Malcolm King-Fontana said he was only 8 years old when he and his neighborhood friends used a video camera to make their own remakes of movies.
By seventh grade, he was spending a lot of time scriptwriting, and by his 18th birthday last month, he was wrapping up his first feature-length film.
"This is definitely my biggest accomplishment," said King-Fontana, taking a break from reading William MacLeod's "Famous Sheriffs and Western Outlaws" Monday at Ashland's Noble Coffee to talk about his film.
"Too Close to the Raven" was written and directed by King-Fontana, a former Ashland High School student, and he plays one of the main characters in the 62-minute feature.
The movie makes its public debut April 4 at the Ashland Independent Film Festival.
The story is a mix of an old Western and film noir, drawing influences from King-Fontana's favorite childhood movies and his teenage appreciation of musician Waylon Jennings.
"I like to say it's neo-noir with an acoustic guitar," said King-Fontana, who met Jennings' son, Shooter Jennings, while working at a record label in New York.
The film tells of young gun Luc Kennedy, played by King-Fontana, working to gain the acceptance of a crime boss in an oceanside town. He's tasked with keeping damsel-in-distress Lila, played by 2013 Ashland High School grad Kiah Toth, busy for a night.
While the evening begins with Lila and Luc listening to records and drinking bourbon, Luc soon realizes his night may become far more sinister.
King-Fontana created the film with help from Hudson Wallbank, a 2013 Ashland grad who acted as executive producer for the project. The two had met in high school and reconnected, now both living in San Clemente, Calif.
Wallbank brought Toth in as an actress and introduced King-Fontana to Ben Sager, another 2013 Ashland graduate, who became the film's director of photography.
King-Fontana said it was Sager's talent as a photographer that made it possible for him to spend less time directing and focus on his acting.
"(Sager) had a basic idea of all the shots we would do. So once I got on stage, I was able to focus on my character," said King-Fontana.
Mixing acting and directing was fun, but King-Fontana said he probably wouldn't do both at the same time again.
"I had thought, if Clint and Redford can do it, then what the hell," he said.
Filming included 24-hour marathon shooting sessions in locations in San Clemente, Laguna Beach and San Juan Capistrano.
"It was a cocktail of sleepless delirium and euphoria," said King-Fontana.
The film had a $6,000 budget, funded mostly through King-Fontana and Wallbank, who together run a social media marketing and photography company called Partial Perfection, Inc.
Scenes in the film include monologues by Luc Kennedy, spliced with dimly lit shots of streetlights, piers and cityscapes. Broken into short chapters, the film uses a rich soundtrack of Waylon Jennings songs and a backdrop of flügelhorns — a brass instrument similar to the trumpet that was popular in noir films of the 1940s, King-Fontana said.
Western references are heavy in the film's script, with mentions of the Lone Ranger, Jesse James and the Sundance Kid.
The film will play four times during the Ashland Independent Film Festival, which runs April 3-7 at the Varsity Theatre and other venues in Ashland.
Wallbank said he and the other Ashland natives were delighted when their film was chosen to be part of the festival.
"We're really excited about it being accepted," said Wallbank.
King-Fontanta said the film has a universal appeal, with classic, romantic themes.
"It romanticizes the life of an outlaw," he said. "I've created this mood that maybe people haven't seen ever — or maybe in a long time."
He encourages people with an appreciation for Westerns to consider seeing his film.
"You'll have to have an appreciation for Western pop culture," he said. "Also, you'd have to really dig flügelhorns."
Teresa Ristow is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email her at email@example.com.