When other people go to lunch, Lori Smith goes to his studio and paints. When other people turn on the 10 o'clock news or wait for the late show, he starts to write. A man of many interests, passions and pursuits, Smith is a filmmaker, an artist, and a writer. And that's in his spare time.
An original founder of the Sundance Film Festival, his full-time job is director of Producer Services for the Utah Film Commission, a demanding position he describes modestly as a "glorified location scout."
"It's been a big sacrifice for my wife to live with me," he says of juggling his many interests. "She doesn't get to see me that much. I'm sort of obsessed in a lot of ways and that's just how I am to keep things in my life going that are important to me. I've adapted to work this way. I drink coffee at 9 o'clock at night to get going. But, to me it's all fun. That's why I'm doing any of it. I think of my life as a pretty rich life."
On Friday, Nov. 21, he'll screen several of his short films at the Utah Film and Video Center, including Finn's Restaurant, a half-hour video project; In Search of a Date and Dave in Las Vegas, a home movie travelogue about going to see the David Letterman show in Las Vegas; and Three Things I've Learned, a five-minute black & white Woody Allenesque comedy, which has played at 14 international film festivals, was selected as one of the best shorts of 1994, and has been broadcast on French, Polish and Norwegian television.
He'll also premiere his newest film, Chloe's Blanket, a 16-minute comedy about a young woman and her relationship with her childhood security blanket, which has become a bit of a problem since she's 27 years old and still wears it everyday as part of her wardrobe.
"It's a sweet little film that's pretty funny and kind of allegorical," says Smith. "The tag line I'm using is 'Follow your bliss, even if it starts to smell funny.'"
The film stars Stefene Russell, Alex Caldiero, Gyll Huff, Smith's Film Commission colleague Saundra Sapperstein, his wife, Victoria Smith, and his daughters, Ariel and Andrea Smith.
"It's a profound feeling to see your work come up on the screen, to see the little jokes you've made and the performances," says Smith. "It's especially rewarding when you hear people laugh at something you've created. It's an addictive feeling. That's why you do one film and you really want to do another one."
As any independent filmmaker will tell you, it' s a costly addiction. "I don't have a lot of money, so it's a real challenge," says Smith, who came up with a creative way to finance Chloe's Blanket. He sent postcards to friends soliciting donations in any amount. In exchange, he gave donors an original drawing and a credit in the film, which explains his lengthy credit list. The smallest donation he got was a $10 bill, the largest $1,000. "I raised about $3,500 by doing that," he says. "I couldn't have made the film without the support I got from the community, here."
Even with his creative financing tactics, he put a lot of expenses on credit cards and had to sell his car. "You figure out a way to do it because you have to make it," he explains. "You feel so driven. It's my theory of independent filmmaking that you really paint yourself into a corner talking about wanting to make a film. You reach a point where you have to put up or shut up. That' s where I found myself."
Another motivation for making films was his frustration with being an aspiring screenwriter. "I got tired of waiting for someone else to give me permission to go out and make a film," he says. "I have to make short films I can just go out and make myself."
For the past 15 years, he's been honing his writing craft between 10 o'clock and midnight each night, or on rare getaways to his brother's house in Moab. While he's produced nine feature scripts, he has yet to sell one, though he's come close: TNT made him an offer, then backed out because the film would be too expensive to produce.
Artist Lori Smith: Selling his car to finance his films.
Oliver Stone is looking at a Wallace Stegner book he optioned, but Smith's not holding his breath. "I don't know Oliver Stone," he says.
Though his years working with producers and directors through the Utah Film Commission and the Sundance Festival have garnered him an impressive array of contacts, he's realistic about the fiercely competitive business. "You still have to figure out a way to get someone to look at a script," he says. "I'm hopeful some of these things will actually pan out, but I've been doing it so long that I know how few people actually come out of that process."
For Smith, the act of writing, itself, is reason enough to continue. "I do it out of a passion for doing it," he says. "I think I'm just going to keep going." The script that has most captured his passion has been Beyond the Hundred Meridian, about 19th-century explorer John Wesley Powell. "It's such a great story," he says. "And no one knows this story. It's one of the greatest American adventure stories we have."
Get a creative person's imagination fired and there's no stopping him. Smith doesn't just write and make films in his spare time, he also draws and paints. His bright, bold drawings, which he describes as "primitive art," are in about 75 or 80 private collections, including those of the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States and the Sacklers of Connecticut, who are premier collectors of primitive art.
His works have been exhibited at Phillips Gallery in Salt Lake City and Skyridge Gallery in Torrey, Utah, as well as Barney Wycoff in Aspen, Colo. "I'm the only artist whose work was on Battle of the Network Stars, he laughs. "I sold a big drawing to the actor Brian Wimmer (China Beach), who was on the show. When they did a profile of him in his living room, there, over his fireplace, was one of my drawings."
A man in perpetual search of creative outlets, Smith only recently took up painting. He credits a trip to Paris last November with inspiring him to paint. "I literally broke into tears at the Louvre," he says. "I knew I had to get behind a paintbrush, so that's what I've done. I'm very excited about the paintings I have going," he says. He has a studio in the old Blue Mouse building, where he retreats on his lunch hour or for an hour after work. He's already finished 13 large, museum-size paintings.
He describes his art, like his films and his writing, as "little autobiographical things coming out of my life. "I'm self-taught at everything," he says. "It's a lot of false starts, but you know you derive some pleasure from doing it and you figure out how to do it a little better. I have a theory about art and self-expression: We'd all be a lot happier and more-fulfilled people in this culture if we had an outlet to express ourselves, whether that's writing a little poem, drawing a little picture, writing a song, doing a dance, playing a musical instrument, or taking a videocamera and shooting something.
"We can do it if we tell ourselves that we shouldn't have any rules, that we can make mistakes, that we don't need anyone's permission and that it should all be fun and not about making money. I'm convinced art needs to play a much bigger role in our lives than it does. I made that decision early on. I didn't care what anybody said or thought about it. I was just going to plunge ahead. I still derive a lot of pleasure from going down in my basement next to the furnace and making a picture. As an adult, I want that same sense of playfulness I remember as a kid, that not wanting to come in for dinner because I was too enthralled. It can be a powerful lift."
For Smith, it all ties back to the theme of his short film, Chloe's Blanket: Follow your bliss, even if it starts to smell.