Rites of Passage

The Making Of Rites of Passage

The articles below describe the interesting story behind the making of Rites of Passage


Creative Rites - Taking the Job of Writer-Director

By Peter W. Illiff

By Inspiration. Nothing brings it more readily than desperation. Earlier that week, an arrogant producer on a work-for-hire script gig had called me a typist. So here I was, walking through a derelict old greenhouse on an abandoned rose ranch built in 1917. It was scary, dark, and full of towering weeds that looked like demons. As I shined my flashlight across the decaying glass architecture and miles of rusty pipes, I couldn’t stop thinking how I needed to make a change. For years I had been aching to transition to the coolest job in all of Hollywood—the writer-director. But my previous efforts had failed. I was resigned to taking these money jobs. Maybe I had become a typist...

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A J & Ginger with my Dreams, Please - a personal narrative of making Rites of Passage and making friends

By Richard W. Halsey

"I’ve turned down a lot of roles because they didn’t support what I believe in," Ryan said. "I took this part because I feel a profound connection to the story. Much like Nathan, I also feel that the new singular societies we’ve adapted to, where there are no common experiences, just disconnected individuals doing their own thing, truly frighten me. Until the late 80s you could still find groups of artists, musicians, poets, dancers, etc. who, through their art, would eventually gravitate to the same places, to connect. I fear, because of online social networking, we’ve lost the need to find those places, and the human connection that once transformed a young artist into a true craftsman.

"My dream is to become successful enough so I can use my voice to bring people together, to make a difference..."

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The Rites of Passage Vision

How we came to make a movie is an interesting story in itself, but in the long run what really matters to us is the vision behind it. Vision matters because the motivations of a writer can provide a different way, a more informed way, of looking at a story, especially one that may not have survived the intrigues of Hollywood and the brutal processes of the editing room.

When we came up with the idea for Rites of Passage, the messages we wanted to communicate were clear. First, the lives of today's college students are filled with levels of stress and personal challenges that are taking a toll on their ability to develop healthy, fulfilled lives. As with many of us who search for ways to deal with our own personal demons, drugs and self-destructive behavior are frequently the remedy we seek to ease the pain. We need to stop and examine what we are doing to ourselves in order to just merely survive. The role colleges and parents play in all this is important, but unfortunately many have generally failed to successfully confront (or even acknowledge) the challenge.

In conjunction with this (and one of the fundamental causes of the symptoms mentioned above) is the lack of connection, of formal bonding experiences, so many of us suffer from in a society that has become so fast paced and addicted to instant gratification that the meaning of friendship and love has become lost in a sea of cynicism, ridicule, and bigotry. All one has to do is listen to how people communicate with those who have different opinions. Mutual concerns and collaboration have often been replaced with self interest and alienation. While this is presently more common in older generations, the process is ready to swallow up the younger ones if not recognized for what it is.

The vehicle to tell our story became a young anthropology student who wanted to re-introduce a meaningful bonding experience with his friends by borrowing an ancient ceremony that was practiced by several aboriginal peoples in Southern California, a rite of passage ritual that involved a plant with hallucinogenic properties that often ended with fatal consequences. Westerners borrowing Native American ceremonies to find direction in their lives is a common practice, one that many Native Americans distain. However, in a rapidly expanding world where need for connection is so important, the time for limiting wisdom and keeping off-limits stories and ways of understanding the universe from those different from us is over. Any opportunity we can share, collaborate, and unite should be seen as a path toward a much better world. We've suffered enough ethnocentrism.

Finally, we wanted our film to educate others about the incredible civilization that once dominated the central and southern coast of California, the Chumash. While many Hollywood films have been made about the Indians of the Plains, the Indians of California have been generally ignored. Other than the book, Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell, the aboriginal peoples of California are virtually unknown to the dominant culture. We sought to change that.

Originally our story involved five different individuals who discover their own personal vision, the truth that sets them free, by experiencing a rite of passage of their own making: two find that love can be found by confronting their fears about intimacy, one realizes that truth can be found within one's own culture rather than hoping to find it in another, a girl embraces her heritage by realizing the anger she holds inside for what had happened to her people was preventing her from loving anyone, and finally a young man comes to terms with being gay by understanding the love he feels for his friend is OK.

The final product did not end up telling some of these stories. There are a number of reasons for that, least of which are the biases of Hollywood and the unwillingness of the industry to take a risk. But what matters is that the main messages we wanted to get across are still there if one looks deeper than the base entertainment the film delivers.

We are hoping that these messages will come through and begin conversations that will encourage positive change and help all of us to become more truly genuine, especially to ourselves.