Movies are staples of entertainment across the globe and many scripts manage to base plots around subjects that are sometimes controversial. “Star Leaf” is an example of a science fiction film that is taking a real-life issue—in this case the legalization of medical marijuana—and using it to create a storyline set in the future.
Anyone who reads the news will undoubtedly have heard the debates about medical marijuana. Although many people are against the legalization of the drug, there is evidence that suggests that it has certain medical benefits for people who are suffering from serious medical problems, cancer among them. There is no easy solution to this debate but it is an interesting concept for a film set in space—to take a modern day hot-button issue and re-imagine it as a debate in the far-future.
Many people aspire to enter the film industry and this movie is an example of how young screenwriters can take day-to-day news stories and turn them into plot points. According to the official press release:
Star Leaf is a sci-fi thriller about an extra-terrestrial form of marijuana discovered in the Olympic forests of Washington State. The main character, played by Z-Nation’s Julian Gavilanes, is a veteran of the Afghanistan war, and the film has PTSD and its treatment with cannabis as an underlying theme. Shot entirely on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, the movie also stars Z-Nation’s Russell Hodgkinson and features actual “Star Leaf” marijuana plants developed by Ohana Farms to help in PTSD treatment. The movie and strain have received the support of Analytical 360, Washington’s first I-502-certified testing lab.
The big fear many individuals have about the legalization of this drug is the potential for it to be used recreationally which can cause impairment—much like alcohol which results in thousands of accidental deaths each year. Yet screenwriter and director Richard Cranor was inspired to make this film based not on recreational use, but medical experiences after his diagnoses with cancer and his brother’s (an Iraq War veteran) experiences with PTSD…both conditions which were eased after medical marijuana treatments.
Certainly, it’s a trigger issue and an extremely daring move to make a film around such a subject noting that marijuana remains illegal in the majority of American states. Recently, actor Robert Leeshock discussed his experiences working on a film which has the potential to be so explosively controversial:
Meagan Meehan (M.M.): What inspired you to become an actor?
Robert Leeshock (R.L.): At first, it probably was this palpable fear of not being incredibly bored with a traditional job as well as a curiosity with the human condition. Where I grew up in New Jersey, I had always met characters who were ‘bigger than life’… the kind of people you knew could not really exist in the ‘real world’ yet they were walking the earth with me and I thought on some level I could do them a bit of a service. Perhaps it was also a circuitous way to study philosophy and examine the multitude of reasons why human beings do what we do.
M.M.: What are your favorite kinds of movies?
R.L.: In the beginning, it was the classic hits of the 70’s, hard core realism that had poetry to them. The GODFATHER, FRENCH CONNECTION, PAPILLON, DOG DAY AFTERNOON, & THE STING. There are definitely some seminal hits like JAWS, ANIMAL HOUSE and SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER. Then in the ‘80s, it was more a shift toward comedy with the hits of John Hughes, BREAKFAST CLUB etc…I really enjoy character driven movies like SCARFACE and RAGING BULL and of course the work of David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino. The Tarantino films probably speak to me most with their ability to meld in depth characters with pure entertainment!
M.M.: “Star Leaf” is about a pretty controversial topic. Were you nervous about making/acting in a movie that essentially promotes medical marijuana—a practice that is still illegal in most places?
R.L.: I never really felt nervous about the subject matter as it seemed like an appropriate time to introduce a debate about the medicinal benefits of cannabis. My nephew had been suffering from Leukemia, a horrendously debilitating and humbling disease and part of his treatment included cannabis. So, if it was legitimate enough to be included in his regimen of fighting a three year long battle with cancer, then it was worthy of our exploration as filmmakers. And with the numbers of veterans suffering with PTSD, it seems like an opportune time to address this important issue of the casualties of war. The film actually promotes responsible cannabis use, so any agenda to simply promote rampant, foolish ‘weed smoking’ was never our intention. I mean, at the end of the day we were trying to entertain people in a very innovative and creative fashion. And have a few laughs along the way.
M.M.: What’s been your favorite gig – movie, television or otherwise?
R.L.: The best gig I had was paying the lead character, Liam Kincaid on EARTH: FINAL CONFLICT. It was the first time I had the opportunity to really play a hero/action star. It was pretty thrilling … the responsibility that goes along with that kind of gig. But on a more intimate level, the most exhilarating gig was when I would perform characters at a stand up venue, which became even more ‘dangerous’ because you’re relying on your writing skills as well. I used to play a punk character who would do an ‘angry’ version of the childhood ditty…. the Incy, Wincy Spider. The nerves that go along with that kind of a performance are exhilarating and terrifying!
M.M.: If you could make any kind of film, with an unlimited budget, what type of movie would you make and why?
R.L.: Unlimited budget….? Are you playing with me?? Well, my business partner Richard Cranor and I have a story called WULFKRIEG. It’s the story of a German family of werewolves who are being recruited by the Nazis for their supernatural powers to fight against the Allies in WWII. It’s an awesome story with some real great period stuff and yet it has this ephemeral sci-fi element to it as well. I mean who doesn’t want to see a cooler version of Twilight with some bad-ass coming of age teenage wolves beating up on the Nazis….?!
M.M.: So far, what has been the most rewarding thing about being involved in the movie industry?
R.L.: Well, we’re just embarking on our journey… so the real excitement comes from being this renegade indie film company who still has the ultimate creative control over the product we’re nurturing. Though it has limitations, there is magic in the serendipity that happens as you take action on your idea. If you stay attuned to the signs in your present environment, divine creativity annoints your endeavors in truly mystical ways. Every part of the process serves to challenge your faith and yet along the way the creative options are endless. From casting to shooting to editing it encompasses an incredibly dynamic and rewarding experience.
M.M.: Do you have any upcoming projects that you would like to mention?
R.L.: I mentioned WULFKRIEG. But we also have another sci-fi adventure film called GODMACHINE. It’s a story about a distraught mercenary who is hired by a malevolent corporation to hunt and kill a beautiful android Godmachine, who has the ability to channel the frequency of the Big Bang. But when he meets her, their cosmic date with destiny inspires them to join forces and fight against the Corporation and for the freedom of both humans and machines alike!
M.M.: What advice would you give to someone who is aspiring to enter the film industry?
R.L.: If you’re a filmmaker, try to get a sense of your ‘end use distribution’ models at play with your budget/genre of film. Please, please don’t just go and borrow money from anyone and everyone and then realize one, you have no money left to market the film or two, you’ve spent so much money creating your ‘passion project’ but you were never able to recoup your or anyone else’s investment even in a best case scenario. Other than that I say, follow your passion, tell an interesting story and don’t forget the ‘business’ side of Show Business! Cheers to all and your inspired talents!
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To learn more about Robert visit his Facebook, Twitter and IMBD.