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‘Satellite of Love’ co-writers and friends find inspiration in their divergent lives

Matthew Odam
modam@statesman.com
Zachary Knighton and Shannon Lucio in a scene from “Satellite of Love.”

Austin director Will Moore’s “Satellite of Love” follows two very different men (and their ladies) as they retreat to wine country for a weekend of relaxation, reflection, romping and, hopefully, reconciliation.

Wandering musician Sam (Nathan Phillips) has invited his old pal Blake (Zachary Knighton) and Blake’s wife Catherine (Shannon Lucio) to join him at the vineyard of a mysterious bon vivant named Alex (Patrick Bauchau). Sam brings along Michelle (Janina Gavankar), an exotic DJ he met during his European travels.

Sam wants to atone for having missed Blake and Catherine’s recent wedding. Whether that absence was a result of hard feelings Sam has of losing his former flame, Catherine, to his best friend is unclear. But there is no ambiguity concerning the divergent paths the two men have taken since the film’s opening scene of drug-addled youthful euphoria.

While Blake and Catherine have settled into a life as stressed-out business owners (a restaurant Austinites will recognize as Justine’s), Sam has doubled down on a life of spontaneity and impulse. During a turbulent weekend of lust and regret, Sam, Blake and Catherine are all forced to confront the state of their lives and the choices that led them there.

The story draws inspiration from the lives of Moore and his co-writer, Jonathan Case. Both men graduated from Victoria High School and the University of Texas, but Moore and Case didn’t meet until they both landed in Los Angeles more than a decade ago.

The two were interested in forging careers in film, but Moore moved back to Austin to settle down, while Case toured as a musician and continued chasing the dream out west. With Moore in Texas and Case in Los Angeles, the two wrote “The Bail Bondsmen,” a script that made it to the precipice of production, where it died just as Moore and Case thought they were about to arrive.

When Moore, a former UT football player, was out in Los Angeles for the 2010 BCS National Championship game, he and Case decided to collaborate on a script. Moore, who had made a couple of movies in Austin since his retreat from Los Angeles, wanted a simple story that focused more on character than on plot.

In the years between their time as roommates in Santa Monica and their Los Angeles reunion in 2010, the two men had seen their lives head down opposite paths, Moore settling into a white-collar job in Austin, while Case performed music and toured Europe.

With a wife, a child, a mortgage and a job managing a branch of an independently owned mortgage bank, Moore says, “I think a good way to put it is I’ve probably made a choice to take on more responsibility. Once you take on those responsibilities … you’re pretty much locked in. Those are things we wanted to examine in the film.”

“Satellite of Love” examines the positive and negative results of the two men’s choices but refuses to pass judgment on either character. The movie mirrors the tenor of Moore and Case’s discussion that inspired the screenplay.

“We were actually asking questions. I don’t think either of us had any answers. We had different lifestyles … but we weren’t really passing judgment either way and were just trying to ask the questions in the most honest way that we can,” Case said. “I don’t purport to know, and I don’t think Will purports to know. We’re just kind of putting it out there, and that’s where the film goes. It goes to that place of ‘stay on the path and try and be the best you can be.’”

Case, who supervised the excellent soundtrack of “Satellite of Love,” continues to write and produce music while he resettles in Austin and looks for permanent work and potential bandmates while Moore busies himself with the responsibilities of family, a career and moviemaking.

“One some level we’re very similar. I think Will just met a girl and fell in love and walked the line, and that hasn’t happened for me yet, so I’m still kind of out there exploring,” Case said.

But the pensive Case is quick to add that his life has followed a path that feels much less premeditated than his friend and collaborator’s.

“I make music because it’s just there, and I have to do it. I don’t wanna sound grim, but it’s kind of the only solace I feel in a very uncertain time. … It doesn’t feel like a choice.”

“Satellite of Love” screens at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Rollins Theatre. Moore says the movie is slated to be available via video-on-demand early next year. The Austin Film Festival continues through Thursday.