Oleander is a fictional recreation of the events leading to the 2014 death of Cooper Harris, left to die in a hot car at 22 months of age.
A lobster boat captain barely making ends meet is madly in love with his wife, an up and coming artist. We follow the unraveling of their relationship, and the desperate measures they take to win back the life they once had.
On the news in the summer of 2014, we saw a case where a man left a child, 22-month-old Cooper Harris, in his car for an entire work day. It happens every summer. 26 that particular year. But rather than simply considering it another horrible mistake, the police found reason enough to not only convict the father of murder but suspect the mother as well. As a father of two young children myself, I thought “How can anyone intentionally do this?” What can drive a seemingly normal person to commit such a crime? I believe there is both good and evil in everyone, and given the right circumstances, evil can prevail.
I’m a fan of character driven films. Upon seeing Scorsese’s Taxi Driver for the first time, I became entranced with how deep of a character study it is. We are presented with a character that makes decisions based on his own moral world. Travis Bickle kills multiple people to, in his opinion, save an underage girl from a foul life of harlotry. How we react to extreme situations is what truly defines who we are.
Finding the right project to work on can be a daunting task. It takes a perfect storm to make the right film. I was in the midst of writing a feature script when I saw the news of the little boy and immediately switched gears. There is a very solid opportunity in this story. Can we give a parent reason enough to commit this crime? Who do we blame?
Our film Oleander, which is loosely based on the Cooper case, does not answer these questions, but rather gives the audience evidence to support either case and in doing so keeps us involved in the film after the credits roll. Like Scorcese, I hope to explore these characters as deep as the short form allows.
Our story follows Mary and Robert and the downfall of their relationship. Mary wants to put her life back on track while Robert will do anything for the love of his wife. At its core, this is a love story; a very selfish love story.
Oleander will be a film of clues. Our narrator may not be trusted at times. I’m hoping to give the audience just enough for them to know what’s going on and eventually pass their own judgment onto the actions of our characters. Their actions will be concrete, but their motives won’t always be. Just like in the news, we never really know why some of these things happen and are only offered pathways to explore.
Technically, I believe in giving each moment what it needs. The visual style reflects this. The camera is always motivated by the characters’ moods and actions. The lighting is natural. We didn’t shoot for beautiful, we shot for reality. It’s a motto that my long time DP, Juan Carlos Sauczuk, and I have been living by in our work together. Oleander is a continuation of that. House of Cards and True Detective are two shows that can be used to describe the mood and tone we went for. It’s a conservative style of filmmaking that allows us to complement our story by building tension and creating an unsettling atmosphere.
In conclusion, Oleander is a character driven short film that will strike a conversation amongst viewers. Many will have a difference of opinion as to why the events occurred. In my opinion, this is where modern filmmaking lives, and these conversations can only carry our film forward.
Oleander, a short film written and directed by Pete Capo.
Starring Karl Jacob, Alexis Bronkovic, Christopher Diaz, Chiko Mendez, Greg Schroeder and Glen Lawrence.
Emperor Films, US
Produced by: Pete Capo
Associate Producers: Gloria Capo, Angie Capo, Alex Abigantus
Cinematographer: Juan Carlos Sauczuk
Production Designer: Peter Parente
Casting by: Erica Palgon
Edited by: Pete Capo
Makeup by: Gloria Capo
1st AC: Alex Somarriba
Gaffer: Nicolas Donadio
Production Sound: Mike Pijuan