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'Karma Bums' takes a road trip to Idaho

by CAROLINE LOBSINGER
Staff Writer | January 29, 2023 1:00 AM

PORTHILL — When the pandemic arrived, Keon Hedayati had been shopping around a few scripts.

But COVID shut everything down, and money to shoot films was nowhere to be seen.

It was then, the multi-hyphenate director, actor and writer decided to go on a road trip — one that ended up in Porthill, near the Canadian border.

"Once COVID hit, there was no money to be seen," Hedayati said. "So I decided to write something that could be shot for a low budget that also was rooted in modern issues."

The film, "Karma Bums," is a dramatic thriller about a down-on-their-luck pair who leave the past behind and restart their lives in Canada. But the film is much more than that, Hedayati said.

"Our movie is really about the three different archetypes in our current society, at least in America," he said. "You know, one of the characters is the quintessential American rebel who lives in the woods and shuns society and is righteous in his own way. And then we have the main character, Brandon, the average Joe who has aspirations but can't really get out of his own way. And then we have the villain character, who is the embodiment of pure chaos in today's world, but it's a perennial type of person."

He wants to showcase those different types of people who make up the America of today, that good people exist on all sides of the political divide — that a majority of people are genuine and honest.

"I would say that the backbone of this film is to show Americans that there are people on the left who were good and bad," he added. "There are people on the right who are good and bad, there are people in the middle who are good and bad.

"This country has a lot of good people and, because of the division that's going on, we're falling out of touch [with each other]. And people in the cities, you know, we all kind of understand are aware of the stigma attached to people who live in the woods and people who live in the mountains or the South or in seclusion. But that's the backbone of America. And I wanted to show people that, that societies and civilizations in places in America that, let's say are super Republican, could also have great, great, great people. Not all Republicans are bad, not all Democrats are bad, and that's what I think this movie is looking to push."

While the film takes the protagonists on the road, Hedayati said he knew they would end up in Idaho, where he'd spent six months in Porthill while writing another project. He said the people he met and the friends he made during that time were not only the most colorful, but the friendliest people he'd ever met.

With the main characters headed to Canada to start fresh and needing fake passports to cross the border, he turned to those friends to help with his film.

"But, after meeting the characters here, I came to the conclusion that I'll never meet people so colorful again, whether I agree or disagree with their politics, the beauty of it was that they made it irrelevant," he said. "And so the road trip element plays into account with northern Idaho, because northern Idaho is the location that they have to go through in order to receive a means to reach Canada."

Brandon O'Dell, who plays one of the leads, said being a part of "Karma Bums" was both an eye-opening and an amazing experience. While he was working full-time at UPS, O'Dell said he quit the job to pursue the film with Hedayati, a friend he'd known for several years. They'd made several short films and practiced "gonzo" acting on the streets of Los Angeles, acting out "intense" scenes in public places to perfect their craft.

He said he was worried whether he would do justice to the part, seeing how hard the rest of the cast and crew was working; to do justice to the faith that Hedayati had in picking him for the part. Being on the road, being a part of the tight-knit crew, made for an experience that he'll remember throughout his life, O'Dell said.

"Every day I would wake up, I felt just invigorated," he said. "It was just perfect, perfect timing. Just so much love was around, too … we're very passionate and we wanted to do everything we possibly could to make the best movie possible."

Being able to tell stories that represent a fresh voice, his generation and his culture are important to him, Hedayati said.

"Everyone's familiar with Hollywood being a tough place to break into," he said. "So we had no choice, man, we had to speak and, and filmmaking is [like] being given the opportunity of having the most intimate one-on-one conversation with an audience member. That's the power of what we're trying to do."

Too often, movies are being told by committee, but Hedayati said he wants to be a part of what he sees as a renaissance in the industry — one which mixes entertainment, philosophy and art.

"This might be a little preachy, but I know that if the soul exists, then we have to be doing something worthy of it," he said. "So I see this … as a way to try and show my culture, my generation, things that they might not know about through research and reading, and there are so many things that we're missing out on and I just hope to be a small aid, a small benefactor, I guess, of that."

A new generation of storytellers is emerging, wanting to tell more than the same stories, the same films that are often favored by big studio executives. These filmmakers have seen the mainstream content and want to go beyond that, Hedayati said.

"We're all getting kind of frustrated with the content that we're just flooding our brains with, that aren't doing much to help to expand our brains, or to make us more loving," he added. "There's just so much content out there that it's not art anymore. It's just content."

While his initial career path went in a different direction, Hedayati had always had an artistic bent and enjoyed painting and writing, among other creative endeavors. But then, as a young University of Southern California student, he happened to watch "Warrior" with Tom Hardy.

"It hit me that night and the next day I started [in filmmaking] and just went full force into it and haven't stopped since."

It's a path that led him to North Idaho, where Hedayati premiered "Karma Bums" at the Sandpoint Theater in mid-January, something the cast felt was important because it allowed them to share the film with locals who acted in the film and helped make it possible.

He was worried, at first, that they wouldn't like the film, and, perhaps, feel it misrepresented the area and its people. However, he said reaction to the film was positive with everyone on all sides enjoying the film.

Since finishing the final cut, Hedayati has entered "Karma Bums" in film festivals, including one in which it did well. He's hoping to get it into a larger festival and sell the film so more people can see it — and so he can raise the necessary funds for his next venture.

While the film may have been shot on a shoestring by today's standards, the quality rivals any big-budget film with its cinematography, pacing and acting. Hedayati said he knew that, by taking the movie literally on the road, he could not only tell the story he wanted, but do so on a budget.

"[I had] people up in beautiful places that would lend us their minds and allow us to film in places that we didn't know about, because we had almost no sets in the movie," he said. "The best way I can think of combating [not] having a big studio is utilizing nature."

There are more than 200 locations in the film, much of which is shot on the road, with scenes shot everywhere from the Grand Canyon to Zion National Park, and more.

The decision turned out to be the best one, both bonding the crew and using the natural beauty of the country to move the narrative forward. Although, Hedayati said, it did land them in a spot of trouble here and there.

Looking back, both Hedayati and O'Dell said the long hours on the road, waiting for just the right moment for just the right shot, were grueling. But those moments were also the best ones, Hedayati said.

"Then, you finally say action and you have, like, 30 seconds and you're all just completely in the moment, in the zone, feeling alive," he said. "That's the best part of it. And every time the camera turns on, that's the high we all feel."

Even the worst moments ended up being triumphant, Hedayati said, recalling a fight scene between his character and O'Dell's. They'd practiced the scene for hours, but Hedayati missed the block, and O'Dell hit him in the head, breaking his hand and knocking Hedayati out, leaving him with a concussion. Another misadventure saw someone shoot at their drone and then threaten them with a gun and, in another, get bitten by a tarantula.

"But, the whole time, we felt alive, because it was almost like our fingers were on the pulse of something," he added. "And every time we were close to danger, whether our car was about to fly off the side of the snowy road and [we were] saved by a root, or a lone branch … But, in the end, it added to the film, it added to the improvisational element of making something that breathes."

At the end of the day, he said, the movie tells the story he wanted to tell.

"I think we show what's great about this country, and we also kind of show what's messed up about it," he added. "But, in the end, it's hopeful."

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(Photo courtesy KEON HEDAYATI/KARMA BUMS)

A scene from the new independent movie, "Karma Bums" shot at the Grand Canyon.

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(Photo courtesy KEON HEDAYATI/KARMA BUMS)

The cast and crew of "Karma Bums" pose for a group photo during filming.

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(Photo courtesy KEON HEDAYATI/KARMA BUMS)

A scene from the new independent movie, "Karma Bums".

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(Photo courtesy KEON HEDAYATI/KARMA BUMS)

Keon Hedayati, left, watches crew film a scene from his new independent movie, "Karma Bums".

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(Photo courtesy KEON HEDAYATI/KARMA BUMS)

William Cross Van Horn in a scene from the new independent movie, "Karma Bums". A portion of the film was shot in the Porthill area in Boundary County.

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(Photo courtesy KEON HEDAYATI/KARMA BUMS)

A scene from the new independent movie, "Karma Bums". A portion of the film was shot in the Porthill area in Boundary County.

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(Photo courtesy KEON HEDAYATI/KARMA BUMS)

The poster for the new independent movie, "Karma Bums".

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