Premiering this weekend in Santa Barbara is the new independent film “Masquerade,” co-written, edited, and starring UCSB alum, Eric Olsson. The film (with a modest budget of $15,000), is directed by Nicholas Tolkien, great grandson of J.R.R. Tolkien, and features guest appearances by Johnny Depp, Steven Spielberg, seasoned, local “acting machine,” David Brainard, as well as cycle 14 of America’s Next Top Model runner-up, Reina Hein.

The “mockumentary” follows ex-child star, Charlie Best (Nick Marinoff), inspired by Charlie Sheen, who is forced off of his own reality show due to low ratings. Olsson plays Charlie’s long-time rival, Eric Moody, also a former child star, who suffers from biphobia (fear of nature), and agrizoophobia (fear of wild animals). Best usesMoody’s bizarre phobias against him in order to win back his TV show.Following in the “mockumentary” tradition pioneered by Christopher Guest (“This is Spinal Tap” and “Best in Show”), “Masquerade” is entirely improvised. Tolkien’s team began with “some idea of a beginning and end,” but at the start of each day, they would “have no idea what was going to happen next”. They filmed 16-20 minute improvised scenes and later picked out the best bits and pieces to edit together. Eventually, the film “just fell into place,” says Olsson.

Olsson was born and raised in the Sacramento area, and graduated from UCSB in 2010 as a Film and Media Studies major. UCSB’s film program focuses more on theory than production but Olsson looks back on this as “a blessing in disguise,” because it forces students to be independent and proactive about their filmmaking projects and goals—giving them a taste of the real film business. He never acted before recievingan e-mail from the major’s list-serve which, coincidentally, was a call to audition for Tolkien’s first independent film, “Anacapa” (2010).

Olsson’s experience, and the accomplishment of “Masquerade,” should be an inspiration and an example for all aspiring filmmakers at UCSB. In film, as with any endeavor, in order to succeed, you must be resourceful and self-reliant. Get out there and “just do it—the only way you’re going to learn how to do something is to do it”. Olson thinks of every project he has worked on as “puzzle pieces—building blocks” leading up to where he is today.

After showing at the Santa Barbara Film Festival in 2012, “Masquerade” has been edited down from a 143 minute “rough cut,” to a polished 79 minutes. The team hopes this weekend’s screening will capture the interest of film distributors—possibly to be put on Netflix or turned into a TV pilot.

Be sure not to miss the FREE screening of “Masquerade” at the Majorie Luke Theater in Santa Barbara, Saturday, April 13th, 4:00 PM.


A version of this article appeared on page 11 of the April 11th, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus