When Patrick Brice and Jason Sussberg were students at Lyman Gilmore Middle School in Grass Valley, they would often take an old camcorder out into the woods to make short comedy and skateboard films. More than 15 years later, the two best friends are still at it, but now the stage is bigger than they both could have ever imagined.
Last month, the two Grass Valley natives premiered two feature-length films at the 2014 SXSW Music and Film Interactive, a festival that has premiered recent blockbuster films like “The Hurt Locker,” “Bridesmaids” and “21 Jump Street.”
Sussberg told The Union that his documentary film, “The Immortalists,” and Brice’s stock footage thriller, “Creep,” premiered at the festival on the same day, at the same theater, just six hours apart.
“We had a sell-out screening, a really great reaction, and six hours later he had a sell-out screening with really great reaction,” Sussberg said. “So it was surreal, it really felt unique and special and strange in all the right ways. It even gives me chills just thinking about it, being able to experience that with one of my best friends.”
That friendship started when Brice was 12 and Sussberg was 13. The two would go out with old film equipment to shoot “Pulp Fiction” knock-offs with other friends from around the neighborhood.
“Our friendship started first, then the movies kind of came with it,” Brice said. “I think I was into it before him, but he’s always been a very politically conscious guy, so for him, documentary film became a way to facilitate his interests.”
While the film duo knew at a young age that they wanted to pursue careers in film, as they got older, they took different paths to their ambitions.
As a junior at Nevada Union High School, Brice dropped out in the spring of 2000 and moved to San Francisco.
“My parents had gotten divorced and I wasn’t doing very well in school, and I wanted to just leave,” he said. “I was living in a roommate situation at 17 and working basically as a dishwasher at Round Table Pizza and as a valet, while taking classes at San Francisco City College.”
During this time, Brice said he got his GED and began taking film classes. The opportunity to work on a full-length film, though, is what Brice said really got his film juices flowing.
“The big catalyst for kicking things off for me is I got a job as a personal assistant in 2006, working for a film producer in San Francisco, and we made a horror film called “Pig Hunt,” Brice said.
“So that was sort of my version of film school, to work on this movie and kind of have all these conversations I wasn’t necessarily qualified to have and just learning by doing.”
In 2008, Brice applied to the California Institute of the Arts, a film school in Los Angeles. Brice graduated from the program in 2011 and subsequently traveled to France for three months to make a documentary called “Maurice,” a feature about the owner of the last porno theatre in Paris that uses 35-mm film.
“I came back and that actually played at the Nevada City Film Festival and ended up winning best film,” Brice said. “It kind of became a nice calling card for me to get my stuff out there.”
Mark Duplass, a film director, began to mentor Brice, and the two collaborated to write, shoot and act in the film “Creep.”
“Mark and I wrote a 10-page treatment detailing what would happen in the movie from scene to scene,” Brice said.
“We then went out into the woods with a single camera and a couple of other people and made this improvised movie.”
The 80-minute feature-length film follows a Craigslist encounter between a man dying of cancer, who wants someone to shoot footage for a video for his unborn child. As the film progresses, though, dark and terrible things start to happen.
“Over the course of a year, we would show the film to small groups of other filmmakers and get notes, and go back and reshoot,” Brice said. “I would call it a found footage thriller, with laughs.”
Brice said he applied to have “Creep” premiere at the 2014 SXSW film festival, and it was accepted. Sussberg had also entered his film “The Immortalists,” into the festival and was still waiting to hear if it would also be accepted while helping Brice work on another film project.
“It was Jan. 10. I remember the day, I was nervous about it the whole time,” Sussberg said.
“We were staying up 40 hours straight shooting this movie. We were in San Luis Obispo, and I had fallen asleep for a half an hour around nine o’clock in the morning.”
When Sussberg woke up he looked at his phone, where he received a message that his film was accepted.
“So I ran into the room where Pat was — he was brainstorming a shoot — and I ran into the room in my underwear. I was like, ‘Oh dude we’re in! We’re in! We’re in! We’re going to Southby!’” Sussberg said.
Sussberg’s journey to become a film maker was a bit different from Brice’s.
“Pat was always extremely intelligent and smart, but he just never jived with school,” Sussberg said.
“I was the opposite. I was an average intellect but I excelled at school because I, for whatever reason, wanted to win the game of education.”
After graduating from NU, Sussberg went to UC Santa Cruz where he majored in film. When he graduated in 2004, Sussberg moved to San Francisco and roomed with Brice.
“I went for a period of time to work as a broadcast producer for the San Francisco Giants and the Golden State Warriors,” Sussberg said.
“Basically, my whole career has been positioned around film making, so it wasn’t a leap to make films.”
In the fall of 2008, Sussberg began attending a documentary film program at Stanford University. He graduated in 2010 and immediately began to work on his first feature film, “The Immortalists.”
“It’s essentially about two biologists trying to find discoveries to make people live forever, to make human beings immortal,” Sussberg said. “We follow their lives; we follow them for three years. It’s sort of all of the troubles and tribulations, life and death, marriage and funerals, that happen to them during the course of their existence.”
Sussberg said he began research for the film with co-director and friend David Alvarado in October 2010 and began shooting in January 2012. The film’s production and editing was complete by the October deadline for the SXSW film festival.
“The festival was pretty epic and exciting,” Sussberg said. “It was great to be there with Pat, for sure.”
Sussberg is taking his film on a festival tour to places like Idaho, Wisconsin and Toronto, Canada. Brice’s film, “Creep,” was recently bought by Blumhouse Productions and will become a full-length trilogy.
“We’re both on cloud nine right now in terms of where the two of us are at,” Brice said.“It feels like everybody missed out on some secret, blessed portal that we kind of slipped into, that has us doing what we love to do,” Sussberg said. “It feels like we cheated life somehow, in that it’s too good to be true.”
To contact Staff Writer Ivan Natividad, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4236.