Campus was lucky enough to speak with Molina and Sean Perry, the film’s writer, director and producer, virtually.
Back when Molina was a UConn student, he never once considered a career in acting, instead becoming one almost by fate.
“It was purely based in fear,” Molina said. “When I was at UConn I took a public speaking class and I thought it was going to be very easy … but something about the structure of that class scared the bejesus out of me. It was the only time I ever cheated in school. I had notecards which were supposed to be like bullet points. I was so petrified that I had another set of notecards that had every word written out that I was gonna say. So I turned in the cards with the bullet points and I used the notecards that had my whole speech written out. I was completely panicked and I felt like crap for cheating after. It was my doing theater after college to try and kick the fear of public speaking, [that] was how I got into the world.”
Though Molina had gotten into the world of theater through that local work post-college, it took some time before he fully immersed himself in it.
He earned his MFA from Harvard’s theater program, moved to NYC and participated in a number of off-Broadway productions. The Big Apple is where Molina met Perry, his now producing partner, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Perry had an opposite entrance into the film realm, having ingrained himself in the world of movies ever since his childhood in rural western Pennsylvania.
“My dad always had a camera around,” Perry explained. “It was quite the combination of having a camera at my disposal, loving films, and having a bunch of cool friends that were down for any crazy idea I had … After high school I went all in, I worked in construction for 10 years… and used all of that money to continuously make films. Every summer would be like one big film, put all our eggs in this one basket. It progressively got bigger and more ambitious.”
This has been a long time coming for Perry; his filmmaking career is decades in the making.
“I was a very ambitious young kid,” said Perry. “I [made] a film that was feature length when I was 20, which I would consider the worst film ever made. There’s been hundreds [of projects] over the years. Whether they’ve been short films or proof of concepts or that one feature films… It’s been over a decade of extensive study and self-taught stuff.”
Though Perry has been a longtime filmmaker with countless project ideas and concepts that manifested over the years, “Dash” was actually a recent creation. The project was born from the constraints of COVID-19, as numerous filmmakers and actors in the L.A. area were without work for months.
“We had so much free time at our disposal,” Perry described. “We had actor friends of ours sitting around and that was … our mentality, stop spiraling start doing.”
Molina had very limited feature film experience before “Dash,” but this sort of production style was right up his alley.
“I loved that whole idea and process, because my background is in theater,” Molina said. “So I was like ‘Great, this is something that I’m more familiar with. I haven’t do[ne] a lot of film or TV … That whole hybrid between film and theater was very intriguing to me.”
With its ambitious concept and style, Perry and Molina worked hard to keep the film’s budget in check.
“[I]n the independent film world, there’s a legendary film called ‘El Mariachi,’” Perry said. “[The] movie was made for $7,000 [and] that was my cutoff, we [were] not gonna surpass that. We [have kept] it at that level. Luckily for us, the cut that was accepted by Cinequest was that version.”
This one-take, raw-footage style concept required intense planning and preparation from Perry and Molina’s end to make “Dash” a reality. They hired a stage manager, Liz Haroian, something that is usually done for theater productions. Haroian helped organize the rehearsal process.
“We had about … 14 days from first Zoom rehearsal to shooting … But it slowly built up from Zoom rehearsals to then a few rehearsals in our backyards with folding chairs set up as a car,” Pery explained. “Then we transferred into the car parked and rehearsed everything in the car parked. Then we had one night to basically do a dry run, which is us testing camera and testing the actors so they get to go through the whole process. Then we had three tries to shoot the whole film. Three nights, one try per night.”
This preparation was borderline tedious for Perry and Molina, who had to become experts of the late-night streets of Hollywood.
“Building that route and timing it up perfectly with the script as it was written and dropping off and picking up 10 different people during the movie was a legitimate logistical nightmare,” described Molina. “Sean and I would … jump in the car around 9 or 10 and we would drive to time up the routes and get a good idea for how long each traffic light would run for, how much traffic was in each intersection, things like that.”
Even with all this preparation, the three-night shooting plan was needed to get “Dash” completely right.
“The first night there [were] foreseeable circumstances, we had a feeling the first night would cause a lot of technical issues,” Perry explained. “Actors were nervous … lines were flubbed, camera kept bouncing off the mount… The second night was the night we ended up using … The next night was maybe a little bit better. … We went back and forth and decided that the second take was much more raw and real.”
Before the film’s release, its unique concept is driving much of the anticipation, but Perry doesn’t believe that the form of the movie will supersede its content and story.
“Alex and I talked about the [innovativeness of the concept] from the beginning,” Perry described. “We knew that the gimmicky ploy of a true one-take film mounted to a car, that has salesmanship right there. We’re hoping that that gets their attention, but what we’re seeing so far is that people that have watched it are loving it. You watch it and there’s moments you’re at the edge of your seat and your heart is pounding. You’re living with his character, there’s no escape”
After shooting and in the midst of over a year of post-production work, Molina and Perry began searching for the right release path for “Dash” looking at a number of film festivals. At the top of the list was Cinequest.
“We applied to a few festivals, Cinequest was the first one to respond so we offered them our world premiere.” Molina explained. “Because of COVID, they’re doing a hybrid festival where they’re splitting it up into an online portion called Cine Joy which will be from April 1 to April 17. The in-person festival will be in August.”
This is just the beginning for “Dash.” Though it is a small-budget film, Molina and Perry have big plans.
“Our goal would be to start to deal with a distributor and see what they think is the best plan of action for getting this film out to the masses,” Molina said. “We have a few options for plans that we want to do that we’ll be in communication with them about. Ultimately we want to get as many people as possible that can see the film if they’re interested.”
This is also the start of something for these two new Los Angeles residents. Molina and Perry have created a production company called Spam Pictures that is looking to produce a number of Perry-penned projects in the coming years.
“I’m just kind of being the Robin to [Perry’s] Batman and supporting him along that journey.” Molina said. “I also might be submitting on a few other things as an actor out here in L.A. and maybe trying to develop a little bit of a theater scene and figure out what theater has to hold in L.A. [It] isn’t the most popular thing out here but it would be nice to do because I miss the stage.”
“We’ve been working on this for a year straight,” Perry said. “As far as what’s next, I want to give my brain a 24-hour break and then move on. I want to stick to the feature film world for a little bit longer … I think our next viable option, I think we’re torn between … a drama thriller again or we have a rom-com that I’m really excited about…There’s a lot of different options but realistically, we’ll be working on this project in terms of sales and distribution for the next couple months.”
Needless to say, “Dash” is the beginning of Molina and Perry’s careers in the feature film world. With several other projects in the pipeline, it may not be long until this duo becomes a mainstay in Hollywood.
For more information on “Dash” visit the film’s website.