Plastic Paradise will be the last project Common Machine makes in conjunction with WLRN. The company will function as a stand-alone production firm, making films without any creative interference and then bringing the finished movies to market.
“Moving forward, we will sell our documentaries to outlets such as HBO or a cable network, or distribute through PBS, but they’ll be buying a completed film,” González says. “This proves the viability of the model we’ve created with Common Machine. We can make really good, smart films with journalistic integrity, and we can fund them ourselves.”
Already in the works are two ambitious projects made possible by development grants from the prestigious National Endowment for the Humanities: Errol Flynn’s Ghost: Hollywood in Havana, about the effect of American films on Cuban culture in the 1940s and ’50s, and A Long Way From Home: The Untold Story of Baseball’s Desegregation.
“Every application that comes here goes through a thorough review process by a panel of scholars and filmmakers,” says Jeff Hardwick, senior program officer in the division of public programs for NEH. “We were really impressed by Brett and Gaspar’s ability to tell a really moving story. They have unique and creative views on Cuba and desegregation. And their applications were incredibly thorough. They had done their homework, they had talked to the right scholars. The application for A Long Way Home was almost a completed script. We fund projects for the American public that are going to reach wide audiences, and these two films fit that bill.”
Other projects that are either filming or in post-production include Starring Burt Reynolds, about the Hollywood actor; Ballet with Bullets, a history of jai-alai; and The Whistler, about the annual International Whistlers Competition in North Carolina.
But for now, there is Plastic Paradise, which O’Bourke and González screened in June for the most critical audience imaginable: the revelers at the Hukilau celebration at the Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale.
The verdict? Happy tikis all around.
“It was beautiful,” says Dave Levy, owner of Mai-Kai, the oldest Polynesian restaurant of its scale in the country. “The whole crowd went wild. There was a standing ovation at the end. It’s first class, well-done and really tells a good story about the old days. These guys are officially tiki now.”