Tuesday, May 21, 2024 May 21, 2024
86° F Dallas, TX
Arts & Entertainment

After Two Decades, a Fort Worth Filmmaker Followed Through on His High School Dreams

Richard Blake’s low-budget thriller The Actor, featuring a soundtrack by Collective Soul, debuts this week.
Richard Blake is an actor playing an actor in The Actor. Amberock Productions

More than 20 years ago, Wisconsin high school student Richard Blake told a “joke” to a classmate: One day, he would direct a movie, and the entire soundtrack would be Collective Soul songs.

It turns out Blake wasn’t joking, however. His new action-comedy The Actor might have a low budget, but it features songs from the 1990s rock mainstays sprinkled throughout.

“I’ve never forgotten that. I’ve always wanted to do it,” Blake said. “I’ve stayed loyal. They’re my favorite band.”

It’s the second directorial effort — and ninth screenplay overall — for Blake (Dragonball: Evolution) and the first project since relocating his production company from Los Angeles to Fort Worth three years ago. The film was shot almost entirely in Tarrant County with a primarily local cast and crew.

He stars as Hunter, a struggling performer thrown into a series of ethically compromising situations after he witnesses a murder and finds a suitcase full of cash. Keeping the money requires him to play a role with real-life implications as villains are on his heels. The supporting cast includes North Texas actors Major Dodge, Melissa Archer, and Donny Boaz.

“The idea was a guilty-pleasure movie,” said Blake, who cites filmmaking inspirations ranging from Brian DePalma to Quentin Tarantino. “I wanted to take things I love from movies like bags full of money, cat-and-mouse chases, and deception. And I miss great soundtracks.”

Aside from the throwback narrative nostalgia, the title character wound up mirroring aspects of Blake’s own journey after moving from Wisconsin to Los Angeles at age 20—with some exaggerations, of course.

“I was kind of a goody-two-shoes. I go to church, and I love my mom, that sort of thing. All of a sudden, you get into these situations where you’re auditioning, and you’ll just say anything or do anything. If you’re out there long enough, that line starts to get blurred, and you can lose yourself,” he said. “With every actor, there’s an element of moral conflict. Hunter starts out very timid and tries to be nice and humble, but the whole movie he’s trying to justify something much worse. He’s becoming a different person.”

Assembling the songs was perhaps Blake’s biggest challenge. Despite being a lifelong fan of Collective Soul, he spent three years using every relevant connection he had, from radio deejays to record-label contacts to mutual friends of friends.

“They’re such positive dudes,” Blake said. “We paid full price to license the music. We had to wheel and deal. A lot of our budget went into that, but it was a choice. That was a reason I ended up playing the part. Instead of paying somebody, I could just defer the pay and put anything that was supposed to come to me toward the music.”

Blake and his wife, Amber, set up their production company in Fort Worth partially out of desperation. When the film industry shut down during the pandemic, the couple also lost both of the gyms they owned.

At the time, they had made two small but profitable films in California and were in pre-production on The Actor. Since both of them have family in North Texas, they decided to move here — temporarily at first — living with Amber’s parents and figuring out their next move. Now they’re thriving.

“We just needed to get out of L.A. I didn’t know what to do with myself. This script probably got a little more violent,” Blake said. “I was originally going to transition [Hunter] from California to Wisconsin or Chicago, but since we were here, I said Texas. We found a great building in downtown Fort Worth. The quality of living is much better. So we just moved the company here. There’s great talent and great people here. I was able to do things a little cheaper, location-wise, but it also enhanced the story.”

The Actor will be available on digital platforms starting Friday, followed by a gala screening and premiere party slated for Saturday night in downtown Fort Worth.


Todd Jorgenson

Todd Jorgenson