Like a telephoto lens on an old-school Nikon, the new theatrical film, “Camera Store” is a vibrant character study that slowly zooms in on its cast in a way few films accomplish -- proving in less than 100 minutes the film’s premise that “Every photograph has two sides, positive and negative.”
In what could best be described as transcendent performances, Emmy-winning actor John Larroquette (“The Librarians” “Boston Legal” “Night Court”) and John Rhys-Davies (“Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Lord of the Rings”) uniquely own their roles as camera store employees who never quite lived up to their perceived potential. As the film progresses, their characters, much like an instant Polaroid photo, vividly develop to show important, if not painfully revealing details as to how the two wound up in their current situation. The darkly comic tale brings a handful of characters into sharp focus in “Camera Store” which was both written and directed by Scott Marshall Smith.
It is Christmas Eve 1994 at Bibideaux’s Family Photographic at Green Meadows Mall, and the impending explosion of digital photography is palpable. Store manager Ray LaPine, delivered in a punchy, yet nuanced performance by Emmy winner John Larroquette, is going about a routine he knows well; maybe too well after 23 years. His old friend and store colleague is the boozy, yet lovable and effervescent Pinky Steuben, played with zest by veteran character actor John Rhys-Davies.
As we are first introduced to the characters in “Camera Store,” Ray LaPine’s former protégé, Karly Regan (David James Elliott), shows up at the store and shares insider information that could affect Ray’s plans for a new camera store of his own. Fitting, as Regan slashes the pre-opening mall hours silence in a “Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come” way. Will this be Ray’s chance to finally do something about his current situation? Will he seize the opportunity with this insider information? To further complicate Christmas Eve, a seasonal new hire has arrived in the form of Pete (Justin Lieberman), a Wharton student who serves as nothing more than a holiday headache.
Becoming Ray LaPine
The character of Ray LaPine is an interesting and complicated one, and that is exactly what drew Larroquette to the role, after it was brought to his attention.
“My youngest son went to high school with the producer when we lived in Sun Valley, Idaho. Bob Peterson, who is the head of the production company, came to LA to be a producer,” Larroquette explains. “He began working and found this script. He talked to my son and said, ‘Would your father ever consider…’ And I said, ‘Maybe, let me read it.’”
Eventually, the draw of the script, the idea of working with a veteran actor like John Rhys-Davies and working in his hometown sold him on taking the gig.
“I liked the script and the idea of working with John Rhys-Davies, certainly… and also, quite frankly, the fact that it was going to film in my home town.” Although the film is not set in New Orleans, filming took place at the Esplanade Mall in Kenner, Louisiana, just outside of New Orleans, where Larroquette was born and raised.
“My son was instrumental in me accepting the job, so, I ‘hired’ him to be my assistant while we were there,” Larroquette says. “So, he and I spent a month in my hometown. It was lovely for that.” Although he identifies that Ray LaPine was a depressed fellow, he felt it was a worthwhile acting job in terms of how he had to approach the character and the atmosphere of the retail world.
“I quote this so much, but it’s true. Jason Robards, the very great actor, once said, ‘If it’s not on the page, it’s not on the stage,’” he added. “So, really, what you have is the meat of the script. You have what influences the character in everyday life, you have the back story that is pretty clear in this one, and that defines him. Our history defines us.”
The audience is deposited into Ray LaPine’s life and his retail world on a very busy day that already has a lot of drama associated with it.
“In talking with the director, who is also the writer… He and I were having conversations about this man’s life and what the director was trying to say.” Larroquette reveals. “I can’t listen to directors too much about what they want to say. Either they’ve written it, or they haven’t. You can’t create something that isn’t there, as the quote says from Mr. Robards. There was a lot of meat in the script and you just try and be as faithful to it as you can, and bring your own world to it as you must, as an actor. I’ll quote Jason Robards again, ‘Every character is stuck with the actor who plays him.’ So, everybody I’ve ever played is stuck with me, and I bring what I am to it, to some degree. Some fractal of my personality has to be viewed in the character.”
As Pinky says, Ray is like the Irish -- “He loves his misery.” For Larroquette personally, he has experienced great sadness in New Orleans including the loss of his mother, father and best friend. “There’s a lot of dark, deep, black, emotional stuff for me in that city. I didn’t have to dig too deeply to find that sort of atmosphere in my own soul to play Ray,” Larroquette says.
Growing up in New Orleans, Larroquette had a bit of an accent that the actor says sounded much like a New Jersey accent, as many longshoremen migrated to New Orleans from Jersey in the early 1900s. Despite filming in New Orleans, he did not find himself slipping back to his native accent.
“The New Orleans accent is not Southern at all. It’s much more Eastern Seaboard,” he states, revealing that his expertise in the dialect led Dennis Quaid to call on him to help with his “Nawlins” accent for the French Quater-based film, “The Big Easy.” “I just told him to practice this sentence, ‘Oysters will spoil if you boil them in oil.’ But say it this way, ‘Erstyers will speryl if you beryl them in eryl.’ So, that’s a New Orleans accent!”
In addition to Larroquette’s expert delivery, there are rich performances throughout “Camera Store.” Rhys-Davies as Pinky commands the screen with a good-natured, commanding swagger-filled introduction which eventually dissolves as we see his lengthy breaks at the mall bar and grill and his obvious money problems. In a lively scene that combines beautiful acting and quick camera work, Pinky’s sales passion richly reveals itself, as does his underlying humanity.
Watching two brilliant veteran actors portraying deep characters with interesting personalities is a treat to view on screen. “Camera Store” marks the first time Larroquette and Rhys-Davies have worked together.
“It was two old-school actors kind of just bashing together and having fun,” says Larroquette. “Both of us, as it turns out, are fond of where improvising comes to mind… just freewheeling through a scene. As long as the import of the scene is related, you can have grace notes and sort of play around the melody line like two jazz saxophonists. And, he is that way, as I am, and we had a great deal of fun.”
As Pete, Lieberman shines in his role as an unassuming seasonal employee who may be harboring a little secret. Laura Silverman as Tonia Canucci is a believable and good soul who has a character-defining moment in the film, and Maddie McCormick as Penny Wednesday is a street smart, yet vulnerable waif who may also have some dirty laundry of her own. David James Elliott and an ageless Cheryl Ladd round out the talented cast.
Did the “Camera Store” cast and crew gel as a “set family?” “To a degree, yes.” Larroquette explains. “I’ve known Bob, the producer, since he was 10 years old, and his cousin Nick, who was also one of the producers. Because my son was there as well, I socialized probably more than I normally do, but not very much. I don’t drink. I don’t carouse. I don’t party at night, But on set, because of the collaborative effort of film, it’s essential that you get along with people. It just makes it easier not to have any antagonistic relationships. I like being on set and I like the people at work.”
Larroquette definitely enjoyed spending time in New Orleans with his son, who hadn’t seen the city since Hurricane Katrina. The duo toured the town and Larroquette even took his son to his own childhood home which is still standing, but without doors and windows… A ghost that now only harbors memories.
‘Camera Store’-Coming Into Focus
A variety of well-constructed scenes involving Bibideaux Photography customers serve to add something meaningful and revealing to the stories of all the film’s characters in a thoughtful and natural way. As the final 10 minutes of the film unravel into a revealing climax that ultimately ties story lines together with a unique and scraggly bow, the viewer is left with a sense of despair for some characters and maybe some hope for other characters. Overall, “Camera Store” feels dark, but there is everything to love about the acting, the photography and the story that is hopelessly and indelibly captured in that Green Meadows Mall on Christmas Eve.
“Camera Store” brilliantly uses effective pops of close-ups and scenes that capture the early 1990s era perfectly - lines at the mall pay phones, vintage cameras and film, people smoking cigarettes in the mall, the whir of 1990s cash registers and not a cell phone in sight.
“This was a valiant effort by everyone involved and hopefully it will find an audience,” finishes Larroquette.
“Camera Store” opens Friday, December 9 in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Houston, Dallas, San Francisco, Tampa Bay, Detroit, Cleveland, Denver, Minneapolis (at the Mall of America) and at Harkins Superstition in Mesa.
About the Production
A Provocator Production of a Scott Marshall Smith film, “Camera Store” stars John Larroquette, John Rhys-Davies, Justin Lieberman, Laura Silverman, Paul Ben-Victor and Maddie McCormick, with David James Elliott and Cheryl Ladd. Written, directed and produced by Scott Marshall Smith, along with producers Robert Reed Peterson, Albert T. Dickerson III and Nicholas Cafritz. Director of photography is Yaron ‘Ron’ Levy. Editor is Ryan Dufrene. Composer is Justin Burnett. Production Designer is Nate Jones and Costume Designer is Jillian Kreiner. Special Effects Coordinator is Dave Nami and Stunt Coordinator is Kevin Beard. “Camera Store” was filmed entirely on location at the Esplanade Mall in Kenner, Louisiana, in the fall of 2015. Visit www.camerastorefilm.com for additional information.
BEHIND THE SCENES of “Camera Store”