Sunday, August 12, 2007


Filmmaker Profile

G.J. Echternkamp
"Frank and Cindy"

G.J. Echternkamp is an artist bringing a much needed slice of raw to Hollywood. Growing up as an Angeleno gypsy, home schooled and later admitted into the Early Admission academic program at Cal State when he was fourteen years of age, G.J.’s accelerated experiences inform his work on both sides of the camera. Initially an actor cast in a slew of national Gen X styled advertisements and various independent films, GJ turned his talents towards directing, with the results praised by mainstays of the film community. His journey has been swift, crossing over from directing music videos and commercials to the highly respected documentary film community, with his first feature, Frank and Cindy seeing a highly anticipated New York premiere at M.O.M.A in October.

Not long after graduating from Bard College, G.J. began his directing career with a string of advertising spots and music videos, most notably for indie darlings Mates of State and Giant Drag, both Los Angeles native bands. His creative use of simple, gritty footage amidst a clever premise established Echternkamp as a fresh talent with a distinct vision, not unlike the early music video direction work of Spike Jonze. ‘This Isn’t It’ by Giant Drag was featured in Filter Magazine’s 2006 Best Music Video compilation, alongside big budget videos from major label artists, leading to a influx of video projects which are featured on Echternkamp’s production company website:

G.J.’s first feature length project is the critically acclaimed documentary, Frank and Cindy, premiering on Showtime, and featured on the culturally elite’s headmaster Ira Glass’ This American Life on NPR. Frank and Cindy is not just fodder for the heady. The reaction to the film on MySpace and YouTube has started a fervor making its’ way through the country at various film festivals such as Silverdocs, Florida Film Festival, and the NY Underground Film Festival. The film stars subjects very close to the director’s heart – his own bloodline in fact, as he reveals a candid and sometimes disturbing portrait of his own family.

The Frank and Cindy project began as a lark, an amusement meant to expose the foibles of a more caustic Lucy & Desi type relationship between Echternkamp’s mother Cindy, a vivacious and sharp-witted bleach blonde, and her longtime boyfriend Frank Garcia, bassist for band OXO, a one hit wonder from the early 80’s. During the filming, the revelations were surprising, even for G.J. His need for genuine expression actually took priority over his own bias. The project, as G.J. recalls “was meant to express why Frank and Cindy should be apart. In the process, instead of finding them dysfunctionally miserable, I found them to be dysfunctionally happy.”

The camera became the mediator for issues never before spoken aloud in his family. It was G.J.’s commitment to exposing the truth, the underlying raw nerves, which gave him the courage to confront the dark secrets revealed for the first time during filming. It is clear while watching this film that the real life characters have surrendered all reverence to the camera’s eye and are fully exposed, in all of their non-sanitized glory. G.J. Echternkamp is unwilling to resort to the sensational, leaving the film to develop naturally, which it does in does in very profound character driven ways. These moments are riveting in their realness. This is indicative of G.J.’s directing style and vision. The fact that the director could divorce himself from his own preconceived notions in a bid for the truth is compelling evidence of Echternkamp’s commitment.

As Ira Glass boasts, “Every single thing about Frank & Cindy seems new and fresh and alive. It’s rare to see a documentary that’s so raw and funny and infuriating too”.

G.J. approaches most of his creative life with a similar sensibility. Currently the lead in I.F.C.’s dark comedy series and growing cult hit, Getting Away with Murder, Eckternkamp plays a hit man dealing with the greater perils of living at home with his parents. GJ has an incredible vehicle with this series, as it allows him to deliver a believable performance within a disturbing and comically absurd premise. Echternkamp is simultaneously in production for a highly controversial film, currently referred to as: Untitled Suicide Project. G.J.’s ability to find the real in surreal is the appeal of his work, both as an actor and as a director.

Echternkamp also recently participated in “Mortified”, a popular stage series in Los Angeles where masochistic participants read excerpts from their teenage diaries while sharing photos and other adolescent artifacts, to the delight of a voyeuristic audience. G.J.’s writing captures the same taste for the real, and is not afraid to be unlikable, which may be the bravest revelation of all. Commissioned by Morgan Creek to write a feature film based on his experiences as a precocious 14 year old college student, G.J.’s next project promises to be emotionally brutal and hilarious, soul wrenching and inevitably watchable, albeit through your fingertips if you’re squeamish.

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