by Anna Mroczkowski photos by Suzi Pratt
It’s one of the first sunny days of summer. Rick Walters is doing what any resourceful producer would do and turns an interview into a ride to a wrap party. Worst Night to Grow a Pair is the film, and a 4 car pile-up 48 hours prior that totals his car is the reason for the ride. Luckily, we have time to grab a drink first and some shrimp kisses (shrimp wrapped in bacon is called a kiss I guess, but I’m not complaining) and discuss why he keeps getting cast as a villain. “I’m a really nice guy, I don’t get it”. *cue big grin.
I can tell it bothers him and Rick is a nice guy. He’s shy and outgoing at the same time. Constantly questions and analyzes his decisions. He’s actor, writer, director and producer and we haven’t even had our shrimp yet. After we got passed me not being easily grossed out and weaponized laxatives wouldn’t kill the conversation, we went ahead and talked about nearly his whole life story. About a half hour into it, I realize this isn’t a profile story, it’s a script. A really good one.
We’ll start in high school where he was a kind of hyperactive creative athletic “spaz”. He was in choir and theatre and played football. He was good. He liked it. Then something really bad happened. The kind of thing that could have happened to anyone at 16. Your single dad is away at work and you throw a big rager after the big game. Only the consequences after this party weren’t getting grounded or suspended. It was one of those turning points that changes your life forever. As he’s telling me this my maternal instincts kick into overdrive at the thought of a teenager going through these things alone and I want to hug him. That continues to happen repeatedly throughout his story. The only thing that keeps me from tears is that I am hearing this from the mouth of the man who made it through. And he did.
He made his way to Clark College where he thrived in the theatre department. He was acting, directing and producing plays and he was great at it. The theatre director nominated a play Rick produced (and starred in) and him as an individual actor for the Kennedy Nelson Shultz College Theater Festival. Both Rick and the play he was in made it all the way to the national level in DC before another something bad happened that changed his life. Only this time, Rick walked away from acting completely and enlisted in the Army.
Have you ever walked away from your dream?
Now this gifted actor is in the Army not acting. He’s also married and a new dad. He does a combat tour in 2004 for 13 months that he calls a vacation. He made the decision to go as hard at following the rules in the Army, as he had gone at challenging them as an adolescent. It worked well for him, but I wondered about his creativity outlet. He did play his guitar, but what happened to the actor?
I’m also curious about how serving in our military affects the artist.
Rick: I have had an overwhelming positive set of feedback from being a veteran overall from other filmmakers, but where it’s really been key, is the management aspect of film. When I first hired Chris Taylor to shoot a music video I was producing, we had never met each other, nor did we know that we were both service men (he’s a marine). Immediately upon working with each other, we noticed that we both shared the same vernacular, work ethic, and ability to arrive on the ground and formulate a plan and execute it with little to no hassle.
OK, time out! I just want to pause for a moment to say I got to see this “on the ground” action for myself at the art walk last Thursday. He was in the neighborhood and did a DIY transformation on the booth (and took some great photos) in a few short minutes that was impressive!
We’re fast forwarding now to 2009. He’s home from the Army, his son is older, and his marriage is on the rocks. There is yet again more great meat here that we’ll leave for the screenplay. For now, let’s just jump to the part where he’s on Craig’s List feeling a little lost and sees an ad for actors in a military based film. Without a headshot, without a resume, without acting for over 12 years and without hesitation he drives to the audition in his military uniform, (nails it) and gets cast in the film! I’m learning about film scoring right now so there is music playing in my head at that part. I hope it was playing in your head too. You can read it again if you need to (maybe try reading that last sentence a little slower).
And just like that, the flame of a dream is rekindled! Wait, do dreams have flames? I’m metaphor mixing but you get the idea. If it feels a little like swiss cheese, please trust that it’s for preservation of the script and you’ll thank me later that I didn’t spoil it. It’s also fair to note that Rick has zero knowledge that I’m pitching his life story right now.
Since returning to acting (and later directing and producing) he hasn’t stopped creating. He acted in Tapat Sa Pangako that made it to the Cannes Film Festival. His film A Man Buried is three for three so far in its festival run and headed to Philly and Scotland next. He’s working really really hard and he’s making good art.
As an artist I wonder how he left it behind. As an American, I’m grateful and proud of his service in our nation’s military. He made the choice to walk away and just as deliberately made the decision to return.
Anna: Do you regret walking away from acting?
Rick: I don’t have regrets normally, just like I don’t have favorites. I’d like to think that’s because I live and I learn, but more likely it’s because I am too lazy to fixate on it. When I was young I had no frame of reference as to how to even get into projects so I never tried. Knowing what I do now, I am positive that I could have made a go of it. The silver lining here is that all of the experiences I have had through out my trials, this journey, have all contributed to my toolkit. I can draw from being a recovered addict, and alcoholic, a father, a skater, a pilot, a warrior, a combat veteran, a failed 11 year marriage… So no. No regrets. Live fast and hard because it’s all gonna be over soon.
Anna: Do you enjoy acting or producing more?
Rick: I am an actor. I started acting a long time before I got behind the camera, but I realize that there won’t always be a role for a guy like me, so I have to get on set somehow right? I figured I may as well make myself useful because I literally am at home on a movie set. I truly love the experience and acting or no, I believe in this medium.
Anna: What was the first film you produced?
Rick: “Night Shade”. It was a hellish experience but the most valuable one yet. I immediately began to implement my scheduling system from the military after that one. I also made a lot of very good friends on that first one.
Anna: and later on…
Rick: I have become very fond of the 1st Assistant Director role, even more than producing because it is most similar to my job in the military. Most recently, I have had the honor of AD’ing on Corwood Productions “All My Presidents” and another short that is in the final stages of post production right now called “The Shootout”. It is the first western I have got to work on and it’s the sweetest one ever if you ask me. This summer I am scheduled to start production with the short Thriller “Frink” and another short thriller “Deadline”.
I started collaborating last year with a very talented horror writer named Rick Tobin, and we are currently developing the short Horror film “The Resolution” and the feature-length film “Twisted Tales of Madness and Murder”, an anthology of Tobin’s stories. Both this film, and the web series “Phoenix Run” which I am co-directing the next 2 episodes, are doing the multi platform release with interactive web-based content, a graphic novel and of course the film itself. The boys over at Evil Slave call this approach “Transmedia”.
Anna: Are there any teachers who had a significant impact on you as a young artist?
Rick: In highschool I had Herb Hyde. He was an old school LA type who had done time on As The World Turns and Knots Landing, but he was a Shakespeare guy. He had the tough love thing down and I think I needed that because I was super hyperactive and probably a huge spaz in class. He kept giving me opportunities to do cool stuff, like Hamlet… 17 doing Hamlet was a big deal for me. It would be a big deal now!
Anna: Do you use your art to cope with the ups and downs of life?
Rick: Yes! I have a drum set, a Vox amp with a Strat plugged in and a bass rig standing by at all times in my basement. I have put in thousands of hours, mostly by myself, just hammering out self medication on the skins. I have played in a couple punk bands, but I have my own type of music, I’ll call it sludge. It’s probably better that it stays in my basement.
Anna: As a father do you endorse the arts with your son?
Rick: Always! I bought Race his first drum set when he was 2. He had his first modeling gig in Hawaii for the “One Step Ahead” catalogue. He played in the sand with another little girl and an actress for about four hours and made $800 bucks. AT FOUR! Lil stud.
I wrote my first screenplay with Chris Taylor based on a hybrid idea I have had inspired by Race, my time living on the streets (long story) and a pinch of Oliver twist. The project was my chance to do something with the boy after the separation that hopefully would help him realize that regardless of our marital status or living situation that I would always be around and that our love was not going to change. It was a cathartic experience and he killed it! His first film and he got the lead role. He most recently auditioned for the local feature “You Can’t Win” to play the young version of actor Michael Pitt. He killed the audition and was asked back for a call back, but (another long story) pulled the plug on it.
Anna: You believe in supporting youth artists. Do you have any words of advice and caring for someone who may be in similar shoes to you in high school?
Rick: Yes for sure. Everything is a process. There is a system in place for getting to where you want to be in any craft , whether it be acting, photography, painting what have you. I learned in the military to utilize the systems in place. In art, systems in place are schools, workshops, community organization like Artists for Artists that help you get your work in front of an audience. Make use of them. Create lasting relationships and put yourself in collaborative projects. The essence of my art experience is collaboration. It has been the most enriching experience for me, spiritually, socially and professionally.
The BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front), keep creating content. Even if it’s not your best, it is your school. It is your journey. Don’t censor creativity. Eventually, you will hone your craft and when your content comes into its own, you can learn how to do what us independent cats do: monetize it, hang it on a wall, exhibit it, whatever you want.
Thank you for sharing your story with AFA Rick, we are proud to have you in the family! For more information on Rick’s latest projects or how to work with him you can check out his website or facebook page.
Photo Shoot with Suzi Pratt “Channeling Bogart”
One of the first things out of his mouth was his problem with being type cast as a certain type of guy that I can’t really quote here but it’s not the guy who gets the girl, that’s for sure. Bogart was wistfully mentioned. As was a project he’s currently developing inspired by his friend Moses Olsen called “Emnity Gauge”.
I have always been a Bogart fan (with the exception of The African Queen) and immediately I went to work writing the treatment. The character “DeForest” (Bogart’s middle name) is not as dapper as the Bogart we’re used to seeing, but I am hoping I can channel him.
My gears started turning immediately for the direction the images for this profile would take and I knew just the adventurous photographer to do it.
Suzi Pratt doesn’t really do this sort of photography which makes it a challenge, which makes it perfect for her. And in true Rick Walters style, she hit it out of the park without hesitation. I think they both had fun. Samara’s favorite part was how Rick kept spitting out the tobacco he got in his mouth in between shots. Thank you Suzi!