Graduate student directs and stars in ‘Way Cross’

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For most filmmakers, a feature film premiere in West Los Angeles on a Saturday night remains just an aspiration, but for Paul Russell Laverack it is a dream fulfilled.

Laverack, 30, is a graduate student in the Cinema and Television Arts Department at CSUN. He is the writer, director and star of “Way Cross,” a 71-minute feature film about a small town preacher with a terrible secret and an unconsummated marriage.

The film premiered on Oct. 24 before a modest audience during The New York International Independent Film and Video Festival, or NYIIFVF, held at the Fairfax Laemmle Theater in West L.A

“My producing partner Matt, he and I were both submitting to festivals,” Laverack said.

Cinematographer Matt Smith is a New York City resident and attended the NYIIFVF while it was on the East Coast.

Smith “is a very successful architect and bridge designer with his own company,” Laverack said. “His passion for filmmaking and love for the project motivated him to dig down deep,” added Laverack about Smith’s role as producer and financer of the film.

Smith also played a pivotal role in the production of “Way Cross,” serving as both location and casting director for the film, which was shot just outside New York.

Azusa Shioya, 26, a junior CTVA major who attended the film’s screening in L.A., agreed with Laverack’s assessment.

“I was really impressed because he is not a professional (filmmaker),” Shioya said. “The story was very suspenseful.”

Shioya accompanied her friend Maika Shaku, 20, met Laverack in the Oviatt Library.

Shaku said she came to the screening because she was interested to see the film Laverack briefly described during their encounter.

Both Shaku and Shioya found themselves wondering where he was going next as they watched Laverack play a preacher whose life unravels after a mysterious friend unearths an awful secret unbeknownst to everyone, including the preacher’s wife.

Laverack would not disclose the budget of the film.

“The budget is a closely guarded secret of the independent film world,” Laverack said. “When you give a number to somebody it gives them a notion of what (they think) that dollar buys you, Laverack said.

He admits to having experienced professionals working with him on the project.

“Our soundman has been on 23 features,” Laverack said about Bob Swedenhjelm, who worked on the film. “He was a wealth of knowledge.”

Another industry veteran Laverack recruited was Billy Blue, a composer and musician for more than 30 years who said he “knew the script was great” the first time he read it.

“The more I read it, and after it was finished, the more I watched it, the more I understood it,” Blue said.

Laverack began editing “Way Cross,” which was shot in only 12 days.

Laverack does give a great deal of credit to the professors in the CTVA Department who taught him elements of storytelling that Laverack used to complete “Way Cross.”

“The resources I tapped from the school was specifically the knowledge of my professors,” Laverack said.

The CTVA Department routinely brings in guests speakers who reinforced what Laverack learned in his classes.

“We had guests coming in from Disney and Lifetime, creative executives who knew story, like Collette Shelton (from Lifetime) and Jonathan Treesman (from Disney), talking about how successful stories are put together,” said Laverack.

Laverack, a big fan of noir films like “The Killers” and “Touch of Evil,” said he tried to emulate in “Way Cross” what the directors of those films tried to accomplish.

“The genesis of the project came out of acting,” Laverack said, who was a theatre major as an undergraduate student. “I went to it (making “Way Cross”) as a vehicle to further my acting career,” Laverack said.

Whether “Way Cross” lands Laverack that ever elusive starring role remains to be seen. By showcasing a film at the NYIIFVF, Laverack is following in the footsteps of many people who have captured the big screen prize.

Darren Dickerson can be reached at ane@sundial.csun.edu.