Growing up in Moscow, Alex Simmons liked making weird videos with his dad’s video camera. Twenty years out of high school, the Emmy-nominated director is riding the wave of praise for his first feature film.
comically contagious tribute to male bonding in the great outdoors.” It’s won Best Feature audience awards at film festivals in Florida, Las Vegas and elsewhere.
Simmons met Giuntoli and Borg when he moved to Los Angeles to work as a director. The three were roommates and always wanted to make a movie together. In 2014 they found 10 days to shoot “Buddymoon” on a $50 budget, ad-libbing without a script.
Simmons lives in Los Angeles with his wife, actress Jeanne Syquia. Other recent projects include the documentaries “Chasing El Chapo” and “Borderland.” Inland 360 caught up with him to find out more about his work.
Simmons: I went to college in Salem at Willamette University. I lived in Seattle and moved to L.A. about 10 years ago. I studied international relations and Spanish but I always made movies with my friends. I think L.A. is definitely the place you want to be if you want to do TV and film. There are more opportunities. You can pretty much make your own thing anywhere in the world but to get a start and be around other people doing things, it’s definitely a good place to go. One of the places I got my start was at Current TV, Al Gore’s TV network, doing music documentaries, international documentaries and investigative work.
Inland 360: For the ABC/Fusion documentary “Chasing El Chapo” you traveled to the Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s hometown, Sinaloa, a week after he escaped from prison in 2015 to see what the hunt for the world’s most wanted man looked like. Your team finds the town still in his control. When you ask to interview El Chapo’s mother but refuse to pay for an interview you’re all told you have 30 minutes to leave or people will come for you. Were you scared?
Simmons: I think I would say, not scared, but definitely very cognizant of being in a place where you had to be careful. We worked with a Mexican journalist who had been there before and knew everyone so that was helpful but it was nerve wracking and a little crazy. I think when you’re in the moment you’re focused on getting all the footage and capturing what’s going on. I was more nervous afterward.
Inland 360: In 2014 you filmed the reality TV series “Borderland” where six Americans retraced the path of three illegal immigrants who died trying to get to the U.S. from Mexico. The six included a former bikini model turned Republican Senate aide, a Pasco asparagus farmer and a conservative radio talk show host. They all had strong opinions about illegal immigration and had to uncover the stories of the deceased. What was that project like?
Simmons: That was an amazing project. (Illegal immigration) is one of the most divided issues in America right now and we wanted to explore it but we wanted to do it in a way that wasn’t going to come across as a one-sided opinion piece. Six Americans from all over the board traced the footsteps of undocumented immigrants; they really did that journey. I think it was eye-opening for them and for us. It was one of the more eye-opening experiences for me as a filmmaker. You can read about the journey that people from Central America and Mexico take and have an opinion but until you see it first-hand and all the details of why someone is leaving and what they have to do to get here, the criminal element along the way and the danger, it’s even more complex than people can even wrap their heads around. To see it first-hand was kind of a once in a lifetime experience.
Inland 360: “Buddymoon” is your first feature film. What made you turn to fiction?
Simmons: For me it’s really important to do different types of projects so it doesn’t get boring doing the same thing. It’s kind of the yin and the yang; I think you have to have both to keep things interesting. … We’d always wanted to make a movie together but life was busy. There was this window for two weeks a couple summers ago when we realized this is a chance to make a movie and if we don’t do it now it’s never going to happen. We were delusional enough to do it on very short notice, without a script, without a lot of money. It’s beyond what we ever could have hoped for for an independent movie that was self-funded. Making a movie with your friends was the real motivation and actually getting out there was the real bonus. When it was released it was No. 1 on the iTunes charts in the independent category for the first week.
Inland 360: “Buddymoon” has a Lewis and Clark theme running throughout the film. What made you add that element?
Simmons: Probably two things. First, growing up in Idaho we studied Lewis and Clark a lot in grade school. I think we spent an entire year in elementary school learning about the journey, writing little essays and going to historical sites near Moscow, so kind of being just a fan from that. The second part, I loved the dichotomy of these two guys taking a seven-day backpacking trip and comparing it to a multi-year, life-risking endeavor. To compare the two was really funny for me. They couldn’t be more different in some ways. The Lewis and Clark trip is kind of the original American bromance. It’s a nod to the American West. I think that kind of adventure still kind of goes on in the Northwest.
Inland 360: Did growing up in Moscow influence you in other ways?
Simmons: I do think there is something about growing up in Moscow that is a really unique experience — this tiny town in middle of nowhere with so many interesting people, the scene and the university. People I grew up with are now musicians, PhDs and playwrights. I’m very proud to come from Moscow because it’s such an incredible group of people that has come from this little place. I support northern Idaho. I know there are 14-year-old kids ready to go to high school now who think they live in the middle of nowhere, I want them to know they can do anything they want.