By Mike Kinney
An El Sobrante filmmaker pulled off his long-running goal of producing a feature length film on a slim budget.
Alex Zajicek, who graduated from De Anza High School in 2011, began writing Sorry, We’re Dead, in 2016. Seven years later, the 86-minute-long movie is set to premiere at the ETHOS Film Awards International Film Festival in Santa Monica on Sunday, Nov. 12, at 8 p.m.
The movie was filmed entirely in the Bay Area, particularly El Sobrante, Hercules, and Port Costa, Zajicek said. It centers on a young woman wanting to be a filmmaker, but she’s stuck in a dead-end job filming college lectures. Creatively and emotionally stifled, she must realize this is a problem and find a way to dig herself out of her rut. But there are other elements at play, including a mistake she made that may lead to the firing of a coworker, and also straining relations with her best friend and roommate.
“It’s very much a drama comedy,” Zajicek said. “I think comedy is a lot more fun when it’s contrasted with more serious elements, and the two things can play off each other and accentuate each other in fun ways.”
The film project was inspired in part by Zajicek’s early film work, when he took on a job filming college lectures and editing in his first gig out of college. He didn’t find this particular job inspiring, and some funny moments came from the job that he felt was worth wriing about.
“I stole lots of things from my own life, from my friends’ lives, and from the world around me as I wrote, and years of revisions changed the script to focus a little more on the character than just the lectures and the nuanced mistakes that can be made while filming one that most audiences wouldn’t really be able to understand or appreciate,” Zajicek said.
Zajicek also designed the film to be made on a budget. He wrote with cost of gear in mind, and in locations where filming can be done inexpensively. He commissioned actors he already knows to participate.
“I wrote the film so that I could actually make it myself if I had to, and that influenced almost every decision,” he said. “And I found that limitation to be quite fun. This thing that I once felt limited by when I was a kid was suddenly the very thing helping me make creative choices that would allow me to make a real movie.”
Prior to Sorry, We’re Dead, Zajicek worked on a couple low-budget indie feature films, making friends in the process with fellow filmmakers. He doesn’t recall a magic moment in which he decided he wanted to be a filmmaker. As long as he can recall, he’s been “making things, and in particular, storytelling.”
“My mom can pull out random little ‘comics’ that I was drawing before I could write words, and apparently, I would verbally narrate the story in the panels when showing it to her,” he said.
A 4th grade teacher who required students to do regular creative writing got Zajicek into writing.
“I wanted to write a book,” he said. “I also got a video camera, and made little silly films.”
Zajicek taught himself 2D animation, “because with the video camera, the only locations I could film at were the ones I could walk to, which felt very limiting.” He continued with 2D animation throughout his middle and high school years. Then when applying to colleges, a family friend got someone at Pixar to take a look at some of his YouTube content.
“They ultimately convinced me to consider getting a film degree, because they said my work was much more focused on story than it was on the actual ‘animation,’ and I decided to listen to them,” he said. “Thank gosh, because they were completely right. Illustration was never my interest or my strong suit, I only did it so I could convert a script to the screen.”
Zajicek graduated from the California College of the Arts in SF and Oakland for Film. He considered moving to Los Angeles, but landed on the set of a feature film in the Bay Area and “accidentally fell into freelancing in the Bay Area film industry.” Which is fine by him.
“I’m local and love the Bay Area, so I was glad for an excuse not to move to LA,” he said.
Zajicek works on feature films fairly regularly, generally in the camera department, and for years he was scoping out how he could maybe make my own feature film one day. The pandemic was one of many challenges to the film’s creation. But perhaps the greatest challenge was making the film “from scraps and leftover pieces of paychecks.”
“And I gave myself the rule that I’m going to pay every single crew member equally, and as fairly as I could afford to,” he said. “Lots of indie films ask you to work below minimum wage, but I didn’t want to do that to my own fellow filmmakers and film community.”
To keep labor costs down, he challenged himself to film the movie in as few days as possible. In the end, the film was shot in about 12 days. “It was a constant fight against the clock,” he said.
Zajicek is only getting started. He’s currently involved with different film projects on a regular basis and intends to keep offering his services as a crew member in their camera departments. He also produced another Bay Area indie recently called “Donny & Ally.”
In terms of his own projects, he’s already written two more feature films while editing Sorry, We’re Dead. He’s ready to starting shooting one of them, although he needs funding to do so.
“While I’m trying to find investors or grant money, I’m also going to be slowly working on the backup plan of saving up paychecks, just in case Plan A doesn’t work out,” Zajicek said. “The film is going to get made one way or another.”
Learn more about Sorry, We’re Dead here: www.sorryweredead.com.