When Libby Blood decided to make a short film inspired by her younger brother's autism, you can imagine how sweetly everyone who knew her greeted the 19-year-old filmmaker's plans. Naming the film "Lucy" felt right too – her brother's name is Luke – and setting the film in France in 1939, well, every director has the right to a bit of artistic license, doesn't she?
Says Libby: "At first they were like, 'What?' But then they thought, 'Oh, that's cool.'"
Says her father, Todd Blood, who produced the film: "Everybody's always excited to see her films, but the truth was people were thinking she was losing it."
Did it all work out? We'll answer that with one more fact about Libby Blood and "Lucy": As you read this, she, her parents and her two lead actors, are at the Cannes Film Festival, where "Lucy" was admitted to the Short Film Corner of the iconic film festival in the French Riviera.
So, yes, you could say it worked out (though there still is the small detail of jetting off Monday without knowing where they'll sleep any night after that).
As for how Libby Blood landed at Cannes a few months before her 20th birthday, well, for that you've got to thread the first reel into the projector and dim the lights.
Libby Blood was born to be in the movies, and we mean that almost literally. Her mother, Cathy Blood, was in the hospital, waiting to deliver Libby, when her dad went out to fetch some non-hospital food, stumbled onto the vacant Villa Park Twin Cinema, and realized that his life-long dream of being in the movie business was staring back at him in the reflection of the grimy windows of the long-shuttered theater.
Two years later, Captain Blood's Village Theater opened, and Libby and her three older sisters more or less grew up there, cleaning the theater between screenings, eating popcorn and candy from the snack bar, and watching movie after movie from a small hidden room that Todd Blood built near the projection booth. "I actually really liked cleaning up the theater," Libby Blood says. "Just sweeping up and watching the credits roll by."
At Yorba Linda Middle School she worked on the school news broadcast. At El Dorado High School she and her father talked Mark Switzer, who runs the film and TV program, into letting a freshman take his advanced media class. She made student films and started winning prizes in film festivals in Orange County and beyond. And eventually, years after her brother Luke, now 16, was born, she and her sister Alicia started working on the idea that became "Lucy."
"That idea of doing something about autism always played in our minds because of our brother," she says. "We wanted to show the mind of someone with autism."
Some of the story came from research they did, and some – such as the title character's strong sense of touch and tactile sensations, came from Luke's own habits.
As for the most unusual aspect of the 11-minute-long film, the use of French as its language, that too had a connection to autism for Blood.
"The French is symbolic because for people with autism, communication is like another language to them," she says. "It's like their No. 1 struggle, and it's one of the things we witnessed our whole lives, too. Luke didn't even talk until he was 5."
By making audiences work just a little more to follow the film, Blood hoped they'd get a sense of that daily struggle many people with autism experience. The fact that the Cannes Film Festival is in France didn't factor into the decision, though she admits that after she'd started the project she realized that it certainly couldn't hurt her film's chances there.
In the winter of 2011, all the pieces of "Lucy" fell into place. Her lead actress, Kera McKeon, who plays the uncommunicative French child with a most vivid imagination, had acted in one of Blood's earlier short films. One of her cousins referred her to a French actress, Caroline Amiguet, now living in San Diego, who was cast as Lucy's mother and also translated Blood's script into French.
Todd Blood and most of the family worked to build Lucy's room in a warehouse in Brea where a friend donated space, and after 10 days of pre-production, it was time to shoot.
"The night before we didn't shoot," Libby Blood says. "We'd just finished the set and we were dressing it. And then at 7 a.m. we drove and got Kera and we started filming."
For 10 days they shot, building to a climactic scene where Lucy's imagination would see her bedroom flooded, which meant Libby Blood and her family working as crew needed to nail the actually flooding in one shot.
"It was like four in the morning and we flooded the set and it looked awesome," she says.
And when they checked the cameras? Nothing. All four had shut off, having run out of space before Libby shouted "Action!"
"We looked at each other and we got up and dried the set and did it all over again."
Ten days of editing, the last three without sleep, and Blood had a finished film, making it just in time to enter in the 2012 Orange County Film Festival, where "Lucy" won best short film and Blood won filmmaker of the year. She continued to tinker with it as she entered other film festivals, and eventually sent it off on a journey she'd dreamed of for years – to Cannes, where it didn't make the official competition – only nine short films did – but was accepted as part of the Short Film Corner.
Todd Blood left the theater business a few years back and since then he says money has been tight. But the chance to go with Libby and "Lucy" to Cannes couldn't be passed up. She's taking donations at Libbybloodfilms.com, but by the time the family left on Monday they had only a tenth of their $12,000 fundraising goal.
"We're going by the seat of our pants," Todd Blood says of a five-week tour that is set to include taking "Lucy" to the BosiFest in Belgrade, Serbia, and then the New York City International Film Festival.
"We're going to go and talk to as many people as we can – so many people are there in that one place," Libby Blood says.
"It's going to be this crazy adventure."
Copyright 2012 Libby Blood Films. All Rights Reserved
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