24th March 2023
Interview & Editor-in-chief: Owen James Vincent
Photo Credit: Blake Eiermann for Kelly Balch Images
Cal Barnes is a talented human being when it comes to film. The upcoming project that he's about to release this month.. he's written, directed, and starred in.
Barnes chats to us about his upcoming movie 'The Astrid Experience', his novel 'Son of Neverland', and future projects that he's looking forward to telling us about.
Hello Cal! You’re about to release The Astrid Experience. What can you tell us readers about this project?
Hi, guys. Good to be here. ‘The Astrid Experience’ is a romantic comedy-drama set in Los Angeles. The story follows Chase Abbott, a once-successful artist in recovery that’s made a lot of bad decisions and is working on putting his life back together. When he hits rock bottom, he meets a free-spirited actress named Astrid when he helps her out of a difficult situation at a casting studio. To thank him, she invites him on an all-night adventure through LA that shows him how to live again.
The story is loosely based on my life and experiences I’ve had living in LA. It’s a labor of love, and a true passion project through and through.
You’ve recently starred, directed, and written The Astrid Experience. How was it hard to juggle three jobs on this project?
It definitely wasn’t a cakewalk, but I had enough acting time on set, and had written enough screenplays, that I sort of knew what I was getting into. The actor-writer route is actually really ideal, because most of the writing is done during pre-production, and the majority of the acting work is done in principle photography, so they don’t obstruct each other. In fact, I really enjoy acting in projects I’ve written, because so much of the acting homework is done in terms of understanding the character and how the character fits into the world we’re all creating. Likewise, writing and directing compliment each other, and is a classically good combination.
Starring and directing simultaneously is completely different thing. To be honest, I wouldn’t recommend it, even though I see it happening more and more. I really value the collaboration with a good director, and feel that most films should be made classically with the roles split, with few exceptions. ’The Astrid Experience’ was a project where me starring and directing just made sense. I’d written about 18 screenplays at the time, so I had a good grasp on story, and I already had a shooting script written so I knew how I wanted to tell the story visually. Given our resources at the time, I just happened to be the most qualified for the job, so I stepped up into the director’s chair to helm the film. My producer, John That, and our genius DP, Chris Pilarski, were really my eyes behind the camera while acting, and they helped me go the distance.
For the most part, when I’m starring in films, I generally want 100% of my attention to be focused on acting and carrying the story so that I can just stay in that imaginary world. It was challenging having to jump behind the camera between takes, and then jump back into the scene and be completely ‘on’ with almost no time to think. It was like my mind on this perpetual rollercoaster! I definitely set the bar high for myself in terms of what I can handle. I remember I just acted in another feature shortly after, and I was like “this is all I have to do?” Haha. If anything, directing has made me love acting even more.
I’d consider starring and directing again, but I don’t see it being the norm — only if my vision absolutely calls for it — I may have a project or two where it might.
You’ve also released a novel of your book ‘Son of Neverland’. Was Peter Pan your favorite classic story growing up? What made you write a story about Peter Pan and his adventures?
Yes, ‘Son of Neverland’ is a mature, epic fantasy, Peter Pan sequel that takes place one-hundred years into the future after the fall of Captain Hook, where Peter must defend Neverland against a dark god that threatens the eternity of his world and holds dear. It’s my second published novel, which I adapted from my favourite screenplay, and what I consider to be by and far the most epic piece of work I’ve ever written.
I always loved Peter Pan since I was old enough to remember — more the idea of him, then the actual character — What’s not to like? He was a kid that had nigh unlimited power, could fly, ruled his own world, fought pirates, was in love with a princess, and hung out with only his boys, fairies, and mermaids all day. I was an adventurous child, and Peter represented the pinnacle of freedom and adventure. He was me, in a way. He’s all of us. I believe he’s really a symbol for what the human spirit wants to be — what it can be.
‘Peter Pan’ was definitely my favorite Disney movie growing up, but I actually didn’t read the book until I moved to LA in my early twenties, and that’s when I really fell in love with the property from a career perspective, and knew I wanted to make it a part of my life. J.M. Barrie, the original author, did such an incredible job channeling this world. It’s really dark, actually, and quite mature for a children’s story, and you really see Peter’s shadow come out in it. I just related to it so much to it.
J.M. planted the seed when he first introduced the world to Peter in 1902, and I feel that ‘Son of Neverland’ is what the spirit of Peter has been evolving to be for over 120 years now. That’s a long time to be alive, and although Peter is eternally young, he has continual life experiences that inform and push his character. Being basically a demigod isn’t just about ruling and indulgence. When the darkness comes, it’s time to step up. Neverland needs him to step up. Peter will have to take responsibility for his existence to become what he ultimately can be and earn the title of ‘Son of Neverland.’
Do you think you would make a feature film of ‘Son of Neverland’? And who would you think would be your perfect Peter?
Yes, Son of Neverland was born to be a feature film — think Avatar budget, size, and scope — the screenplay for the first film is already written. I’m already working on the second instalment of the novel for the story franchise, which I aim to publish at the end of this year or early next year, at which time the title will be revealed.
I am the character. I’m already attached to play Peter, and the novel art has already been created in my likeness, so it’s on its way. Physically, I’m a straight-across match, and I share a lot of the same personality traits with the character. I’m a child at heart, but have a strong shadow. I feel youthful and vibrant, but also know I’m an old soul. There’s a kinship. Some actors arrive at a point in their career where there’s a franchise they’re shepherding. How Tom Cruise shepherds ‘Mission Impossible’ comes to mind. He produces, stars, he’s involved in every detail. It’s his franchise. ‘Son of Neverland’ is that for me. From writing, to scripting, to producing, to starring, I’m totally involved daily. No project is more important to me.
I think a lot of people have this image of Peter burned into their head as an eternal boy child from the Disney film — fair enough — but one of the themes ‘Son of Neverland’ explores is the concept of time and life on a soul. It suggests that even if you’re immortal, you’re going to have experiences — love, hate, jealousy, friendship, hope, fear — these emotions shape a person, change a person, and in my conception of Neverland, everyone would eventually be optimised to live forever through these experience — physically, emotionally, and spiritually — that’s really what becoming is all about.
When you’re not working - what do you get up to?
I’m at a bit of a “work-a-holic” stage in my life, I’ll admit, but I try and take at least an hour a day to workout, get some yoga in, and get out in the sun. You definitely need some way to wind down and stay grounded in this career. When I can, I like to take a skate around my neighborhood in Studio City. Skateboarding really helps me to relax. It clears my head. Puts me in the moment. It’s a nice past time memory.
Other than that, I really like men’s fashion, and getting dressed up for premieres and events. I enjoy fast cars, and good entertainment. I’m trying to make the time to enjoy the city more this year. I live in Los Angeles. This place is amazing. Anytime I get out there, I never regret it.
Lastly, have you got any future projects you can tell us about?
My biggest project is ‘Son of Neverland.’ It’s definitely what I’m most excited about for the future, but I think I already said plenty about that one. I’ve also got a handful of other IP’s at all different budget levels that I think would make great films that I’d love to make and star in. I love Neo-noir crime thrillers like ‘Chinatown’, “Brick’, ‘Se7en’, ‘The Long Goodbye’, and ‘LA Confidential’. I’ve always wanted to play a detective. I think I’m cut out for it. I’ve got a few Neo-noir feature scripts ready to go. One script in particular, ‘Infinite Limits’, about a young, hotshot detective who enlisted the help of a young philosophy genius to help him hunt down a killer who uses paradoxes to kill his victims, I think is really hitting.
Also, on the flip side, I got a slapstick comedy called ‘The Cineranimo Valley Theatre’ that all takes place in a 90’s mega-plex theatre. If the show ‘Party Down’ hooked up with the film ‘Billy Madison’ and had a baby, you’d get ‘The Cineranimo Valley Theatre’. It’s a laugh-out-loud total fiasco, and very produceable — an ideal combination.