You can now stream Joshua Bassett’s film debut on Amazon
In 2015, San Diego filmmaker Nathan Leon chose Bassett to star in ‘Limbo,’ his first short film
In 2015, Nathan Leon was a San Diego-born documentary filmmaker making his first short feature film. His star was a 14-year-old theater kid from Oceanside who had never made a movie before. It was a big first career step for both of them, and it turned out to be the start of something even bigger.
After making “Limbo,” Leon became a director, writer and producer for the Alabama-based Eternal World Television Network and “Limbo” became the inspiration for 2018’s “Prodigy,” Leon’s first independent feature film.
Leon’s young actor did all right for himself, too.
That actor making his film debut in “Limbo” was Joshua Bassett, who went on to snag a lead role in “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.” In addition to giving the Disney+ streaming platform a huge hit, the series turned Bassett into a star. He has a massive fan following, he recently had a song on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, and he might have been the inspiration for “Drivers License,” the smash single by his “High School Musical” co-star Olivia Rodrigo.
And now, Bassett’s film debut is also getting its moment in the spotlight.
After years of getting emails from fans wondering when they could see “Limbo,” Leon has made it available to the public for the first time. The short film can now be rented on Amazon Video, Vimeo on Demand and on the Visionary Film Productions’ website, where viewers can see this first-time film actor playing a boy who is wise beyond his years and knocking it out of the park.
“Drama is tough. It is difficult to get that kind of emotion from someone who is that young and who hasn’t had a lot of life experiences yet,” Leon said from his home in Chelsea, Ala., where he lives with his wife and filmmaking partner, Meghan, and their two children. “But I remember watching him and thinking, ‘Wow, he is really killing it.’”
In its 15 minutes, “Limbo” tells the short, but eventful story of Lukas (Michael Kelly), a man who gets the chance to change his life in an instant. Lukas’ guide on this journey is his son, Caleb (Bassett), who leads his father to an epiphany through cosmic questions like, “Do you remember your life before you became who you are now?”
Before “Limbo,” Bassett had spent most of his young professional life performing with his five theater-loving older sisters in musicals with the Christian Youth Theater and the North County School of the Arts. A dramatic role was a big leap for him, and much to his director’s relief, he landed it.
“Even when I was writing the film, I thought, ‘This will only work if the kid is good.’ My idea was that I could always edit around any bad performances. I figured that if I could see some potential, I could always coach him.”
And did he coach him?
“Actually, not that much,” Leon, 39, said with a chuckle. “Every take I got from him was good. It made my job a lot easier.”
A film buff for as long as he can remember, the Encinitas-raised Leon was always making films in the family garage using his parents’ video camera and his own imagination. After graduating from San Dieguito High School Academy in 2000, Leon moved to Los Angeles. He did a brief stint at Santa Monica Junior College before enrolling in the Act One filmmaking training and mentorship program.
After four years, Leon decided he’d had enough of L.A. traffic and the Hollywood hustle, and he moved back to San Diego. He spent the next chunk of his life waiting tables, writing screenplays and doing his own documentary projects. His first documentary, “The Sidewalk Chronicles,” aired on EWTN and led to offers to shoot documentaries for other clients. He was able to quit the restaurant business for good in 2015.
He shot “Limbo” that same year, and what he lacked in big-time funds he made up for with ingenuity and a return to the garage.
“One of the challenges of making a low-budget film is to try to make people believe that you have more money than you do,” Leon said. “We couldn’t close off any locations, so we were shooting in the woods and in parks with all of these people walking around in the background. We couldn’t afford to shoot in a morgue, so we converted my mom’s garage into one.
“I learned that there are always going to be challenges, but what makes you a good filmmaker is how you adjust. Doing ‘Limbo’ taught me that.”
Six years later, Leon’s young leading man is living a large Hollywood life and the filmmaker is living a reality-based version of his moviemaking dream. Nathan and Meghan are currently working on “Grace By Night,” a feature film about crisis hotline responders that is set to star Antonio Sabato Jr. Leon is hoping to start shooting this summer. If not, he will adjust. Just like “Limbo” taught him.
“I don’t think anyone can be prepared for how big Joshua became. It’s amazing when your dreams come true like that,” Leon said. “For me, (filmmaking) is as exciting as I imagined it would be. I love that it is a new adventure every day. I thought once you break into a certain level, it gets easier, but it really doesn’t.
“This is living the dream for me, but the dream is different. The goal is to just keep pursuing it.”
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