“The Stairs” Gets Some Buzz on the West Coast

How did two Film Connection students with the same mentor wind up making multiple films under their own production company moniker? It started with a dream. More specifically, a script called The American Dream.  

Hakym Reagan and Blake Laitner

Blake Laitner and Hakym Reagan were both apprenticing with Lisa Sherman of MediaFX, located in the Portland, Oregon area. During a conversation one day over lunch in a nearby restaurant, the two began talking about an idea to bring local filmmakers together to collaborate on their projects.  “I was thinking we would be like a bunch of Joe Schmo’s if we didn’t bring a project to the table,” says Blake. “So I came up with the story The American Dream.” That’s when everything changed.   The concept of the film rang true and deep with Hakym. “I believe a lot of people have a misconception of the destination of the American dream,” he says, “as far as people thinking, ‘Oh, the American dream is just making it, just being able to buy cars, buy new houses.’ But then they forget the aspect of what it took to get there, and a tremendous amount of work. So that’s basically the idea we went for.”  The script started at 15 pages, but the pair decided to cut it down to 7 minutes to make it more affordable and simple to produce. Almost instinctively, Hakym went into producer mode.

Blake picks up the story. “I told him, ‘We have the script. Let’s set up this meeting in the library, and let’s see what happens.’ And he’s like, ‘I have a whole cast and crew ready to go.’ It sounded too good to be true. It sounded intangible until we had our first meeting at the Punch Bowl Social in downtown Portland…I met a composer, I met actors, I met makeup artists. Once I met these people face to face, it became a reality that we were making a film.”  The collaboration between the two filmmakers, and their respective roles in the process, fell into place naturally. “[Blake’s] passion is to write, and my passion was to shoot,” says Hakym. “So it was obvious, I guess. We’d never really said, ‘Oh, you do this,’ or ‘You do that.’…I told him how to capture shots and everything, and he was like, ‘Oh, I like that. That really relates to what I had in mind’ and ‘Oh, we think the same. Okay, great. Let’s do it.’ And then I directed it, and he was helping producing…and yeah, we made it work.”  

Cast and Crew of The American Dream

So with Blake and Hakym collaborating on the script and production, and Hakym directing and editing, The American Dream became a reality. The pair held two premieres for the film: a private screening at Cinetopia in Beaverton, OR, and a public one at 5th Avenue Cinema in Portland.  “[We] got to meet a lot of people and talk,” says Hakym. “We had a Q & A on the private premiere and even the public one. People asking questions, like how long it took and how hard it was…It went wonderful.”  “It was an amazing experience just to accomplish making that first short film,” Blake adds. “It’s one of those things like if I never made this short film, I would have hated myself the rest of my life because of going to Film Connection and then not even making a film at the end.”

And the story doesn’t end there. The pair is in the process of forming their own company, Braunbauer Studios, and even when Hakym made the move to Los Angeles, the collaboration continued. As of the end of September, the two just wrapped shooting on their second short film, titled The Stairs. Co-produced by Blake and Hakym, directed by Hakym, the story is based on the book A Hebraic Obsession, written by Blake’s father. “It’s really close to me because it is the true story about my grandfather and the experience that he had in the Holocaust,” says Blake.   With the wrapping of the second film, and despite the current distance between the collaborators (Hakym in L.A., Blake in Eugene, OR), it’s clear that the two are settling into a good workflow together.  “[Hakym] lets me take on the writing role because he knows I’m a writer and he loves my stories that I tell,” says Blake, “and we do contribute on future stories that we do want to work on. He likes my style of writing, and the role was he wanted me to write the script and he said he’d go out and find the right people…I trust him. He wants the same thing out of life that I want. I saw something in him that I knew wasn’t going to stop until he got what he wanted, which was directing a film.”  And so, from their collaboration birthed from being students together at the Film Connection, Blake and Hakym are in a real way living their own version of “The American Dream,” which to them isn’t so much about cars, houses and money as it is in pursuing their own dreams.  “Most of the time when people want to be filmmakers or want to make it in the film industry,” says Hakym, “it’s mostly like, ‘Oh, how am I going to make it big? How am I going to do the big break?’…My focus is more, ‘How am I going to create more and great content?’ I want people to enjoy what I make. I don’t care how it comes to success and all that, because success is in the mind for me…Eventually it will happen with time and everything, but it is not the main focus for me right now. For me right now, it’s more about making as many films as possible… it’s just a great feeling to me to be behind the camera and creating emotions and just making a story come to life on the screen.”