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May 05, 2016

South Philly filmmakers to take part in Cannes International Film Festival's Short Film Corner

The Arts Film
Derick & Ryan Dead Pixel Joseph Cairnes/for PhillyVoice

Ryan Regan, left, and Derick Crucius, co-founders of Dead Pixel Cinema.

Derick Crucius makes movies about bad people. Really, really bad people.

"I'm not a bad person myself," he told PhillyVoice, emphasizing the point. "But for some reason, bad people inspire me."

Crucius is a 26-year-old writer and director who, alongside childhood best friend Ryan Regan, has steadfastly crafted DIY films since the two were freshmen in high school in Dallas, Pennsylvania — skipping school to brainstorm movie ideas at a local donut shop. For the past 10 years, they've developed films — sometimes for school, sometimes professionally, often for giggles — that tackle the subject of what Crucius calls "outsider" characters. These often expose the lives of those aforementioned "bad people," but occasionally venture outside those lines, resulting in quirky sketch comedy pieces about even quirkier people. Case in point: "Hoagin' It (Sub-a-Dub-Dub),” a five-minute food porn about three men in a bathroom eating hoagies. Crucius made it while attending the Art Institute of Philadelphia

But Crucius' particular fascination with the psyches of those who live on the fringes (whether bad or quirky) finally resonated in a big way this year with "Charley Tucson," a suspenseful 25-minute movie that carefully and, for a short film, glacially takes viewers through the build-up to a heinous crime — one Crucius left unmentioned, so as to not spoil. He and Regan shot it over a two-day period in a cabin in Hellertown, Pennsylvania. 

The film will take them all the way to France later this month for the 2016 Cannes International Film Festival.

"["Charley Tucson"] is about the idea, ‘This is the type of person who does this.’ It's a character study," Crucius explained. "I didn’t want to do the everyday type of ‘Guy goes nuts; guy grabs gun; guy goes out and kills; cops stop him; it’s over.’ It’s not like that.”

"Charley Tucson" is the first project of Dead Pixel Cinema, a South Philly-based production company Crucius and Regan cofounded last January. The plot is inspired by a childhood story they’d heard over and over again growing up in Dallas.

In brief, the film, which laser-focuses on a man who slowly becomes unhinged as the film progresses, is loosely based on George Banks, a prison guard in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, who infamously shot 13 people to death in 1982 — including his own family. That tale prompted Crucius to research other high-profile murderers, including Jared Lee Loughner, who left six people dead and 12 others injured in the 2011 Tucson, Arizona, shooting that also left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords severely injured.

Using real-life killers as models, the filmmakers took the character traits of each one and combined them into a kind of serial killer Frankenstein. The point: To highlight the "ugly" sides of the world we tend to blissfully ignore daily.

Handout Art/Dead Pixel Cinema

Charley Tucson, as portrayed by K. Andrew Deffley.

“It’s sort of a slow dip into the psychosis of this human being," Regan, who shot and executive-produced the film (and is also an actor), told PhillyVoice. "You start in the morning and end in the afternoon. So even though you’re into this character’s life up until this point, you’re still slowly with that character, digging deeper and deeper until you get to the point where you realize there’s absolutely no return."

“It's a slow roller-coaster ride to the top," Crucius added. "And once you’re at the top, you're just going down and there’s no leveling out. It's straight down."

The two will debut the film at the Cannes Short Film Corner, a "rendezvous for filmmakers" that has more than 2,000 filmmakers from 101 countries exhibit their short films to industry leaders, investors and fellow artists. For Crucius and Regan, they hope to walk away with a deal to distribute "Charley Tucson" in Europe and the United States. They also have their fingers crossed for a contract to film one of three feature films they have in the works. One of them, "Dirt," is set in Philadelphia.

Handout Art/Dead Pixel Cinema

Derick Crucius, who directed the short film 'Charley Tucson.'

In fact, you might even call them cheerleaders for the city when they head to France in mid-May.

“Philadelphia has such a rich film scene. There's great work being produced and that's what we want to do: build that network, show the U.S. and the world that Philadelphia is just as good as New York and L.A.," Crucius said. "'There are great filmmakers here with great ideas, and you should give this city attention.' That’s our goal. We want to represent the city of Philadelphia at Cannes.”

All while recognizing they've got a once-in-a-lifetime shot at propelling their infant production company into the limelight.

"This is the beginning of what we’re going to accomplish in the future, and we’re only gaining traction and only going to keep pushing forward, and keep putting out work and continually creating," Regan said. "So hopefully, at some point we get to be the guys on top who say ‘Maybe you come from a small town, or you're interested in art and can’t get into it.' 

"We’re going to find you a way."