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Paul James Vasquez 1954-2010

March 27, 2010

I met Paul James Vasquez when I was 16 years old.

I came to Dayton, Ohio’s Colonel White High School for the Performing Arts in the Winter of 1990, as a mid-year transfer from Atlanta. Colonel White had a unique artist-in-residence magnet program, which employed professionals in performing and visual arts, teaching their respective disciplines to children of promise from all over the greater Dayton area.

I came to Colonel White to study music, but the guidance counselor suggested I meet with the theater teacher, because she had ‘a feeling’ we’d get along.

I took the guidance counselor’s advice and walked over to the theater department to meet the teacher. When I entered the class room, I was broadsided by a chaotic crush of young thespians bustling around a 6’2″ tall man with long hair, a long beard, and a beret, dressed entirely in black, named Paul James Vasquez. In my 16 year old mind, I fully expected a thick French accent to come out of his mouth when he spoke. Sometimes a beret is just a beret. He was from New Jersey.

After class, my parents and I met Paul, along with his then wife Monica, and their infant daughter Victoria. After chatting for a half hour, Paul invited me into the theater magnet with no audition. When I asked if he was sure I could handle such a thing with no acting experience, he shrugged, pointed to my music background and said, ‘If you know one art, you know them all.’

A young Paul James Vasquez as “Gang Leader” bullies a vision-impaired Rutger Hauer in this 1980s b-movie classic, Blind Fury

On my first day of school, Paul invited me and group of other students, back to his house after school to help him with a radio play he and his friend were producing based on Edgar Allan Poe’s The Mask of the Red Death. They needed background voices for the crowd scenes.

I followed everyone back to Paul’s modest rental house down the street from school, making some new friends along the way. When we arrived at Paul’s place, I saw there was a Gibson 335 guitar leaning by his kitchen table. I asked if he minded if I play it for a few minutes.

According to Paul’s account of this event, years later, “… this fucking teenage brat comes into my kitchen, picks up my guitar, and proceeds to play circles around me…”. While I don’t remember playing circles around anyone, I do remember that Paul told me I should be playing Jazz, which I committed to learning shortly thereafter.

Paul was a guy that had a story or experience for every situation. As teenagers, we were always making declarative statements about this or that, and it seemed Paul was always there with a well-reasoned argument to the contrary. In retrospect, I think it wasn’t to make us think we were wrong, but rather to make sure we were always thinking. In class, he would engage anyone on any subject. For many of us, Paul’s class was the first safe place in our lives to have that level of open dialogue.

Paul believed in the value of elitism in the arts; that the work should always come first. He believed in the critical mind, and encouraged us to challenge conventions and ideas in our education and in our lives.

Paul left Colonel White in my junior year, moving his family to Texas. I stayed in touch with him over the years, updating him on my adventures in music, and would send him manuscripts of short stories and screenplays I wrote for fun. He was always encouraging me to read books and plays and explore as much literature as possible to inform my writing, rather than telling me what I need to work on or develop.

In 1993, Paul told me about The University of North Texas, which had an internationally recognized Jazz Studies program. He spoke of the amazing musicians he had met from that school and suggested I check it out. Within a few months, I won a performance scholarship to UNT, and was visiting Paul in Texas while making arrangements to attend.

I spent eight years in and out of Texas, attending college, playing music, and eventually teaching. Throughout that time, and as long as I knew him, Paul precipitated a great deal of trouble in his personal life. Even during Paul’s most difficult times, he always took an interest in my music, my written work, and my life.

In the late nineties, I started recording scored spoken word narratives based on my short stories. I remember meeting Paul in Dallas to play him the first of these experiments, and how excited he was to hear it. His critical suggestions helped shape what would become hour-long live scored monologues I wrote and performed with my band.

I moved to New York in 2001, to continue my music career. It was during this time I expanded my writing to full length novels. Music performance as a career began to fade for me. I wanted to do more, but didn’t know exactly what or how.

Later that year, I sent Paul a manuscript for a novel called The Local. Paul told me it was a pretty good book, but would make a better film.

In 2003, Paul moved to New York. I had started work on a screenplay called The Interventionist, and asked Paul to give me critical feedback and any ideas he might have. He loved the script, and was very happy to be involved in a creative project at that time in his life.

The Interventionist was optioned, and we began working with a group of producers to get the film made. I would direct and Paul would act in one of the principal roles.

During the ever-long development process, I produced a small feature called Vicissitude, starring myself and Paul. Vicissitude was a simple story, with elements from Interventionist and The Local. It was Paul’s first onscreen performance since the unfortunate Neurotic Cabaret. We had a great time making Vicissitude, and everyone was surprised (including us), that we were able to make something good with so little money or filmmaking experience. It was extremely empowering to know that our combined creative talents and skills, could see us through something so big with relative ease.

Paul James Vasquez plays “Teddy Bear” in this trailer for 2005’s Vicissitude


Even with Vicissitude in the can, The Interventionist was dying on the vine. Things were taking too long, and we were losing talent and resources. Not wanting to let momentum dwindle, Paul and I decided to make our 2006 feature JailCity. In creating JailCity, Paul and I collaborated on the characters, story and script. Paul ran the casting, as well as work-shopping the performances with the actors ahead of production. Paul also played Hector Ramos, Sr – one of the leads in JailCity.

At the end of 2006, JailCity won Best Picture at the New York/Avignon Film Festival.

Paul James Vasquez plays “Hector Ramos, Sr”, an old hood trying to save his grieving son (Nick Bixby) from mixing it up with the wrong people JailCity (2006)


In 2007, we produced The Local, based on my novel of the same name. Paul was originally going to play the part of Big Black, a murderous small-time druglord, but we decided at the last minute to give him the part of Joe, a well-meaning, but impatient ex-cop helping his friend recover his runaway daughter. We agreed that Paul could bring something special to the role of Joe, and it would be nice for him to play a part less thuggish for a change.

The Local was released in North America in October of 2009, and is currently available on DVD and online all over the world.

Paul James Vasquez, David F Nighbert, and Dan Eberle have it out under the bridge in The Local (2008)


Prayer to a Vengeful God (2010)

Paul James Vasquez in Prayer to a Vengeful God

Paul was always up for experimenting and pushing boundaries. In 2009, we went into production on Prayer to a Vengeful God, a feature-length contemporary drama, presented entirely without dialogue. Paul played The Transient, a formidable homeless man with a mysterious past. In my opinion, Paul’s performance in Prayer to a Vengeful God is a masterclass in screen acting. I know that he felt it was the best work he’d ever done on screen.

Throughout production of Vengeful, Paul was not feeling well. He suffered from severe shortness of breath, physical lag and discomfort. Paul’s role had extreme physical demands, including a sequence of seven fights which would be filmed over two brief shoot days.

We were all concerned for Paul’s health during the shoot. He repeatedly played it off as being old and out of shape, but ‘fine’. He soldiered through, and gave a fully committed and masterful performance throughout filming.

Soon after Paul’s scenes were wrapped, he called me to make sure I wouldn’t need him for any additional shooting. He and his partner Mariann knew something was wrong and were going to get him looked at. Soon after this conversation, Paul checked himself into the hospital. The doctors discovered he was in the advanced stages of kidney cancer. A condition from which he would not recover.

In the coming months, we completed the first major phases of post-production on Prayer to a Vengeful God. Paul was extremely proud of the film, and desperately wanted to share the achievement with his friends and family. On March 18th, I delivered the final cut of Vengeful to Paul’s hospital room in the ICU. He forced his loved ones to watch it with him many times over.

Paul died on Friday, March 26th. He was 56 years old. Our final film together, Prayer to a Vengeful God, will be released in the Fall of 2010.

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10 comments

  1. Thank you for this Dan. Paul was a wonderfully gifted man. I feel very honored and grateful to have known him and worked with him.


  2. Hi Dan, I am so sorry for your loss. I know how difficult this is for you. You and he are in my thoughts and prayers.
    Love,
    mom


  3. Damn, Dan, sorry to hear it. He was a great actor. Never met him, but it’s obvious he was a great person, too. Loved him in The Local. May he rest in peace.


  4. I did several shows with Paul. He was a wonderful soul. It’s a sad day.


  5. I feel very honored to have been able to know him and work with him. He will be missed.


  6. Dan, this is wonderful. I’m tearful, of course… damn, I miss him, though it’s been years since he and I did more than Web communiques. You’ve created a wonderful tribute to an incredible man and a remarkable artist. I know how much he loved you.


  7. If only I had a dime for every time I came here! Incredible article.


  8. Dan,
    What a beautiful tribute to Paul, that wonderful soul we love so much!!! Thank you for sharing the story of your journey together. You and he are a most talented team. I can’t wait to see “Prayer..,” and wish you all the best with its release. It was great to see you Saturday and hope to see you again very soon. Wishing you peace now and always.


  9. Dan, I am sorry for your loss.

    I was recently introduced to your films and to me there was something about Paul that I enjoyed; he had a classic Vincent Price/Charles Bronson like presence in the films and I adored his characters (especially the transient). I first saw ‘The Local’ and then ‘Prayer to a Vengeful God’, which was to me inspiring; a contemporary silent film takes guts and you all worked masterfully. I was distressed at the end credits when you paid homage to Paul and his passing. I like to dream, and up until that moment I had imagined one day meeting him and shaking hands. I am sorry for your loss. Please give my condolences to his family as well. I hope you take his passing as a challenge to yourself to never release anything that wouldn’t exceed his expectation and make him proud.

    Sincerely,

    A Fan From Tx


  10. Hi Dan, I was watching Lonesome Dove today and I decided to google Paul Vasquez as I haven’t seen him in over 30 years…You see, he was my first cousin on my mother’s side. The last time I saw Paul, I was around 12 years old.I remember seeing him in Blind Fury and thinking how cool it was to see a blood relative in a movie!! I did not know he died until today. Needless to say, I was stunned and saddened. I was sure our paths would cross at some point in life. Unfortunately this won’t happen now… I would love to hear from you or a member of his immediate family if at all possible.



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