A collection of sordid, introspective stories from Arizona suburbs are coming to a streaming service near you. Twelve short films based on Tucson author and Tucson Weekly writer Brian Smith’s book, “Spent Saints,” will land on Amazon Prime later this month.
“Spent Saints,” a semi-autobiographical collection of fiction short stories, details the life and trials of several characters, taking the reader from the rock ‘n’ roll clubs of Hollywood to the lethargic drug dens of Phoenix to the cold streets of Detroit. But in each of “Spent Saint’s” 10 stories is a character struggling both internally and externally: alcoholism, poverty, depression, achievement, reconciliation and more.
Originally published in 2017 via Ridgeway Press, “Spent Saints” turned into a 12-part TV miniseries directed by 10 up-and-coming directors in three different states. Brian and his wife, Maggie, co-created the series, with the latter serving as executive producer.
“I hand-matched directors with the stories they would be most adept at directing,” said Maggie, who also directed an award-winning documentary based on Brian Smith’s “Tucson Salvage” column. “Brian and I co-wrote the screenplays for each episode, based on Brian’s stories, and I had a big hand in casting, art direction and production on many of the episodes.”
While directed by several people, the series maintains a cohesive atmosphere. The episodes play as dark vignettes, often portraying characters feeling isolated in their conflicts, even if they’re surrounded by others. These similar feelings range from the episode “Lost in the Supermarket” where an alcoholic wakes up out of place on a suburban lawn, to the episode “Spent Saints” where a budding rock star becomes disillusioned with the drug-fueled landscape of Hollywood.
Aside from the plots, the episodes even share a similar cinematography. Extreme closeups act in place of internal dialogues, blurred background makes the characters feel even more alienated, and the landscapes themselves hold almost as much character as the people on screen.
“Brian Smith’s writing, as much as the way he reads his stories out loud, captures rhythm and cadence, and is certainly also visual, narrative, and emotional,” said Sarah Ledbetter, who directed the episode “Sirens.” “Maggie’s passion for his stories and for bringing them to life, as well as her hard work realizing that vision, were the guiding forces behind my participation every bit as much as Brian’s writing.”
Although the episodes feature multiple main characters, the series, like the book, offers a consistent sense of progression. One character’s struggles flow into another’s, and when one finally does succeed, you feel relief and redemption for multiple. The series, intended for mature audiences, doesn’t shy away from discussing topics like suicide and addiction. And this boldness is awarded with greater impact, both for the audience and the characters.
“So much of the story ‘No Wheels’ is internal, and putting it on screen you have to externalize it somehow,” said Matthew Bradford, director of the episode. “I was very fortunate to inherit from the shorts that had been previously shot an excellent leading man in Ian Michaels, who’s really great at conveying emotions subtly and non-verbally. But even with a great actor you can’t tell a story in a visual medium in a completely internal way. Luckily, Brian provided the key to externalizing it, I think, in his location descriptions.”
Although not all of the series takes place in Arizona, it still manages to hold a local flair due to performances by Tucson musicians like Billy Sedlmayr and Super J Lounge, as well as Brian Smith’s own former band Beat Angels.
Maggie and Brian Smith are currently touring the series with film screenings, book readings and live music performances in multiple states. But they’re working their way back to Tucson, with a screening at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson on Saturday, Sept. 7. The MOCA show includes screenings of three Spent Saints episodes, plus a book reading from Brian Smith and music by DJ Kid Congo Powers and Green on Red’s Dan Stuart.
For more information, visit spentsaints.com