Idyllwild CinemaFest Director Stephen Savage premieres his latest feature film, “Vertical,” as a special festival event on Saturday, Jan. 12, at the fourth year of the festival he founded. “It’s the final film in my Idyllwild trilogy,” said Savage, whose previous features “Cosmic Radio” (2007) and “Legacy” (2010) were also shot on location here.

Savage is quick to point out that he doesn’t change Idyllwild’s name when he shoots here. “It’s always been Idyllwild,” he said noting that other companies that have used Idyllwild as a location, change the name. “I’ve never done that. I love showing off the town, in my films and with the festival.”

“Vertical” is a drama about rock climbing in which family and friends of an experienced female climber cope with her climbing death. Other than for an opening scene shot in Flagstaff, Ariz., “Vertical” was filmed in Idyllwild. It prominently features Tahquitz Rock, one of the world’s premier climbing destinations, as well as many Idyllwild businesses and locations.

The storyline follows the death of a climber who lives in a town known for its rock climbing — Idyllwild. Her daughter, in school in Flagstaff, is summoned home after her mother’s death. She thinks she will be there to mourn with her mother’s rock climbing friends. Instead she learns, through the eyes of her mother’s friends, who her mother was and why rock climbing had been her passion.

‘Vertical’ movie poster Courtesy of Stephen Savage/Baylor Films

In a key development, the town sheriff, in investigating the accident, discovers the woman climber had advanced breast cancer. The question arises, did she fall intentionally doing what she loved most, or was it an accident caused by failure of equipment or judgment?

When asked why he chose to make a film about rock climbing, Savage described his encounter with five women rock climbers in Joshua Tree earlier this year. They had climbed around the world, often as a group. Their dedication to the sport intrigued him.

When Irene Bedard, one of the stars of “Cosmic Radio,” Savage’s first feature as writer and director, told him she was looking for a project, he said, “I’ve got this story idea, not scripted yet, but interesting.”

He finished the screenplay for “Vertical” three weeks before the 11-day shoot in June of this year. Bedard is one of the stars.

Savage’s homages to Idyllwild include not only his three features but also the festival itself. He said the town has given him so much and played a pivotal role in launching his career, that he gives back in ways he can — by promoting it.

He has been a full-time Idyllwild resident since 1995 and locals may remember him years earlier from Café Aroma, where proprietor Frank Ferro made it his mission to introduce his sometimes waiter, who already had a 2003 writing credit on a feature film and several finished screenplays, to any person with potential Hollywood connections.

But a day substituting at the Idyllwild Video store where Savage had previously worked, proved especially fortuitous. Savage recalled a woman came in, looked through the available films, and came to the counter with “Turquoise,” a film Savage had co-written. When she learned it was his film, she told him she wanted to see anything he was working on.

The woman, Alisa Schulz, and then-fiancé Patrick Gallagher became important Savage supporters. He noted Gallagher funded “Cosmic Radio” and served as executive producer. Schulz was associate producer.

For “Cosmic Radio,” Savage shot the Fourth of July Parade, making Idyllwild and its small-town Americana ambiance a key player in the film. For “Legacy,” it was Idyllwild’s landscape. Now with “Vertical,” it’s Tahquitz (Lily) Rock and the village.

For “Vertical,” Savage has assembled much of his team from previous projects, but this year he has a new director of photography, Ignatius Fischer, one of the ICF 2013 official featured filmmakers. The trailer for “Vertical” is available online at the festival website, You can catch enough of the storyline and plot twists from viewing the trailer to give you a sense of the film.

“Vertical” features a score by Sharon Bousquet and original songs by singer-songwriter Courtney Jones. Many of Savage’s corps of actors return for “Vertical.” In addition to Bedard, Savage veterans Wolfgang Bodison, Marshall Bell, Carson Aune and Chuti Tiu appear.

Savage, who recently opened an editing studio in Beverly Hills, said he has three more feature film projects in the pipeline, all major budget films — “Monkey Jar,” “Gods of a Parallel Universe” and “Storm Dancer.”

He observed that as his filming schedule has tightened, Festival Chairman Phil Calderone has assumed the day-to-day planning and execution of the festival. “Phil has turned ICF into a truly legitimate festival, worthy of showcasing and giving a voice to independent filmmakers worldwide.”

But Savage stressed that without the Rustic Theatre as the festival’s host venue, and the key support of owners Shane and Ashley Stewart, there would be no festival. “None of this would be possible without the support and dedication of Shane and Ashley Stewart,” said Savage. “He has stuck his neck out and here we are, heading into year four with an expanded festival, and because of Shane’s commitment, we also have full digital audio and visual screening capability.”

The marketing tag for “Vertical” is, “Sometimes the best place to find your true self is straight up.” It is not in festival competition and requires a separate admission ticket.

ICF runs Wednesday, Jan. 9 through Sunday, Jan. 13. See website for more information.


  1. This festival does NOTHING for most of the merchants in town. Only ones who benefit are The Rustic, a few of the restaurants and of course Steve Savage's enormous ego.. These movie-goers do not buy from the stores.

    • Wow. Ana and I must have been at different festivals. I live in San Diego. I have been to the Idyllwild cinema festival two of the past three years. Each time I come I fall in love with Idyllwild, a beautiful town I might never have visited had it not been for the film festival. And how can she say the festival does nothing for the merchants of the town? They might do better if they actually stayed open. We walked around town on numerous occasions and saw more close shops than open ones. However, my friends and I did eat at Cafe Aroma and Gastronome and the Greek place and others, and my best friend and I last year spent about $300 each in Wooly's and at the Prairie Dove. Plus we had a wonderful week with Chris at Silverpines Lodge. But I guess, even though it brings outside people like me and my money into the cute little town of Idyllwild, the film festival does nothing for Ana Thema. As for Mr. Savage's ego, we watched as he gave money to the Susan G. Koman breast cancer awareness people during a seminar on women in film, and his talk about his mother's death moved everyone near to tears. Some ego. I wonder if Ana actually ever goes to the film festival, or like so many other do nothings, find's it easier to complain from a distance than to shine a positive attitude toward something very special. See everyone in January at the 2013 Idyllwild Festival.

  2. What I love is, the people who do nothing but sit around and criticize others always hide behind a pseudonym. This one was from Ana Theme. Anathema. Get it? How clever. I make every comment (on line or hard copy) under the flag of my true name. Of course, I can't really argue about my Enormous Ego… haha. Personal attacks against me, big or small, have no effect. I'm in a business where, if someone isn't bad mouthing you, you're doing something wrong. But I must respond in the name of the great people who are working so hard to put on an amazing festival. They deserve better then sinsless, unfounded comments like Ana Thema's (jeez) for putting together a great festival that brings a lot of money into the town of Idyllwild. Accourding to numbers generated for the Riverside County Economic Development Agency, the festival is bringing very respectable numbers into our town, and I'm proud of that. We are now going into year four and show no sign of doing anything but growing. Once again, we are keeping the Local's Pass at only $20. How great is that? A week of excellent films for only 20 bucks!!! Rebekah Lang's comment is true. Keeping doors open would help local merchants. But it doesn't stop there. I have approached many local merchants and asked what I can personally do to help promote them at the festival. But follow through takes time and commitment from the merchants. It's our job to get people here. It's the job of the merchant to get them into the shop doors. Any merchant who wishes can contact me and we will be SURE to allow access to advertising with flyers, promotions, discount incentives… whatever it takes. We have some great shops in our town. I would be only to happy to push anyone's business. That's what we are here for. But the commitment has to be made on the part of the merchant. And to say that ONLY the Rustic and a FEW restaurants benefit… what does that mean? Businesses are befitting. You defeat your own point with this argument Ana. If a few are benefitting then there is obviously a way to benefit. And you forget the Inns and Hotels. And the Rustic Theatre does so much good work throughout the year it's time they got some real credit. If you Ana are a merchant and the film festival isn't benefitting you, stop writing comments and come to me. Let's make it work for you. Nothing would make me happier. If you are not one of our great merchants, what are you commenting on? And why hide behind childish pseudonyms? Make yourself known and let's work together for the benefit of all. Myself and Festival Chairman Phil Calderone, his hard working partner Barbara, Shane and Ashley at the Rustic, all the great volunteers, the Rotary Club, the Caine Center, Astro Camp and all of our other amazing supporters… we are moving forward. And the future looks very bright indeed for the Idyllwild Cinemafest.