Jason Fraley’s earliest cinematic achievement — shot with his grandparents’ camcorder — was a remake of the Macaulay Culkin blockbuster “Home Alone.” He called it “Boy By Himself.”
Filming commenced somewhat immediately after Fraley and his twin brother, then 6 years old, were inspired in a Frederick movie theater by this wondrous John Hughes composition. The plot of “Boy By Himself,” compressed here for space reasons, was roughly, as Fraley recalls: “I would rob my twin brother.”
The movie was not widely viewed.
Twenty-one years later, Fraley has released a more mature work — “Liberty Road,” a 17-minute short about life in a small town Maryland crab shack that he wrote, directed and produced on a shoestring budget for his master’s thesis at American University.
The film has picked up several awards, including the Golden Eagle Award from the prestigious Cine organization. Fraley found inspiration for the movie in his day job writing news copy on the 4 a.m. to noon shift at WTOP, listening to constant updates about the economy, foreclosures, and, in 2010, the Gulf oil spill.
“Working in the news all the time, you see how horrible things are for people,” Fraley told me the other day, over much needed coffee after his shift at WTOP. “We are bombarded every day with heated politics, and gun control stories, and race, and oil spill news, and I wanted to take all that stuff and put it in a movie.”
Fraley set the film at Liberty Road Seafood & Steak, a Frederick restaurant that he worked in growing up. The setting gives the movie a remarkable and unique Maryland feel, and in one key scene Fraley uses a crab as a metaphor for our lives, circa 2010 and beyond.
But the story Fraley tells — gentle, sad, humane, with simmering tension — could be about any American small town coping with familiar faces in a community losing their homes and suffering from other people’s mistakes.
“I wanted to make this a nonpolitical film,” he says. “The film says we are in a dark place, but there is hope.”
His advisor at American, the director Claudia Myers, thinks the film is “very dense but in a good way,” she told me. “That’s exactly what he wanted. He wanted to pack all this stuff in. It’s a unique film. It tells a different kind of story. I think it’s really strong, and it has a good chance of getting a lot of attention.”
Fraley is entering the movie into film festivals, hoping it reaches a wider audience — wide enough to drum up interest from big producers and investors looking to back a promising young director’s first feature film. Fraley is working on more screenplays, writing after work at coffee shops or at home.
And he runs a popular Web site called The Film Spectrum, where his lengthy, spirited reviews, according to the site’s mission statement, “take academic classics and explain them in laymen’s terms, while taking mainstream classics and explaining them in academic terms.”
“The Godfather,” “Citizen Kane,” “All About Eve” — all reviewed with the ethos of a true film aficionado.
But none of the movies covered there were family efforts like the film Fraley just finished. The credits that roll at the end of “Liberty Road” include several people whose last names are Fraley. His relatives and friends cooked food, took care of the actors (all professional, all accomplished), and did whatever else the crew needed.
“If I make no more movies or a million more, this one will always stand out to me,” Fraley says. “Looking down the credits you see all the names of everyone who ever meant anything to you.”
The trailer is below: