Blake Robbins wore many hats for ‘The Sublime and Beautiful’
January 18, 2014
Veteran actor Blake Robbins, who is known for his appearances on "The Office," "Sons of Anarchy" and "Oz," has been intrigued with writing and directing.
Early in his career, he experienced some on-site filmmaking experience working with Rob Morrow.
"I was his assistant when he wrote, directed and acted in his own movie, ‘Maze,’" Robbins said during a telephone interview from Los Angeles, Calif. "I was there every second. I picked him up in the morning and was with him all day and drove him home.
And then I would go home and sleep for 2½ hours and then go and do it all again."
Even when he was working in front of the camera, Robbins was inspired by the crew behind the lens.
"It’s easy to see how interested I was when I was on set and paying attention to what was going on around the monitor," he said. "In retrospect, I think I sort of held a vision of myself being a storyteller."
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That chance came last year when Robbins decided to write, direct and appear in his debut feature film, "The Sublime and Beautiful," which is one of the narrative features for this year’s Slamdance Film Festival that is held at the Treasure Mountain Inn from Jan. 17 through Jan. 23.
In the film, Robbins cast himself as David Conrad, a father who is struggling with the death of his children who were killed by a drunk driver. It also examines how that and other things have affected his relationship with his wife and his close friends.
Robbins admitted the theme and the film itself is dark, bleak and heavy.
"It is pretty intense without question and, truthfully, I made it intense as humanly possible on purpose," Robbins said. "I figured if I was going to do a film of this nature, I was going to get out as far on that limb as I could."
What allowed Robbins that luxury was the fact that he was working with few restraints.
"I raised the money for the film on my own and didn’t have to answer to investors or a major studio," he said. "Being such a small project, I decided to make it as real and as independent as I could."
Robbins picked the subject matter because of personal reasons.
"My family had dealt with a hit-and-run drunk driving accident when I was in my junior year of college just prior to Christmas," he said. "We did know who the drunk driver was, because he was in the same recovery room as my aunt, whom he injured.
"This was in a small hospital on Cape Cod and anyone who needed to be treated for those types of injuries would be at that hospital," Robbins explained. "So there was my aunt and a couple of beds over was the drunk driver who caused her injuries."
Robbins also lost a friend to a brain tumor around that same time.
"I was carrying around a lot of grief all these years," he said.
To help ease his sorrow, Robbins would seek out movies that dealt with grief.
"The problem was I never walked away afterwards feeling satisfied that the filmmakers understood grief like I did," he said. "So this is the one film that I can say does."
In addition, many of the people who were involved with "The Sublime and Beautiful" brought in their own experiences.
"I guess it’s true that if you live long enough, you will experience this type of grief," Robbins said.
The film’s cast includes Laura Kirk as David Conrad’s wife Kelly, Matthew Del Negro as the Conrads’ friend Mike Embree and Armin Shimerman as Lee Westin, the drunk driver.
"They were my favorite people and my favorite actors and they felt right for the roles," Robbins said. "As a director, creator and writer, and actor, casting the roles had to feel right, and the puzzle pieces had to fit.
"I had cast the film in my head while I was writing and certain actors became these characters’ voices," he said. "When it came time to cast the film, there was a transitional period when these actors would become the voices and we would tailor-make the roles for them."
The thing Robbins wanted most from the actors was to have them give organic and believable performances.
"I wanted them to bring as much of themselves to the story, as much as they were willing to give me," he said. "And, lord, they gave me a lot."
Throughout the shoot, Robbins found ways to make the film appear raw and "hyper real," while still dealing with a narrative story.
"When we shot the film on location, we would gently slide into the action," he said. "We kept businesses open in the scene and worked with a lot of non-actors."
There was a certain amount of improvisation as well, he said.
"We didn’t yell ‘cut’ and ‘action,’ and there were times when the real actors involved in the scenes didn’t know we were rolling," Robbins said. "That made things more natural and personal."
When he was notified that "The Sublime and Beautiful" had been accepted into Slamdance, Robbins screamed and jumped around.
"My wife and I hugged and there were tears," he said. "This film was a culmination of years of hard work and Slamdance seemed like the perfect home for the film. And when [an organization] like Slamdance said you’re good enough for them, it validates the project."
Blake Robbins’ "The Sublime and Beautiful" is one of the Narrative Features at Slamdance at the Treasure Mountain Inn, 255 Main St.. The next screenings will be Saturday, Jan. 18, at 10:30 a.m. and on Monday, Jan. 20, at 4:45 p.m. in the Main Screening Room. For more information and tickets, visit http://www.slamdance.com .