SCOTTSDALE, AZ–Independent filmmaker Craig Rivers, still financially dependent on his parents at 27, announced Monday the completion of his feature-length debut, the locally produced, parentally financed Far Above The Jiffy Lube, The Stars Of Phoenix Shine.
Shot on a tight budget of $75,000 of Marv and Elaine Rivers' money, the film chronicles the lives and loves of a diverse group of white, post-collegiate twentysomethings in an affluent Phoenix suburb, exploring such subjects as relationships, personal identity, and the pressures of living with one's parents.
Rivers, who calls Jiffy Lube "a groundbreaking portrait of a generation driven mad by alienation and boredom," attributes his success to his perseverance, his unswerving artistic purity, and the fact that his parents pay for his rent, health insurance, and groceries. But despite the creative control Rivers enjoys by being "unfettered by the stranglehold of the mainstream studio system," he said there were times when he had to fight to preserve the integrity of his personal vision.
"I'll admit, I was under pressure to shorten the title to something more commercial, like the snappier Scenes From A Jiffy Lube—mostly from my dad," said Rivers, speaking from Muddy Waters, a local coffee shop prominently featured in the film and a favorite haunt where he often goes to think, people-watch, and spend his parents' money on imported blends. "But I couldn't let vulgar market considerations dictate the terms of this project. I wanted the title to reflect the very spirit of independent filmmaking itself, the 'rising above' of everyday mundanities in the pursuit of something far greater: the singular artistic freedom that comes from not actually having to work for a living."
Deftly interweaving the stories of three mismatched couples, the film uses as its central framing device a neighborhood Jiffy Lube. The decision to structure the film around the oil-change shop, Rivers said, came from personal experience.
"One day, my dad's car broke down, and I had to pull into a local Jiffy Lube to get it looked at," Rivers said. "As I sat there in the waiting room, flipping through insipid magazines and drinking their alarmingly substandard coffee, the thought suddenly struck me: What if I had to hold down a job, the way these poor souls did? It'd be unbearable. I thought, 'This could've been me.' I guess it must've struck a powerful chord deep within my subconscious, because when I sat down to write the screenplay on the iMac my parents bought me, the theme kept resurfacing."
Josh, the film's main character, works at the titular oil-change outlet but dreams of one day becoming an independent filmmaker, a plot element Rivers said is "largely autobiographical, except for the having-a-job part." In one of the film's key scenes, Josh finally summons the courage to leave his blue-collar job and follow his dream. Moving into the apartment above his parents' garage, he symbolically transcends his former life by literally reaching for the stars.
"That scene was extremely personal, because it really brought home to me how lucky I've been," Rivers said. "It's not everyone who has the courage to pursue their dream. And, thankfully, my parents had the resources for me to see it through."
Though not yet snapped up by a distributor, the film has already drawn attention from the Scottsdale-area zine Motorfuzz and earned "entrant" honors at the Mesa County Film Festival. Yet it wasn't easy for Rivers, who faced many daunting and unexpected challenges while filming Jiffy Lube.
There were times when shooting had to be held up for days because Kirsten Bachman, who plays the charmingly quirky coffee-shop counter girl Kate, couldn't get off work. There were creative conflicts with the film's financiers, who felt that its focus was not "job-oriented" enough. There were times when Rivers would max out one of his mother's credit cards and have to ask for a different one. There were even times when the project was brought to a virtual standstill because Rivers' parents refused to let him use their car.
But through all the hardships, Rivers persevered, determined to get his work out to the public.
"When I finally saw the finished print," said Rivers, a gleam in his eye, "I knew that all my time and parents' money had been worth it."
What's next for this exciting young talent? Rivers said he is mulling over his options.
"At this point, there are at least 20 films in my head. But before I take on the burden of another project, I really feel like I need to give my brain a rest. It's important that I allow the creative energies to rebuild and recover after the hell I've been through these last 16 months. All I want to do right now is lie back on my parents' couch, watch some HBO on their 36" TV, and just let the ideas germinate for a while."