Jim Fall — the storyteller: Hollidaysburg native directs movies, TV, theater

Courtesy photos Posing while on the set of the 2006 TV movie “Wedding Wars” are, from left, Bonnie Somerville, James Brolin and Jim Fall.

A successful movie, television and theater director Jim Fall, formerly of Hollidaysburg, considers himself a storyteller who desires to “make other people feel.”

His interest in directing began on Easter Sunday 1974 when his father, Michael Fall, took his family to see “The Exorcist” at the Blair Cinema on Allegheny Street.

“It’s still my favorite film,” Fall said by telephone. “It was really the movie that made me want to make movies.” Fall lives in Los Angeles with his partner Brian Patterson.

But instead of making horror movies, Fall’s gained fame directing romantic comedies, such as “The Lizzie McGuire Movie” while contracted to Walt Disney Productions. A big-screen adaptation of the hit Disney Channel series Hilary Duff starred in. Fall’s studio directing debut opened at number two below “X-men 2” in its opening week in 2002. The film also stars Adam Lamberg, Robert Carradine, Hallie Todd and Jake Thomas.

Fall, 56, will be honored Aug. 24 for his body of work with a Tribute Award from All Genders, Lifestyles, and Identities Film Festival in Austin, Texas, for “Trick.”

Formerly known as the Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival, other honorees include Rose Troche for “Go Fish,” on its 25th anniversary and documentarian and filmmaker Lisa Donato, who will receive the Breakthrough Award.

The Christmas TV viewing season is like a Fall festival and has been for the past eight years.

He has co-writer credit on “Holiday Engagement,” — Hallmark’s highest rated Sunday night movie — starring Shelley Long, Bonnie Somerville, and Jordan Bridges; Lifetime’s “Holly’s Holiday,” starring Claire Coffee and Ryan McPartlin, and “Kristin’s Christmas Past,” starring Shiri Appleby and Elizabeth Mitchell.

Fall has spent the last few months touring and speaking about his first indie hit “Trick,” during its 20th anniversary year.

He is in pre-production on a sequel “Trick 2” featuring the return of the original cast, which includes Tori Spelling. Fall also directed Spelling in episodes of “So NoTORIous,” a VH1 scripted comedy. In the A&E feature movie “Wedding Wars,” he directed John Stamos and James Brolin.

Those opportunities came after “Trick,” which was selected as one of 18 films to compete at the January 1999 Sundance Film Festival.

“We didn’t win an award, but the film sold and was distributed. So, really, I won the best award because it was bought and distributed nationally and that’s the ultimate goal,” Fall said. He also won for “Best Emerging Talent” at Outfest the same year.

“Trick,” he said, had a relatively small production budget of $450,000 and earned $2.5 million at the box office as an indie art film.

“Back then film distribution was very different,” Fall said. “It played in every college town and in cities. It even sold internationally in Italy and Taiwan.”

“I think it’s because it’s just a simple universal story. I wanted to make a movie not about being gay in the mid-90s when so many people were dying of AIDS or being beaten up. I felt it was time for a movie where it was more a human story about two people to find a connection. It’s a simple love story.”

While on this summer’s “Trick” 20th anniversary tour, Fall had an epiphany:

“So many gay men in their mid-30s came and talked to me about the impact the film made on them and how it helped them come out,” he said. “It has become a classic because it tells a love story between two men devoid of any homophobia.”

Fall no longer has relatives living in Blair County — his parents and three siblings are scattered along the East Coast — he retains fond memories of his hometown.

A 1981 graduate of Hollidaysburg Area Senior High School, his father, who practiced urology in the county, bought him his first movie camera while in high school and his parents were very supportive of his creativity and making movies.

“A lot of them, I’m really proud of (because) I was in the middle of nowhere and no one was doing anything like what I was doing. My parents were wonderful and supportive. I think being a filmmaker kind of scared them but they never stopped supporting me.”

Fall said he feels fortunate to have grown up in Hollidaysburg “a beautiful place and during such an amazing time in the 1970s. It was such a potent time for art and movies. I’m so happy I was coming of age during that time. It was so magical to me … this combination of images and music that could make me laugh and cry. I wanted to be part of that process. I wanted to make other people feel.”

Hollidaysburg was also a safe haven, Fall said, as he didn’t experience bullying or victimization. He recalled coming out first to a “pretty cool” and supportive English teacher his junior year, but never struggled with his sexual identity.

“It was very clear to me from an early age who I was so I never went through an internal struggle,” he said, but he did struggle about revealing his sexual identification. Then, an older classmate “outed” him, he said, “In a weird way, he made it easy.”

While in high school, he performed with Altoona Community Theatre in the role of a sailor in “Anything Goes,” and as a wandering minstrel in “The Rose Tattoo.”

After high school graduation, Fall attended Temple University for a year and then transferred to NYU. During college he acted in college theatrical productions. His acting forays, Fall said, imbued him with much respect for actors.

“It’s very hard to be in front of an audience and be so vulnerable,” he said. Being mindful how the actors put their trust in the director’s hands makes him a sensitive director who “gets out of the actors’ way” — quite unlike the sterotypical portrayal of a director with a bull horn shouting at everyone.

And, he said, directing live theater is different than directing a film or a TV movie.

“Theater’s a moving target. Theater makes me a little sad because you have this wonderful thing you worked on for weeks and weeks and then it’s gone. I love movies because they exist beyond their initial creation.”

He also enjoys seeing a film come together during the editing and scoring process.

“When everyone is doing their job,” Fall said, “then your job becomes a joy. And seeing it come together in the editing room and scoring the move that’s the surreal part. In real life there is no musical score. But in movies, you create a magical suspension of disbelief.”

Mirror Staff Writer Patt Keith is at 949-7030.