Salton Sea, The : Story

Salton Sea, The (2001) - main synopsis imageIn the opening scene of "The Salton Sea," we are introduced to Danny Parker sitting alone on a bed in a dilapidated rooming house with a duffel bag full of money. Around him the room is ablaze with fire, but he seems unaware, quietly playing his trumpet. In voice-over against this distressing image Danny speaks to us, seeking to define who and what he has become. This opening confessional reveals him to be a man in crisis, struggling with his identity and haunted by his past. His probing questions propel us backwards into the story and we begin to travel through the recent events of his life that lead him to this critical point.

Suspenseful, intriguing and moody, Tony Gayton's screenplay caught the eye of producer Ken Aguado. Gayton's original screenplay unfolds in a very deliberate and measured way, never revealing too much at one time. Just when you feel you have come to understand what's at play, another layer is unveiled and your perspective shifts. Aguado explains, "Character revelations and plot twists are introduced throughout the entire piece, which is one of the reasons it's such a fascinating movie. A lot of scripts are boring after the thirtieth page because everything has been revealed. This film is not about the immediate moment. It's about the future, the past, and it requires two hours to figure out."

Aguado passed the script on to D. J. Caruso and insisted he read it immediately. Aguado remembers, "He really responded to the material for the same reasons I had. You find yourself trying to understand the hero, what his agenda is and what his and the other characters' motives are and where they will end up. You're surprised all the way through and there are some really funny moments."

D. J. Caruso recalls his thoughts after reading the script, "I loved it. I flipped out because I had been waiting for the right opportunity to direct my first feature film. I've had a couple opportunities before, but I really wanted my first film to be something that meant something to me. I'm obsessed with character journeys, whether that growth is a positive or negative growth. I was really compelled by the dilemma the lead character Danny Parker experiences."

Producing partner Eriq La Salle, widely known as the uncompromising doctor on the hit television series "E.R.," was equally compelled by "The Salton Sea." "It was one of the best scripts we had ever read. The opening is so powerful - a man sitting in a burning room, his life about to end, while he plays his trumpet and asks the audience 'who am I?' But, he also asks the viewer to listen to his story before making any judgments because nothing is, as it seems. The whole movie then delivers on that promise and reveals what led him to this place, this burning room. The narrative unfolds so gradually over the course of the film and it has you constantly guessing. It's involving and very rewarding in that way," says La Salle.

Aguado adds, "This is a movie that survives 100% on the quality of the writing and the story. It's challenging material that requires you to use your brain while also being emotionally engaged. And all the characters are interesting and richly-drawn."

Frank Darabont, with whom Caruso had collaborated on the HBO film "Black Cat Run," with Darabont executive producing and Caruso directing, was sent the script by the Humble Journey Films partners.

"I'm an enormous fan of D. J. Caruso," says Darabont. "D. J. was really excited about the script for 'The Salton Sea'. I have enormous faith and confidence in his instincts, so I took it home that night and read it. I thought the script was really terrific."

Darabont elaborates, "The script for 'The Salton Sea' was not like any other script I had read and consequently not really like too many other movies I see. It's definitely got its own unique texture and that's rooted in the script. D. J. is a director who respects the screenplay as he's shooting the movie. The result is a director doing justice to a good script."

Intrigued by the project, Darabont lent his support and joined the producing team to help the filmmakers bring Tony Gayton's story to the big screen.