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Meet Levi Holiman of Flicker Shack Films in Hollywood/Ojai

Today we’d like to introduce you to Levi Holiman.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I grew up in Sedona and Phoenix, AZ via Kona, HI. My dad was a Vietnam Veteran and our bond was movies. He bought “Apocalypse Now” and we watched it on VHS about a hundred times. He bought a video camera and taught me how to use it. I think I learned how to shoot before I knew how to spell my name.

My love of movies also started with my love of people and what makes them tick. At the end of my first year in school, the teacher wanted to keep me in kindergarten because I did almost no work. She said I spent most of the day wandering around, talking to the kids. I wanted to know everyone’s story. It was hard getting passing grades because people were way more interesting than school work.

I also loved the escapism dynamic that film brought because life at home got rough and I had a secret that not even I was fully aware of. Dad cycled between PTSD “episodes” that led to vanishing for long periods of time, drinking benders, coming home, going to rehab, becoming a born again Christian and then starting the cycle again every 6-12 months. In 8th grade, dad left us in Hawaii and never came back. He gambled all of the families money away and we were on Food stamps after that. I was a government cheese kid living in the prettiest place on the planet. It was odd.

Mom got sick and my grandparents moved in to help with the bills so we didn’t wind up homeless. It was a struggle but mom kept fighting back and figuring out how to make it all work. My mom “Audrey” is a saint, I learned and experienced a lot of tough stuff at a young age. My secret was that I was abused by a family member and 2 different babysitters from around age 6-9 years old. I mentally blocked it out until my 30th birthday. It all came back to me after a night of heavy drinking. It took a while to just process but it all made me stronger. More important, it gave me a strong sense of empathy for others.

I used to play victim and thought my rough childhood gave me this impossible disadvantage. As I got older, I saw that the rough parts really tune you in what you are capable of. I wish I had learned that sooner so I didn’t spend so much time feeling sorry for myself.

The truth is we all have terrible events that we live through. We need to be vocal about it in a way that helps others know they aren’t alone when they are abused. Keeping these crappy experiences a secret, I think, might be even worse than the actual trauma. I hope that more folks talk about it so it doesn’t keep people hostage and away from who we truly are. I think we are here help each other. At least, that’s what I like to believe.

Cut to: The Late ’90s. I moved to L.A. from Phoenix and went in front of the camera. I really wanted to be a lifeguard on “Bay Watch” (not kidding). The show got canceled before I could try out so I went to work as an extra to try and get my SAG card.

It took the better part of a year but after around a few thousand hours on various shows like “The Love Boat” and playing an Octopus monster on “The Power Rangers”, I got my SAG card. The pay for being a nonunion extra is below the poverty line so I slept in my aunt’s slightly condemned house in Burbank. I lived on the poor man staple cuisine of Canned tuna and Ramen. I didn’t have heat, AC or hot water so I got a membership at the Burbank YMCA. That way, I could take hot showers at the end of the long days on set.

My main splurge was always going to the movies. That kept me motivated. “What Dreams May Come” was the first movie I saw when I got to L.A. To this day, it’s still magic. Rest in Peace Robin Williams. I’m getting teary just typing his name. He was one of my favorites.

In 2001, I made my first short film “All Good Things” which I thought was going to get me my “break”. After all, I got into Tribeca with it and was hired and shooting a doc for an Oscar winner within a few months. Six months later, the folks “At-Said” Oscar winner’s company, didn’t know what they wanted to do with the movie. I got frustrated and we “went our separate ways.” I’m not pointing fingers because if you look at my career and the person I butted heads with, he now has his own Oscar and the only person who thinks I’m famous is my mom.

By 2008, I was thoroughly frustrated with my “career” and Sean Penn invited a bunch of us Coachella wristband wearers to do volunteer work across the country, powered by his 3 Bio-diesel buses which he called “The Dirty Hands Caravan.” This got me away from L.A. for a while. 150 of us did all kinds of projects across the country and wound up in New Orleans. Within a few days, I saw a person die from a drive-by in Mid-city. He bled to death in front of the church we were staying in. New Orleans is a very tough town to live in depending on what street corner you are standing on and who you associate with.

We helped rebuild a different church originally built by freed slaves in the mid-1800s. I also got super high in the backyard of said church in New Orleans with one of Harvey Milks best friends. Great night. He told so many awesome stories. I just wish I remembered them all.

Sean Penn and Alison Thompson (angel of a human) made a doc about the whole experience but Mr. Penn shelved that film which sucks because I remember it being really funny and heartbreaking and sweet. I think people would want to see that. I have no idea what it is with me getting to work with Oscar winners then the work gets shelved so I have nothing but speculative stories after the fact.

I stayed in New Orleans longer because I still wanted to help. I was offered a job at a production company in Baton Rouge. I later found out the production company had been keeping the doors to their offices open by doing some creative bookkeeping and submitting them to the state for big tax credit money. The 2nd movie I worked on, had a director who hit a manic phase, emptied our production account, stole the lead actress and married her in Vegas. Somehow, he was forgiven and came back to work and never paid the money back. That film and his other film were never finished. If you asked the director and producer why, to this day, they just blame the other guy.

There are so many more layers to the story which involve a love triangle between the director the writer, her boyfriend who was the director’s editor and an orgy that involved a very large strap on, I wish I could go into it more but it would take a while and I don’t know if this is supposed to be kid friendly. Honestly, I have worked with some straight-up lunatics over the years. But when you’re in the actual situations, they just don’t seem that crazy until later when you retell the story to someone. Then, you say “What the F*ck was I thinking?”

Somehow, a few months later, I directed my first feature “Normal Types” in the bayou. Geaux Tigers!

A few months after we wrapped “Normal Types” a 5 Star film (available on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play and YouTube), I hit a dark place. My girlfriend of almost three years, lead actress in my film, co-writer of the film left me with no warning. She later married the craft service guy from one of the films that was also shooting in Baton Rouge. Yep! I am the director that got left for crafty guy. Insert funny food metaphor about how good his hot dog must have been here.

I was super heart-broken and embarrassed so I tucked my tail, grabbed my drives from “Normal Types” and drove back to L.A. in hopes that I could call on enough favors to get my film edited, colored, scored and sound mixed with no money to my name. Thank God almighty for people like Chris Minkler (Award-Winning sound mixer) who did just that. I was depressed, lost 40 lbs in four weeks, cried a lot and couch surfed.

My sister Leah and I got an apartment in Mar Vista. I think she moved in with me because she was worried that I was going to die and wanted to keep an eye out. She really stepped up and helped me until I was thinking straight again. Thank you, Leah. And thank you to my cousin Joaquin for giving me the talking to that I needed to get my mind back on track.

After 3 editor changes and what felt like a 10-year post scenario, we finished “Normal Types.” During this time, I realized that I was angry and needed to figure out how I was going to move forward in life. Through a friend, I was introduced to the world of “spiritual healing” that may or may not have involved some plant-based South American Medicine help (wink wink) I met my partner “Theraysa” who is also now my producing partner and all-around badass amazing woman who has helped make me a better human. Our spiritual “ceremony” led us to meditation which took us to India a few times. We even got to meditate where The Beatles found their bliss… if that’s actually a thing.

We have been meditating for five years now and I wouldn’t try to do life without it. We have seen and met many “spiritual” people and studied under a select few. Right now, we are working with the inquiry process called “The Work” developed by Byron Katie. It’s not faith-based or weird. It’s just a process of analyzing your thoughts, tracing the silly stuff back to the source and deciding if that is a healthy way to live your life. The only accountability is to yourself and it only works if you are honest with you.

How I made “GOD SEND” – My sister and mom and I spent a considerable enough amount of time in a Christian church (cult) in the ’90s whose name I don’t say on the record to avoid any potential “problems” later. I wish it was Heavens Gate because al of the members are (according to them) are somewhere in space now. Then, I would have no fear of backlash since everyone is (I guess) now flying in a spaceship behind the Hale Bop Comet. I hope those folks are all doing well…where ever they are.

Sorry, I wondered. My time in that church cult (Not Heavens Gate) was some of the inspiration to my latest film “GOD SEND” It just won The Madrid International Film Festival for Best Director and Best Film. We made it with no crew, small cast and an even smaller budget. It was the ultimate masochistic endeavor but all that pain has opened some really great doors in the last few weeks and we are getting some love and attention from some of the folks who make some of the wheels turn in Hollywood. I would never do it over again like this but am grateful the film is getting some love and attention. We are playing it in other festivals for the next 6 months or so then plan to do a distribution deal. The next confirmed screening is Ojai Film Festival on November 4th at 7 PM.

Moving forward – I have written a script called “THE WHITE CHAIR” which is about some buddies of mine who were Army Rangers/82nd Airborne in Iraq around 2006-09. The script has been fictionalized but it’s their story and it’s rough but the light at the end of the tunnel is bright AF (as the kids say). We are currently working on the funding and distribution plan and in talks with Gary Sinise, UTA and possibly Netflix to make this all happen. Yes, I just name-dropped and yes, I am a little embarrassed. It does sound cooler though, right? Please give me love and validation and follow me on the gram.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Ha!!! This is where I will try not to sound jaded. This business is tough because there are a lot of folks who have no idea of what they are doing, yet believe they do… present company included (sometimes at least). But the toughest thing about it (for me) has been the lack of follow-through that most folks seem to be ok with. Once you do one cool thing and it’s recognized by anyone in any venue, people come out of the woodwork and want to collaborate. They promise the world and for a moment, you believe it. Most of those people don’t work out for many reasons. The one I see the most is that talking and brainstorming is fun. A “creative” meeting at some cool juice bar in Hollywood is the beginning but more often than not, the dream dies in that same juice bar. Not all of them but most. Finding people who follow through you should treat like gold. They are few but they are the ones to stick with.

Doing the work to make these dreams come to life takes action, patience, etc. Most folks will try, fail, get frustrated, point fingers and give up. I know more folks who have left L.A. than have stayed in the fight. I constantly ask myself if I’m really determined and passionate or stupid. I go back and forth on which answer is right. After 20 years, I live for it, the story and the work. It is my fuel and passion.

I almost gave up a thousand times but my mom was always there to give me a bump in the right direction. Shout out, mom. I love you! She is the only one who was there, supporting me when I had the idea to get away from my quasi-criminal life in Phoenix to try and do something in the film business. I had a good job that paid great and I was miserable. I threw away all of my ties and moved to L.A. with $1,500 and a dream, and it came true… I think?

If you are one of the few legit hungry ones, know that most of your “competition” will weed themselves out because they can’t hack it. I have been close to a million great roles, directing jobs, financing for a film, etc. Way more times, everything fell apart or didn’t work out for some reason. Being able to take that hit and keep going is the true test to whether you can make it in this business. Most people can’t hack that because it fucking hurts when you care about the work you’re doing. Watch any Gary Vee videos and he explains it way better than I can.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Flicker Shack Films – tell our readers more, for example, what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
“Flicker Shack Films” was named after the theater that was torn down in Sedona where I saw all of my first films as a kid. The name lives on with us now and I hope that we bring that same inspiration that the original Flicker Shack brought me as a kid.

We are looking for good content (scripts), collaborators and great ideas to develop. I’m not terribly interested in films that follow the run of the mill “structure”. I’m more of a “Spring Breakers”, “Donnie Darko”, “Jacobs Ladder” kind of person. I recently went to a festival panel where 3 big execs talked about how to get your break by seeing what is popular than doing a version of that. I almost threw up in my mouth. I understand that this is a business but we can still be creative and do great stories that will actually make money… at least I hope that is a real thing. Watch a movie like “The Last Black Man in San Francisco.” very different and it was a hit.

We are mainly focused on a financing and distribution deal for “THE WHITE CHAIR” and getting distribution for “GODSEND.” We are partnering with a company out of Utah to do some work there and looking into the different state tax credit deals to see what makes the most sense.

The main thing that sets our company apart is that I have been in the business for over 20 years. I started as an extra and graduated to a PA sweeping stages and taking out the garbage. I have worked for every single thing I have accomplished in this business and have kept my nose pretty clean. My references go back 20 years so you know what you get when we work together. There are a few folks in town who don’t like me and I’m ok with that. There are a lot more folks (I think) who know that I work hard and expect everyone else to do the same. I will never ask something from you that I haven’t already done many times and would do again if need be.

I’m not a millionaire and I’m not a household name yet but I bust my ass and keep my word. I hope to meet Gary Vee and David Goggins someday and they both say “That’s me of the film business.” I have a shortlist of amazing people who have stuck with me for years when nothing went right which is the true test of loyalty. In a town of folks who want to “act” the role, hard work, honesty and integrity are what my circle of people work and live by. Passion, Truth, Love. If you live by it, reach out and let us know what you do.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
I feel like one of the better baseball players in the AAA league and it’s time to graduate to the big leagues to see if I can hang with the big kids. Notice I said, “see if I can.” I don’t know if I have what it takes for real longevity in this game but I have worked with so many folks who just don’t play up to the level and I want to do films with the ones who are doing big stuff, regularly. I want to see what happens when I get to play with some of the big kids. I think I might be able to hack it.

I love the intensity of say Mark Wahlberg where he has been killing it since forever and that dude still gets up at like 4 AM to workout to keep his edge. He doesn’t get complacent and is still getting better. I respect that and I want to get challenged to see if I can do this on a bigger level with the folks who are the hard workers in this business. I’ve paid my dues and hope people like Ben Foster, Will Smith, Brad Pitt, etc. are reading this and see that my focus is dialed. I’m ready to do good work on both sides of the camera. I’ve done the prep. It’s time for the opportunity. BTW, if you know Ben Foster, please tell him I’d like him to read “THE WHITE CHAIR.” What’s good Ben? Thank for hearing me out Voyage LA. Much Love.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
@ajacorynn, @angelbousquet11

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