Sunset Cliffs adds touch of beauty to apocalyptic San Diego-made film ‘Friend of the World’
Writer, producer and director Brian Patrick Butler immediately thought of Sunset Cliffs as he envisioned the scenes for his recent film, “Friend of the World.”
“Sunset Cliffs has always stuck with me as one of the most scenic, beautiful views in San Diego,” Butler said.
That may not seem fitting for a movie that is set after a catastrophic global war, with an eccentric general and a young filmmaker taking refuge in a ravaged bunker.
But the location was perfect for lead character Diane, played by Alexandra Slade, who “wanted to remember the beauty of her world,” Butler said.
Sunset Cliffs Natural Park features a 3-mile hiking trail hugging the shoreline along the Point Loma Peninsula. Spectacular ocean views, boulders, caves, natural arches and the namesake cliffs are part of the scenery.
Butler said “Friend of the World,” his first feature film, includes elements of dark comedy, science fiction, horror and even stage plays. All the cast and crew members are based in the San Diego area.
Theater veteran Nick Young was cast as Gen. Gore, whom Butler describes as a 20th-century, John Wayne type of hero.
“When we were casting in 2016, Nick was one of the first people we chose. He sent in a cellphone video of himself reading the lines, and I just knew he was the guy. It was the perfect balance of grimness and humor. And after that, it just got better and better,” Butler said.
Slade’s casting took a different path, since her character was originally intended to be a man.
“Something wasn’t working in the script,” Butler said. “I knew Alex from a few years before, and we bumped into each other at the gym. I thought she would be really interesting as the female lead.”
Diane is “21st-century, forward-thinking and remembering her world as bright and vibrant,” Butler said. “But she’s stuck in the world of Gore.”
“Putting the two in the situation just raised the stakes of the movie,” he added. “The dynamic changed and the chemistry was there. I felt myself rooting for her. It gives you more hope for humanity at the end.”
Young, 63, has performed in theater and commercials for years and is in the 2021 film “The Case of: Dakota Moore.”
He said “Friend of the World” gave him a unique opportunity.
“I have done a lot of mainstream stuff but never actually carried a film. I wanted to work with people who allowed me to create a character and carry it from beginning to end,” he said.
He described his character, Gore, as “tough love. He’s crazy, but crazy good and crazy smart.”
“Friend of the World” premiered Aug. 15, 2020, at the Oceanside International Film Festival and was nominated for Best Narrative Feature Film at the San Diego Film Awards that year. Young’s performance earned him a Best Actor nomination.
The movie was released this year on Amazon Prime Video and Tubi, distributed by Troma Entertainment. It is now available for streaming on multiple platforms but can be seen without charge at Tubitv.com.
Slade is a theater actress whose work includes “Good People,” “Ragtime,” “Oklahoma,” “Hairspray” and “Chicago.” “Friend of the World” is her first feature film project. She and Butler appear in the 2021 short film “We All Die Alone.”
Doing her own stunts was one of her favorite parts of the filming, she said. “I’ve never had a role so physically taxing. I did a lot of risky things for myself, such as jumping down an elevator, running and sliding around and more. It was a really gritty project, and the grit you see is real.”
The majority of the film was shot in the basement of a closed, century-old, privately owned building. The Sunset Cliffs scenes were a total contrast.
“They picked the perfect location for a serene environment for the rest of the darkness of the film — it was the calm before the storm,” Slade said.
She described Diane as “complicated, very aloof. She’s a quiet force and a little bit misunderstood and relatable.”
“Friend of the World” is “kind of like a long-lost episode of ‘Twilight Zone,’” said Dan Butler, Brian’s brother, who is working on publicity for the film and also has worked on visual effects, sound, photography, dialogue and post-production. “It’s unorthodox and kind of like a theatrical play between two characters.”
Brian Butler said the film’s story “is more personal than it comes off. It comes from my life growing up in San Diego and friendships that ultimately went south. All my drama and soured relationships find their way into my scripts, hiding beneath the view of a crazy sci-fi movie.”
The film is unusual in that the majority was filmed in black and white.
“The choice of black and white was firmly rooted in the character of Gore,” Brian Butler said. “The black-and-white cinematography also adds to the feeling of dread,” especially since much of the film takes place in an underground bunker.
Cinematographer Ray Gallardo described working on a black-and-white film as “a real treat.”
“It’s an especially unique film and visually fun from a photography standpoint,” he said.
Gallardo has been a cinematographer in San Diego for more than 10 years. With a “day job” doing commercial work and training videos, he said he also “gets to do fun stuff,” ranging from music videos to short films to directing feature films.
Gallardo said he knew the Sunset Cliffs location would be “amazing” for “Friend of the World.”
“We were filming during the sunset. It was clear but with a few clouds. ... It was the golden hour; the more the sun goes down, the more the colors show up,” he said.
Since the filming was short, permits weren’t needed, Gallardo said.
“We just rolled cameras from the parking lot and milked it until the sun went down and we couldn’t shoot anymore,” he said.
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Other scenes were shot in Mission Trails Regional Park in San Diego.
Dan Butler described filming a scene in which he and his brother made cameo appearances dressed in hazmat suits going up a hiking trail at the park.
“A jogger went past and we had to reshoot,” he said, adding that he wondered what the person must have thought of two men in hazard gear being out on the trail.
The first draft of the movie was written in August 2016. Filming began in 2017 with Kerry Rossall, a renowned stunt coordinator and actor, as executive producer. Rossall, a longtime Carlsbad resident, also is the Butlers’ uncle.
“The entire film was shot in 10 to 12 days,” Dan Butler said. “It was then in post-production for almost a year.”
Part of the reason for that “was because I had an older computer,” he said. “Part of it was because we were all working other 9-to-5 jobs and had to make time for it on our own time.”
A family illness further delayed work on the film and then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“In March 2020, everything was ready. But then because of COVID, most of the film festivals didn’t happen,” he said.
Young said he believes “Friend of the World” resonates with many age groups for many reasons, including the parallels of world chaos during the pandemic.
Much like the daily interplay between light and waves at Sunset Cliffs, many people want to watch the film more than once, he said.
“Reviewers keep finding things in it that make me want to watch it again,” Young said. “It’s a good film on the surface and it becomes hauntingly addictive.”
For more information about the film, visit imdb.com/title/tt6074542.