A Good Alibi tells the story of Jerry (Geoffrey Stephenson), a not-so-devout Mormon who has been suffering from mania ever since his wife was killed seven years ago. The movie opens with Jerry exacting revenge on the man he blames for his wife’s death — an elaborately premeditated murder that might just have taken seven years to plan.
The two detectives on the case, Detective Perez (Sandra Inezz) and Detective Bingham (Lord B. Wag), immediately suspect Jerry. Jerry, confident in his crime, even invites them into his home and asks them to perform a search. Jerry’s alibi is not something air-tight — he says he was out drinking at a strip club — but the timeline is difficult because Jerry drove through the night without stopping, much like the famous “astronaut killer.” Jerry reminds the detectives that it’s not up to him to prove where he was at the time of the murder, it is up to them.
Detective Perez isn’t buying Jerry’s story. She’s studying psychology on her off hours and notices that Jerry’s medicine cabinet contains Zoloft, an SSRI. Jerry fits the same profile as other homicidal SSRI users, such as the Virginia Tech shooter and one of the Columbine killers.
At this point, you’d expect the movie to become a procedural, with the detectives doing further investigation. Instead, writer/director Geoffrey Stephenson keeps the plot focused on Jerry, who as first seems elated to have gotten away with it. He meets a cute girl (Lubi Boutdy) on an LDS online dating website and takes her back to his place to smoke some pot.
The pot happens to be the one link back to the murder victim, and Jerry’s date is not who she says she is. Still, the evidence she collects will not be Jerry’s ultimate downfall — it will be his own guilt. Convinced he has lost his scripture-promised heavenly kingdom thanks to committing murder, a distraught Jerry confronts the undercover cop and her boyfriend at their home at gunpoint. The situation is bound to end in bloodshed — but I won’t give away whose.
Boise, Idaho-based filmmaker Geoffrey Stephenson tells me that the movie took more than a year to shoot, including a long break for him to grow an impressive crazy-man beard. “I took about 5 months over the winter of 2008-9 to grow the beard, and had to explain to my employers that I was growing it for a movie I was making about a mentally ill man. They worked with me on that, happily, as the beard and wild celtic hair work so well for the last scenes, and also helped me to get into character.”
The total budget for the feature-length film was an astounding sub-$1,000, the bulk of which was the equipment package, a Canon Optura 30, Rode stereo mic, and edited with Final Cut Pro 3 half on an iBook G3 and half on an iBook G4. Actors were found with a Craigslist ad and worked for a per-diem plus points in the film.
The film was very personal to Stephenson, and not just because he also plays the main character. “I had been working on the idea since 2002, when I personally went through a very self-destructive period of time suffering from mania myself, which was caused by my taking Zoloft after my divorce. My research on this issue led me to believe and worry that SSRIs were being over-prescribed. I wanted to make a film that would make people realize that this is a cause of horrific violence around the industrialized world. I don’t think SSRI’s should be prescribed for people whose depression is situational, rather than chemical. At this point I should clarify, that although my mania damaged my own life, I didn’t commit any felonies … and I am currently very sane (knock on wood – lol). In 2007, I decided to quit tinkering around with the idea, and just do it. I knew I would always be disappointed in myself if I didn’t make a feature film before nature took me out. Filmmaking has been a dream of mine since 1977, and it’s really all I want to do for a living, but even if i don’t make a living, God help me I do love it so.”
One of the most impressive aspects of this ultra-low-budget film was use of real police officers and police cars. This is a case of what I’ve always talked about is a huge advantage to filmmakers shooting outside the normal production cities, places where people aren’t jaded about film production and are actually excited by it. Stephenson says the local police were happy to help. “With so few films being made in this part of the world, it was the first request they had received for such assistance, and they were keen on the idea.”
Although the technical aspects of A Good Alibi are not the strongest for a DV feature, it’s always inspiring to see a filmmaker make it through an epic production to see their dreams realized on screen. I asked Stephenson if he had any tips for other filmmakers considering making the leap. He recommended everyone take advantage of royalty-free content.
“I think the main thing I would like other filmmakers to know is that there is a wealth of content, including music, that is available to them for the cost of a credit at the end of the film, or is free to use under a Ccreative Commons license, or is in the public domain. I was able to get some great music by going to a site called versusmedia.com, where musicians advertise themselves to filmmakers with the intent of getting more name recognition for themselves. Everybody wins in a situation like that.”
I was actually able to watch A Good Alibi in its entirety on imdb.com. This is the first I’ve heard of the prominent movie info site getting into the streaming business. Stephenson told me, “As far as releasing the movie on IMDB, I mainly did that so that reviewers could easily watch it and so I wouldn’t have to send out dozens of DVDs. It will only be there temporarily. My plan is to get as many reviews as I can, and then self-promote the film by advertising on the internet and with a 15 second TV commercial for Google television advertising, and if possible, I would love to see my film shown on the Independent Film Channel – that would actually be my dream come true, to have it shown on IFC.”
Stephenson is already planning his next film, something lighter. “Probably a comedy,” he says.