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Rising Stars: Meet Christie & Jeff Santo

Today we’d like to introduce you to Christie & Jeff Santo.

Hi Christie & Jeff, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
Christie: The best way to introduce ourselves is to tell you our story. Long before we were Burbank residents and co-authors of a noir love story, Jeff was traveling through the Phoenix Airport to show his film, Jake’s Corner, at the Sacramento Film Festival, and I was late getting through TSA and missed my flight to a friends wedding. At the airport bar, seeing Jeff’s long curly hair and tattooed arm, I took him for a creative guy. A musician, I assumed. “You look familiar. Do I know you from somewhere?” I said, but Jeff took the honest approach, not realizing this was a pickup line. After some, “Do I know you through___? How about___?” Jeff pulled out his business card, and that’s when I realized the unreal connection. The background of Jeff’s card was the poster for his independent film. “I just read sides from your movie!” I cried. (Sides are pages of a script.) “But that’s not possible. My film isn’t out yet.” Jeff said. But it was possible, as we found out. I took an acting class from the woman who helped cast the extras for his film, and the whole time during class, a poster of Jake’s Corner hung on the wall. So that’s how we met. Call it cosmic, destined, blind luck, or stumbling into our future; we are so thankful for it. And the unforgettable date was 8/8/08. We got married on 10/10/10 while filming our indie documentary, Off The Boulevard, directed by Jeff and edited by me. The film follows the stories of seven independent artists, told in a similar vein to what you’re doing here at VoyageLA Magazine, telling the undiscovered stories.

Then in 2012, Jeff got the opportunity to direct an independent feature, Dead In 5 Heartbeats, based on the book of the same name by the legendary motorcycle club author, Sonny Barger. Jeff wrote the adaptation, and after the twenty-four days of filming in the grueling Arizona heat with motorcycles and real motorcycle clubs, I edited the film. After that, we were all about distributing and marketing our film, four-walling it into theaters across the country, and selling DVDs on our own website. Still, we weren’t writing together. It wasn’t until after the accident. I was on the back of Jeff’s motorcycle, and Jeff was riding in the pack of bikes for Sonny Barger’s birthday run when a truck spun to divert an accident on the other side of the road and came right for us. Jeff sped to get out of the way, but we were hit in the saddlebag right where my left leg was.

Jeff: I didn’t think my wife was going to survive the accident. Her leg was basically crushed by the truck’s force, and I struggled mightily all the way to the hospital. It wasn’t until she looked up at me from the examination table and said, “I told you I was tough”, that I actually felt she was going to get through this. Her leg was too damaged for the Prescott orthopedic surgeon to attempt surgery, so they helicoptered her to Phoenix. It was an eerie feeling watching the helicopter take her away. I remember feeling a sadness I never felt before; my soul ached for her.

We spent the next three months living on the lower level of our condominium, and I’d take her upstairs twice a week for a shower—we didn’t have one below. It was a healing time for both of us. And I was fortunate to be writing a script for Fox 2000, Hell’s Angel, based on the life of Sonny Barger and the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club, which kept my mind occupied, and I had a great house-patient to bounce ideas and scene description by, my wife was a hidden gem.

Christie: I was thinking of my own story that I had been wanting to write. I had a lot of time to think during this time and felt a strong urge to get back to my homeland of California and all the inspiration it provides. Something about a life-or-death situation will do that to you. Jeff, after spending seventeen struggling years in Los Angeles, was hesitant but felt the calling too. So when he turned in his script to Fox, we made the plan to move, and a beautiful house opened up in the Magnolia Park community that we love. Only one thing, the Cubs were headed to the world series!! We are not only fans; Jeff’s father, Ron Santo, is a Hall of Famer. He was the first major leaguer to play the game with type 1 diabetes, which Jeff documented in his successful and highly acclaimed documentary, This Old Cub. So the Cubs were going to the world series, and we were scheduled to move the day after game seven. After returning from Chicago, watching games three and five at Wrigley, we watched the final game back in Phoenix with no living room furniture because it was already in the moving truck; we did it. We hit the road. Thank god we did. California proved to be as inspiring as expected, and we finally started writing together. Necessity is the mother of invention. Right? And we are reinventing ourselves together as a husband and wife writing team. It elevated our writing. Together, we complement each other. We dove deep into the film noir genre that we love. Inspired by films like In A Lonely Place with Bogart and Grahame, Nicholson and Lange’s The Postman Always Rings Twice, and our own love story, we wrote a neo-noir screenplay. Then the pandemic hit, so we decided to turn it into a novel titled Ravens In The Rain: A Noir Love Story.

Jeff: Writing the novel with my wife was the most rewarding experience I’ve had in all my creative endeavors. I felt as if a new road opened up, only for the two of us, and we can travel as fast or slow as we want because it’s our road and no one else is on it. My wife wrote things I never discovered about myself until I read it like it was waiting for me from the future in text.

On the day of our 5th wedding anniversary, we saw three ravens sitting on our fence. I even commented about them and said, “Hope it’s not a bad omen?” The next day we were the one in a hundred and fifty bikes that got hit. I’d say it was a real bad omen, but so much good has come from that incident that these ravens have come to represent good change. I’ve never been so connected with my wife and our path ahead. In our neighborhood in Burbank, we are surrounded by ravens everywhere, and we love it. She worked her leg back to normal walking function, and if you didn’t look for the scars on her leg, you could never spot the trauma she went through.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
Jeff: All the roads to where we’ve come from have been less than smooth. The biggest struggle is the struggle itself. For me, each independent film project was years of my life; I’m talking from raising the money to self-distributing. I’ve done five films, and that’s about 25 years of my life. Each film is like a fictional kid to me. Some turn out better than others, and they never leave your psyche. They shape you, torture you, hold you back, and kick you forward. And my forward now is to never go back.

Christie: For me, I’ve never taken a smooth road. The long way always made more sense to my sometimes illogical brain. But the life experience I had along those unpaved roads is what stories are made of, so I’m thankful for every pothole and detour that got me to where I am, here with the love of my life, doing work that gives me so much purpose and meaning.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
Christie: We are pleasantly seeing a revival of noir right now, and that genre feeds and fulfills us the most. For those who don’t know of neo-noir, think of Chinatown, Basic Instinct, Memento, Mulholland Drive, Gone Girl, and Blade Runner. There is a lot of speculation on what qualifies a noir. Usually, it has a cynical morally ambiguous protagonist who gets dragged into something that will most likely end up hurting them, but they do it anyway. Sometimes it works out, but most often, it doesn’t.

Jeff: And we can’t forget the notorious heavy contrast lighting that it’s synonymous with.

Christie: That’s right.

We bring something to neo-noir that’s reminiscent of noir from the ’40s and ’50s, from films like In A Lonely Place, Gilda, Gun Crazy, Scarlet Street, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity, and Clash by Night; we call it romantic noir.

We’re writers, that’s who we are and what we do. Whether it’s a screenplay, a short story, or a novel, that’s our passion and our constant pursuit. We have a few storylines in mind, as well as a sequel to Ravens In The Rain, titled Ravens On The Reef, that if we told you anything about it would give away too many spoilers.

Jeff: I feel my vision with my wife is taking us to another platform where were focused as writers. We’re writing books now and plan on those books being produced into feature films or tv series. That’s our vision now. And I’m certain we both agree that the project we are most proud of is Ravens In The Rain. We are looking forward to our hard-boiled love story being released on September 22nd (2021) on Amazon. If there is anyone out there wanting to support local writers, or love noir, or are interested in noir, we hope you check out our book on Amazon. Pre-orders are available now. Reviews and reviewers are also really appreciated.

What was your favorite childhood memory?
Jeff: I have to say my favorite childhood memory is when I broke my hand trying to catch a line drive off the bat of Ernie Banks. My brother, Ron Jr., and I were shagging fly balls in the outfield during spring training batting practice, something we did a lot. As long as we stayed deep in the outfield close to the warning track, my dad and the players were good with it, but this one day, I wasn’t catching anything. It was like my brother found the perfect fishing hole for baseballs; all the fly balls were jumping at him. So I moved up in shallow left-field about 5 yards from the dirt at short because I made a stupid choice. Ernie hit a shot and a dove for it like a son of a major leaguer. The force of the baseball shot my glove right off my hand about ten yards behind me, broke two bones on my glove hand on the callous part of the index and middle fingers. I was more fearful of my father carrying me like a football and sprinting like he decided to stretch a double into a triple. His goal was the hospital across the street, and it was the roughest ride I can ever remember. It’s my favorite memory because what other kid on this earth can say Ernie Banks broke his hand with a line shot when he was seven. I also learned a valuable lesson that has become a part of my essence, respect the game of baseball.

Christie: Every year, during Memorial Day weekend, my family would camp in The Sierras, the Sierra Nevada mountain range north of Yosemite. We would arrive at our guide’s ranch, pack the mules, and travel on horseback 3 hours in and up to Fremont Lake. It was a small lake, just over a football stadium size, and we were usually the only ones there. Then the guide would turn around and leave with the horses and mules. We were officially on our own to camp, fish, hike, or shoot. We went on Memorial weekend because that’s when the snow would begin to melt; we always had a clear campsite, and the fish were hopping. I once caught 23 trout in an hour! We would hike up the hill every morning, and once each visit, we would hike up a higher mountain where we could always find snow and slide down on our butts. And the stars! They were the brightest and clearest that I’ve ever seen in North America. It wasn’t always la de dah, though. There were scary times too. Like when my father got hooked in the back with a fly hook. Or when the river ran high, and we had to lift our feet while crossing on horseback. The fact that we’re on our own left an impression on me. I realized that we are all responsible for our survival. A thrilling and unsettling feeling seeing the guide return. We’d pack up the mules and ride the horses another 3 hours back to basecamp, a lot of time to think while looking at nature. Wonderful memories I will cherish always.

Pricing:

  • Print book $24.99 on Amazon
  • eBook $3.99 on Amazon
  • Audiobook $9.99 on Audible

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1 Comment

  1. Kari

    September 13, 2021 at 22:52

    I am excited to read Ravens in the rain. Congratulations. Your journey is inspiring. ❤️

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