Growing up in Annapolis, Tim and Trevor White were hardly inseparable.
Each brother had his own set of friends and pursued his own interests: Trevor discovered a passion for film early on, while Tim seemed more adrift. But recently, a shared commitment to cinema has brought the pair closer than ever, as they work toward the release of their first full-length movie.
"Jamesy Boy," shot in and around Baltimore over a five-week period that ended this month, stars Mary-Louise Parker, Ving Rhames and James Woods. Based on the true story of a street-tough gang member inspired to go straight by a hard-timer he meets in jail, the film's an ambitious project for two brothers in their 20s, but Tim and Trevor play to each other's strengths.
"They're a wonderful team," the Oscar-nominated Woods, who's been making movies for some 40 years, wrote in an e-mail. "I was amazed this was their first feature. Talent is a gift from God. Good breeding is from good parenting. These guys had both."
Tim and Trevor White have always watched one another's back — as kids, as students at Annapolis' Key School and, for the past five years, as they've tried to break into the movie business. Directors, who see themselves as artists, and producers, who tend to concentrate on the business side of filmmaking, don't always get along. That was never the case for the White brothers.
"I couldn't imagine doing it without him," said director Trevor White, 26. "I don't know anything different, and I don't want to. Tim is always the first person I go to, before anyone else."
Tim, 29, sees himself as Trevor's business partner and confidant.
"I am protective of him, I'm protective of his vision he has," Tim White said. "I'll do everything I can to make sure he gets to make the film that he wants to make."
Trevor said he always knew he wanted to be involved in films. His mother, Patti, had worked as a producer for CBS News and other organizations, and runs Filmsters, an annual film camp for kids in Annapolis. Trevor remembersher taking him to movies all the time at the Westfield Annapolis Mall and Harbour Center theaters. Dad Geoff preferred watching movies with him on TV.
One year for Christmas, Trevor's parents gave him a little video camera.
"That was the end of it," Patti said. "He started sticking that camera in everyone's face. He filmed everything. And for a young kid, he was really focused. At 16, he made a really decent short film that actually made sense."
Trevor honed his filmmaking skills while studying at Cornell University. He landed an internship with director Michael Mann's company, working on the set of the film version of "Miami Vice."
Tim's road to Hollywood, however, never seemed quite as predetermined. He found movies interesting, especially the business side. But he had other interests. As a teenager, Tim was a nationally ranked tennis player. At Williams College, he majored in political science. Trevor thought his brother would be "a political consultant, or something like that."
"I was thinking about politics, thinking about law school, thinking about financial," Tim said. "I was also thinking about film. And then, my sophomore year or junior year, Trev and I basically sat down and he was just, like, 'You should really try this.'"
After graduating, Tim joined his brother in Los Angeles and set up shop. The brothers moved in together, finding an apartment in West Hollywood. About four years ago, they started their own production company, named Star Thrower (after the sailboat on which his parents honeymooned). They have five short films under their belts, all directed by Trevor and produced by Tim.
While "Jamesy Boy" is their first feature — they hope to have it ready to take on the festival circuit by late summer — the Whites say they have a handful of other story ideas that are ready to launch.
The brothers seem to complement one another well — Trevor handling the creative side, Tim handling the business end, tracking the details.
That balance proved both impressive and reassuring to James Burns, the real-life inspiration for "Jamesy Boy." His family had known the Whites, and Trevor and Tim both say they were vaguely aware of Burns' problems with the law, spending time in a Colorado jail on an armed robbery conviction. But they didn't know the full story, about the hard-bitten inmate who helped turn his life around, until Burns came out to visit Trevor in Los Angeles.
"If it wasn't Trevor or Tim that were doing this, I wouldn't have agreed," said Burns, who unexpectedly found himself pouring out his life story during the trip. "I wasn't an open book at that point in my life. But Trevor had a way of making me feel like I could be myself, and he wasn't going to judge me. So I opened up to him."
The Whites say they quickly realized this was the sort of story they wanted for their fledgling production company — inspirational, with multilayered characters in situations that seem real, facing down problems to which audiences can relate.
After Burns agreed to sell them the rights to his story, Trevor and co-screenwriter Lane Shadgett pounded out a script, with help from Tim. The younger White acknowledges that he was nervous about the project at first, especially since his background left him with little knowledge of the sort of life Burns had led. But Trevor, as well as his brother and their screenwriting partner, worked hard to understand, Burns said, and asked all the right questions.
"We all locked ourselves in his room for days," Burns said. "We literally dissected the screenplay, went over every single line. We all kind of got on the same page after that."
Burns, who was on set during most of the "Jamesy Boy" shoot, said he was thrilled by the experience — so much so that he plans to pursue a career in film himself. He's hoping to be accepted into New York University in the fall.
During a recent shoot at the closed Maryland House of Correction in Jessup, the Whites fit comfortably into their roles, both as creators and partners. Trevor, though young for a director (especially one working with such a big-name cast), seemed to know what he wanted from his actors, and he didn't shrink from asking them to try a scene again, this time a little differently. Tim was usually at his side, or maybe just a few feet away, offering advice when asked and a reassuring tap on the back when a little support was called for.
On the set, Trevor stared into a video monitor. Something was not quite right. His young lead actor, a first-timer himself, was doing sit-ups in his jail cell, hands locked behind his head in a moment of quiet contemplation that's key to the movie. But the scene just wasn't clicking.
The director thought for a moment, as the cast and crew assembled around him quietly waited. Some 20 feet away, actor Spencer Lofranco stared straight up at the ceiling, ready to perform another round of sit-ups — or whatever else his director asked.
"Your elbow blocks your face, so just tuck your arms next to your body," Trevor said finally, speaking into a microphone linked to the cell where the scene was being shot. "And would you mind doing them a little slower?"
Standing alongside, Tim nodded in silent support.
"It's a great feeling, to be doing this with someone I trust 150 percent," Trevor said later. "If I felt like I nailed something, and Tim would come up to me and say, 'I just might have a complaint' ... even if I might be moving on, ... feeling like we got it, I would probably stop all that and go back and do it one more time. I trust him to that degree."
On their partnership: "They were always very respectful of what the other one was doing, they always kind of enjoyed doing things together," said their mother, Patti White. "But I never would have called it, never would have guessed, that they'd be making movies together. It was like, all of a sudden, they both started talking about L.A."