While there are a number of UConn alumni who are comedians, including Bobby Moynihan, Meg Ryan, Austin Stowell and Tony Todd, it’s not every day you see an alum produce and star in a feature film.
Alex Molina graduated from UConn in 2010 with a degree in psychology. He was a member of the UConn football team, performing on stage at Rentschler Field as a wide receiver and special teams player.
Now, Molina is producing and starring in the independent film “Dash” which premieres online at the Cinequest film festival next week.
“Dash” has an interesting style – it’s filmed in one take, with no cuts or edits. The film surrounds an adulterous carpool driver whose life unfolds during one of his late-night rides through the streets of Los Angeles.
The Daily Campus had the chance to speak virtually with Molina and Sean Perry, the film’s writer, director and producer.
Back when Molina was a student at UConn, he never considered a career in acting, but became one almost by fate.
“It was purely fear-based,” Molina said. “When I was at UConn, I took a public speaking course and thought it would be really easy…but something about the structure of that course scared me. It was the only time I cheated in school. I had note cards that were supposed to be like chips. I was so petrified that I had another set of note cards that had all the words I was going to say written on them. So I returned the cards with the bullet points and used the index cards on which all my speech was written. I was completely freaked out and felt like shit for cheating afterwards. It was my post-college theater to try to shake off the fear of public speaking, [that] This is how I entered the world.
Although Molina entered the theater world through this local post-graduate work, it took him a while to fully immerse himself in it.
He earned his MFA from Harvard’s theater program, moved to New York City, and appeared in a number of off-Broadway productions. The Big Apple is where Molina met Perry, her now-producing partner, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Perry had an opposite entrance into the realm of filmmaking, having grounded himself in the movie business since growing up in rural western Pennsylvania.
“My dad always had a camera with him,” Perry explained. “It was quite the combination of having a camera at my disposal, loving movies, and having a cool group of friends who were up for any crazy idea I had… After high school, I’ve done it all, worked in construction for 10 years…and used all that money to make movies continuously. Every summer would be like a big movie, put all our eggs in this one basket. It’s gradually become bigger and more ambitious.
It took a long time to come for Perry; his career as a filmmaker spanned decades.
“I was a very ambitious young boy,” Perry said. “I [made] a movie that was a feature when I was 20, which I would consider the worst movie ever made. There were hundreds [of projects] over the years. Whether it’s shorts, proofs of concepts, or this feature film… It’s been over a decade of in-depth study and self-taught stuff.
Although Perry is a longtime filmmaker with countless project ideas and concepts that have surfaced over the years, “Dash” was actually a recent creation. The project was born out of the constraints of COVID-19, when many Los Angeles-area filmmakers and actors were out of work for months.
“We had so much free time available to us,” Perry described. “We had actor friends sitting in on us and that was…our mentality, stop going around in circles, start doing.”
Molina had very limited feature film experience prior to “Dash,” but this type of production style suited him just fine.
“I loved this whole idea and process, because I have a background in acting,” Molina said. “So I was like ‘Great, this is something I know better. I haven’t done[ne] a lot of films or television… All this hybrid between cinema and theater intrigued me a lot.
With its ambitious concept and style, Perry and Molina worked hard to control the film’s budget.
“[I]n the world of independent cinema, there is a legendary film called ‘El Mariachi’,” said Perry. “[The] the movie was made for $7,000 [and] that was my limit, we [were] won’t go over that. We [have kept] it at this level. Luckily for us, the cut that was accepted by Cinequest was this version.
This one-take, raw-sequence style concept required intense planning and preparation from Perry and Molina’s ending to make “Dash” a reality. They hired a stage manager, Liz Haroian, which is usually done for theater productions. Haroian helped organize the rehearsal process.
“We had about…14 days between the first Zoom rehearsal and shooting…But it slowly built up from Zoom rehearsals to a few rehearsals in our backyards with folding chairs set up like a car,” Pery explained. . “Then we transferred to the parked car and rehearsed everything in the parked car. Then we had a night to do a dry run, which was to test the camera and test the actors so they could go through the whole process. Then we had three tries to shoot the whole movie. Three nights, one trial per night.
This preparation was borderline tedious for Perry and Molina, who were to become experts on the Hollywood night streets.
“Building this route and timing it perfectly with the script as it was written and dropping off and picking up 10 different people during the movie was a legit logistical nightmare,” Molina described. “Sean and I would jump in the car around 9 or 10 a.m. and drive around to time the routes and get a good idea of how long each light was running, how much traffic was at each intersection, etc. ”
Even with all that preparation, the three-night shoot plan was necessary to get “Dash” perfectly right.
“The first night there [were] foreseeable circumstances, we had a feeling that the first night would cause a lot of technical problems,” Perry explained. “The actors were nervous…the lines were blurry, the camera kept bouncing off the stand…The second night was the night we ended up using…The next night was maybe a little better. … We went back and forth and decided the second take was a lot more raw and real.
Ahead of the film’s release, its unique concept is generating much anticipation, but Perry doesn’t think the film’s form will replace its content and story.
“Alex and I talked about the [innovativeness of the concept] from the start,” Perry described. “We knew the whimsical ploy of a real car-mounted, one-shot movie, which has a sense of the sale right there. We hope it gets their attention, but what we’re seeing so far is that people who have watched it love it. You watch it and there are times when you’re on the edge of your seat and your heart is racing. You live with his character, there is no escape”
After filming and amid over a year of post-production work, Molina and Perry began researching the right release path for “Dash” by watching a number of film festivals. At the top of the list was Cinequest.
“We applied to a few festivals, Cinequest was the first to respond so we offered them our world premiere.” Molina explained. “Because of COVID, they are having a hybrid festival where they are splitting it into an online part called Cine Joy which will run from April 1 to April 17. The in-person festival will take place in August.
This is just the beginning of “Dash”. Although it’s a low-budget movie, Molina and Perry have big plans.
“Our goal would be to start dealing with a distributor and see what they think is the best course of action to get this movie to the mainstream,” Molina said. “We have some options for the plans we want to make and we will be in communication with them. Ultimately, we want as many people as possible to see the film if they’re interested.
It’s also the start of something for these two new residents of Los Angeles. Molina and Perry have set up a production company called Spam Pictures which is looking to produce a number of projects written by Perry in the coming years.
“I’m just kind of the Robin to [Perry’s] Batman and supporting him on this journey. Molina said. “I could also submit a few other things as an actor here in LA and maybe try to develop a bit of a theatrical scene and understand what theater has to contain in LA [It] isn’t the most popular thing here, but it would be nice to do it because I miss the stage.
“We worked on this for a year straight,” Perry said. “As for what comes next, I want to give my brain a 24-hour break and then move on. I want to stay in the feature world a bit longer… I think our next viable option, I think we’re torn between… a dramatic thriller or we have a romantic comedy that I’m really excited about… There’s a lot of different options but realistically we will be working on this project in terms of sales and distribution for the next two months.
Needless to say, “Dash” is the beginning of Molina and Perry’s career in the feature film world. With several other projects in the works, this duo may soon become a mainstay in Hollywood.
For more information on “Dash,” visit the film’s website.