Guerilla Filmmaking since 1995
With a filmmaking career of over twenty years Greg Morgan has confronted many challenges. Beginning with his attendance at California State University, Northridge film school and graduating with a well-stocked quiver of short films, Greg enlisted the help of his wife Jeanne and soon wrote and shot his first feature film 17& Under. The film won him his first awards, garnered successful distribution, and landed him squarely on the filmmaking map.
A few years later, Greg’s next feature, The Playaz Court, followed. Once again, he found distribution, this time with Artisan Entertainment. The film went on to Starz Channel. The awards for The Playaz Court just sweetened the pot, yet after this second success. Shot in 2006, The Substance of Things Hoped For signaled Greg’s arrival into the arena of Drama + Art. Steeped in visual metaphor, haunting and visceral, Substance was his first true will and testament, an expression of the artist and the man.
Greg’s next passion came as The Boatman: On the border of the US and Mexico, there are whispers of a Coyote. A man so adept at sneaking immigrants across, none of his "mojados," his people, have ever been caught. They call this man, El Maldito, but when young Elena enters his life and claims to be his daughter, Miguel is forced to confront his many demons. The Boatman has won more awards than any of his previous films; Best Director Idyllwild Film Festival, Best Director Velvet Rope Film Festival, Best Film Cinema on The Bayou Film Fest, Best Film Georgia Latino Film Fest amongst many others. Currently, Greg, with his wife Jeanne, have written their next feature The Prize. The Prize is about how a Pulitzer winning photo of a tragedy changes the lives of all people involved, prompting the journalist who took the photo to set out on a journey to undo the damage.
On the border of the US and Mexico, there are whispers of a Coyote. A man so adept at sneaking immigrants across, none of his "mojados," his people, have ever been caught. They call this man, El Maldito, but when young Elena enters his life and claims to be his daughter, El Maldito is forced to confront his many demons.
The Boatman is Miguel, an atypical anti-hero who straddles two bizarre worlds. He is the only "Coyote," or human smuggler, with a perfect record, a coyote who never fails to deliver his human cargo safely. He helps an endless, faceless stream of migrants to cross the river that seemingly separates them from a better life. Yet he is also "El Maldito", cursed to wander a desert littered with smashed up cars and battered corpses.
This strange existence has taken its toll. He is a hard drinking man of few words, burdened by a hazy past. His struggle to understand himself and the curse that hangs over him drives this striking new independent release from writer/director Greg Morgan and co-screenwriter Duke Addleman.
Trouble is never far away for Miguel. As the film begins, menacing, recently released gangster Norberto demands details of his routes across the border. To make matters worse he learns a rival gang, "The Juarez." are on their way to take over his turf. With the violent outside world fast closing in, his emotional life is thrown into turmoil when he finds the beautiful Elena in a wrecked car, flanked by two dead girls.
He rescues her, and when she recovers, she insists she is the daughter he never knew. She isn't put off by his gruff refusal to discuss his past, and follows him around everywhere he goes, questioning him at every opportunity, forcing him to think about things he has long buried or long forgotten. With a fading photograph of her dead mother, she begins to convince him of the truth, but all is not what it seems, and the truth is an elusive construct in The Boatman.
Indeed, the dead are ever present. Each time he sets out from his base in a border town bar, Miguel finds mangled bodies. He hears unanswered cries for help from the dying, the dead seemingly come back to life to deliver strange messages, and he is driven by a compulsion to pass on their final words to their loved ones. But his attempts to bridge the real world and the afterlife are futile. When he calls relatives to give them the sad news, he is invariably told he must be mistaken, and that the victims he has found are actually long dead.
Miguel's life is filled with rituals and plagued by bad habits. He meticulously records the names of every client in his red book. His house is a museum, the walls lined with old pictures. He deals with his confusion by drinking until he drops. His alcoholism is an act of forgetting. It seems that only the local bar owner, Proserpina, at La Madrinas Bar has any handle on his inner existence, but when the heavies from Juarez begin to arrive, she disappears, leaving him with only Elena to help him make sense of his world.
A recurring motif throughout is a silver coin which Miguel turns up again and again. He finds the coin at crash sites, he is offered the coin in payment for a crossing by a bankrupt migrant, and he is obsessive about the amounts his clients pay to cross the river.
Everyone in the film is unsettled, from the migrants who pass through town in a flash to Norberto, who has conflicted loyalties he cannot reveal to his fellow gang members. Even Elena seems unsure of herself, she is desperate for answers and affirmation from Miguel.
Both the cinematography and the performances set an eerie stage and mirror the strange border culture where American and Latin influences mix. Each setting generates its own particular brand of unease, from the confusion of the darkness during the crossings, to the stark white desert light and the grubby neon netherworld where deals are made, lives collide and Miguel sinks tequilas.
The film crosses genres and defies expectations. At first it's a gritty, slow burning drama which revolves around the Mexican migrants and the outlaws who help them cross the border, but it soon takes a darker, more mysterious turn. With themes of identity, death and coming to terms with loss, it plays on the concept of memory, and Morgan has peppered The Boatman with snippets of horror and tantalizing glimpses of a netherworld which never quite crystallizes into reality.
The Boatman builds to an eerie climax as the men from Juarez cause carnage and his would be daughter, Elena, takes centre stage. He must learn the true meaning of Elena's appearance and search his foggy memory to remember her mother. Gradually, agonizing, the truth is revealed to Miguel and he begins to understand his supernatural purpose, and the different fates that await him and his daughter. The ending is a near religious experience, as much of a shock as it is a resolution.
After the death of her closest two friends, young Daphne Lessing suffers a loss of faith, then a lapse in memory. Confronted with a diagnosis of schizophrenia and a pregnancy she neither planned nor is able to explain, Daphne is forced into a terrible choice: lose her child or lose her mind. "The Substance of Things Hoped For" traces Daphne's desperate search for the past she cannot recall, the father she never had, and the child she may never know. Layered, haunting, raw and challenging: "Substance" is a story audiences will talk about and talk about again.
Spiritual drama about a young woman diagnosed with a rare form of schizophrenia: Her dilemma: She may simply avert the disease that would eventually make her go insane by taking a drug, but that same drug will abort the unborn child with her. Her conclusion: If the disease is hereditary she will abort the fetus and save herself, if not, she will have the child, but lapse into total insanity. The problem: She must find the father she has never known and have him take a blood test. Unfortunately, he denies her and she decides to deduce his sanity or insanity through his abandoned research in dolphin linguistics, but for her, time is running out.
The shoot went remarkably smooth and we had a wonderful cast and crew. I guess experience pays off. I got everything I needed to edit (at least I think, so far.
Greg won the Aurora Award in the Best Low Budget Feature catagory for The Playaz Court!!
The Court is the story of two brothers, Juwan, 25 and a graduate of law school, and Reggie, 18, and the different ways they view their lives and importance within the city of Inglewood, California.
The story takes place in a basketball gym on the hottest day of the summer. There is a bet made on a game between Rick, the sole white player in the gym, and T-Bone, the cousin of Juwan and Reggie. Rick’s team loses -- he leaves. T-Bone goes to collect the money — it’s not there. T-Bone goes after Rick and a minute later there’s a gunshot. T-Bone is dead. Rick is gone. Reggie goes after him, finds him, shoots him in the leg and drags him back into the gym. Why? To make Juwan kill Rick; to get Juwan back to street level so they can relate again. Everyone’s screaming for blood. Juwan can’t do it — his conscience won’t let him do it. He insists on due process and they give it to him: they put Rick on trial — in their court.
In it’s simplest form, The Court could be seen as White Men Can’t Jump meets The Ox-Bow Incident. It is the story of two brothers, Juwan and Reggie Thompson, and the different ways they view their lives and importance within the city of Inglewood.
Juwan, 25 years old, went away to college on a basketball scholarship several years ago. Although he suffered a knee injury, he got his degree and went on to law school. He returned to Inglewood to marry his high school sweetheart, have a daughter and pass the California BAR exam. He definitely wants out of Inglewood for himself and his family. They are trapped there financially for now. Juwan has failed the BAR once.
Reggie, 18, is a street hustler and gang member. He feels abandoned by Juwan and thinks he’s an "Uncle Tom." He has fallen into the street life under the misguidance of their cousin, Terrence "T-Bone" Thompson, also 25. On the outside Reggie’s content to be a hustler. On the inside, he’s dying for the attention of Juwan as a strong positive role model in his life.
The story opens with Juwan and his best friend Lorenzo, a wannabe standup comic, going to play basketball at the local gym. They meet with T-Bone and Reggie along the way. At the gym they run into a few of the "regulars" and Rick, 25, white "All American" and seemingly very out of place. Reggie and T-Bone are the only ones who outwardly object to Rick’s presence, but Rick has heard it all before and just continues to play.
After getting into several verbal battles, Rick and T-Bone put their money where their mouth is and bet on a game of four-on-four. Rick’s team loses the game and Rick storms out. When T-Bone goes to collect though, Rick’s money is gone. T-Bone goes after Rick while the others continue to play. After looking around fruitlessly, T-Bone searches the bathroom. After searching all of the stalls, he turns to leave — but can’t as he is met with a gun. He is shot but dies before he can tell who did it.
Everyone in the gym hears the shot. They search but find no one and conclude it was some young punk having fun. Juwan has a feeling something is still wrong. He continues to look and finds T-Bone dead. Reggie is enraged and demands justice. Instead of calling 911 as he said he would, he goes to find Rick, who he’s sure did it. Rick is outside trying to find a phone that works as his car is up on blocks. Reggie captures Rick and instead of shooting him, he brings him back into the gym for Juwan to shoot — a test of getting back at his brother. Juwan, furious in the moment, wants to shoot Rick, but at the last second, prevails with a cooler head. He knows it’s not right. He tells them they can’t just shoot him — not without a trial.
So that’s what they give him: a trial in their Court.
Through numerous arguments and a final key alibi, it becomes clear to everyone that Rick is innocent. Everyone, that is, except Reggie who demands vengeance for T-Bone. Rick keeps talking about the guy he suspects actually did the shooting, an enormous man he previously saw walking in the hallways of the gym. Reggie’s sense of loss is deepened by the fact that he feels responsible for T-Bone’s death. He knows the enormous man Rick is talking about and had a "riff" with him.
Reggie goes to shoot Rick but Juwan steps between them, telling Reggie if he’s going to shoot Rick he’s going to have to take him out first. Reggie finally gives up and Rick is free. By now, Rick is out of his mind with fear because of all he’s been through. He grabs a gun and holds it wildly, demanding that no one follow him out. As he’s going to leave, the police finally show up and see him with a gun. They shoot immediately, killing him. Reggie is left with the image of a smoking gun and a dead body...an innocent dead body and he is responsible. Juwan takes him under his arm.
Gang member learns a victimized family's pain forcing him to face the consequences of his crimes.
As a result of jail overcrowding, a new crime law, Proposition 432, is passed. The new law combines physical incarceration with psychological rehabilitation for youth seventeen and under, hence the title of the film. The youth serve some time in prison, then are sent off to military style boot camp for one year. In their last six months, they live with a "Bereavement Family," a family of a victim of violent crime that volunteers to host a young criminal.
Juan "Smiley" Sanchez, a seventeen year old gang member from East Los Angeles is in the Proposition 432 program. After serving his time in prison and boot camp, he is assigned to live with the Romero's. Tom and Maria Romero are both in their forties, with a daughter, Kate, who is sixteen. The Romero's lost their teenage son, David, to a random act of gang violence. He was shot. Tom Romero, a successful businessman, did not want to volunteer for the Proposition 432 bereavement program, but his wife insisted. Maria Romero volunteered her family for the 432 program as she thought it would help her family recover from the loss of their son and brother, David. Kate, having witnessed her brother's brutal slaying, is greatly disturbed by it and struggles to find comfort in her parents, but the loss proves too great for them and in desperation Kate turns to Juan. Juan's pride in his culture and heritage is attractive to Kate and their friendship grows into a strong relationship. Kate, however, has underlying motives.
Each of the three family members suffers David's loss alone and in different ways, and their pain grows as the film develops. Juan begins to see the abnormalities and pain the family suffers from the loss of David which makes him realize the enormity of his own crime. With Kate's help and the encouragement of Juan's brother, Ernesto, Juan decides to escape the gang and get his high school GED. James Johnson, Juan's program counselor, notices his desire to succeed and is pleased. However, his friend, Chuy, informs him that he is wanted by the rival gang in Juan's old neighborhood for something he did not do.
While living with the Romero's, Juan begins to have nightmares about his crimes as a gang member. The nightmares become more and more frequent as redoubles his efforts to change his life for the better. Juan's good grades, Kate's help, Ernesto's encouragement and Juan's growing guilt convince him to try harder, get out of the gang, and begin a new life. When his family is nearly shot during a drive-by shooting intended for him, Juan's guilt grows. His gang wants him to retaliate but, when he refuses, they decide to kill a rival gang member in his name.
On Juan's last night with the Romero's, Kate and Juan make love. Kate informs Juan that she wants to have his child so that they can re-create both David and the person Juan had killed. In Kate's deluded mind, this will solve all the family's problems. Overhearing the two talking in the bedroom, Tom bursts and sticks a gun in Juan's face, threatening to kill him. Tom realizes through hearing Kate's ranting that she has been mentally deranged by her brother's death. He forgets his anger toward Juan and turns to comfort his daughter. Devastated, Juan runs from the house and flees in a frenzy toward his old neighborhood. He sees by the graffiti on the wall that his gang has killed a rival gang member in his "honor" and named him as the killer. He runs into rival territory, riddled with a guilty conscious. When he is confronted by rival gang members, he raises his arm, closes his eyes, and is shot, committing suicide in a cruciform representation of redemption for his crimes. Juan finally frees himself of the pain he has learned to feel from others.