Promoted as a documentary-comedy hybrid set across Souther California looking the pursuit of the Hollywood dream, California Dreams has a very marketable premise, especially for a project at the SXSW Conference. But that advertising turns out to be a very loose description of indie director Mike Ott’s latest project and collaboration with actor Cory Zacharia. It’s never clear if this is really a documentary or if it’s a scripted comedy. In any case, what’s put on screen is at constant odds with each other.
The initial ideas presented seem to fit into what the title advertises as Ott presents the audience a group of five Hollywood hopefuls running screen tests and auditions. But the immediate issue is that all the auditions are terrible. The actors choose their own scene to reenact, none of which hit the mark with their reinvention of each scene.
If the intent is to show that the vast majority of actors auditioning to become a blip on Hollywood’s radar have no talent, it’s certainly documented. But after first being introduced to these L.A. hopefuls, Ott’s camera sticks with one of the auditioning “actors,” Zacharia as he allegedly gets a job offer to shoot a project in Germany that’s all expenses paid except for a $900 plane ticket and he still has to send a video to the producers.
While Cory tries (or at least says he’s trying) to get the money together, Ott follows him as he meets with the four other auditions and discusses their dream to live on the silver screen. He first meets up with Patrick who inexplicably picked a Forrest Gump monolog for his audition. The two talk in Cory’s car, not about acting but about Patrick’s entire lack of a love life. Even more an issue, the exchanges don’t feel authentic enough to be a true documentary highlighting the difficulty of breaking into the business, as the interviews themselves feel like scrapped footage from a bad script.
More of actors come into contact with Cory as he’s randomly chased down by a Dog the Bounty Hunter impersonator (and one of the actor hopefuls), completely breaking any sense of reality being documented- if the interviews Cory hadn’t already accomplished that.
Even more confounding is the light Cory is shown in. As someone that’s already an established actor, his on-screen self is said to not have had a job in over eight years and he’s struggling to put an application together for a job at Taco Bell to string together money for his plane ticket to Germany to launch his career. Zacharia’s role as some permutation of himself really sets the film back from reaching any true understanding of itself or its purportedly real people chasing Hollywood.
Cory landing some sort of pipe dream job in Europe casts some hope for the other auditions and for the Hollywood dream in general. But he’s shown to be completely inept to get any job to make that dream come true unless he falls into a pile of money on the road. Ott’s conclusion to his thesis seems to be that no one but the privileged can make it in this industry. At least, it looks pretty. But even that has the film at odds with itself, as the aesthetic screams it’s a narrative feature from film school, not a raw look at personal subjects.