The moon landing, the shape of the Earth, Area 51, reptilians, chemtrails… conspiracy theories have been around for a long time and have truly thrived in the wake of recent global events (Trump, COVID, etc). Yet in the world of music, none seem to have the longevity and constant recurrence of those surrounding the death of Tupac Shakur. Gunned down on the Las Vegas Strip on September 13, 1996, there are many who believe the rap legend lives on, a conspiracy that is explored, with humorous and dramatic effect, in Erica Eng’s (Americanized) six-minute short Off Fairfax.
Written by actor/comedian Rell Battle and originally conceived as the pilot for a larger series, Off Fairfax follows three friends at the last stop on a long, and seemingly dangerous, journey to unravel the truth behind Tupac’s death. Inspired by Battle’s exposure to “odd theories” from a young age, which fuelled both his stand-up and his “natural black paranoia”, the themes of the short formed during his time as a freelance journalist for MTV.
“The comedic delivery plays off of the minimization of the true horrors of our dark American history”
Although the delivery of the film often makes it feel like laughs are its main aim, there’s also an emotional weight behind the story that leaves an impact deeper than those initial chuckles. “Through its surrealist delivery, our audience is taken on a journey to unravel these ‘paranoid theories’ which are eventually transformed into actualized fears” Battle explains. Adding that the film’s “comedic delivery plays off of the minimization of the true horrors of our dark American history and mistreatment of black people – but also stupid shit people say on Twitter.”
With Battle already having formed a solid outline for the series, Eng’s came onboard to help take an element of this bigger storyline and turn it into a proof-of-concept which worked both as an indicator of what to expect from the episodic version and as a standalone short film. Choosing the diner scene to work on, Eng was particularly focused on ensuring Off Fairfax had a “beginning, middle, and end”, so the director’s first move was to suggest adding an establishing scene, outside of the restaurant, to the short. Having the characters introduced in this manner not only helps to pull the characters out of the film’s one location, but more importantly, adds a sense of urgency to their arrival, providing much needed momentum to the film’s six-minute run-time.
Shot over one day in Los Angeles, with an “extremely small crew”, Engs worked with previous collaborators Kristian Zungia (cinematographer) and Ben Ralston (production designer) to help bring her vision for Off Fairfax to the screen. “I wanted it to feel like its own little world where things don’t quite make sense”, the director reveals as we discuss her approach, and there’s certainly a sense of isolation imbued in the film through its production which makes you feel immersed in both its protagonists universe and their current headspace. The latter feeling particularly important in helping viewers buy into their quest and invest in their on-screen and emotional journey.
While we’ll have to wait and see if the episodic version of Off Fairfax sees the light of day, for Eng she’s already working on her next project, a short film titled The Ghost, as she was selected as one of the directors taking part in the second season of Disney’s Launchpad short film initiative .