White Knuckles Official Poster

White Knuckles - a film by SABI (Official 2012 Poster)

White Knuckles

a film by sabi

married 40 years & can’t take another day.

William would rather die than change.

Julie is going to help.



written & directed by


Play the official trailer below

The story of White Knuckles takes place 4 years after the events of ‘Heart of Now’

AND IS Distributed through Artis Entertainment & Vanguard Cinema


“An Honest Film that Rivets your attention. Beautifully done.”

Joe Sutton – Heart of Hollywood

“I truly admired this film.”

Trevor Groth – Dir. Sundance Film Festival

“A complex relationship in a demographic rarely showcased.”

Drea Clark – Dir. Slamdance Film Festival

“Relentless and Haunting.”

Shrina Anya – NoEnd Press


Julie, a sweet, subdued career housewife seems perfectly content in her life with her record player, houseplants, cooking despite her irritable husband of 40 years whose hobbies are sleeping and/or watching tv on the couch. Provoked into a sudden state of fear – Julie’s once innocent eyes now become watchful and suspicious, and her perception of reality makes a dark shift. Her husband William is both the unsuspecting victim faced with his mortality; and the self-loathing villain guilty of bad decisions and haunting karma. Between them is an escalating WAR – a self-destructive cloud threatening to ignite the forest with even the slightest friction. If the cycle is to break, both must be awakened to the raw reality of a true life or death choice…

“Right from the shockwave at the beginning of the film, Ashworth and Strauss take us on a fearless roller coaster ride until… the absolute last breath…”

The writer/director/producer Kevin K. Shah and producer Zak Forsman, along with associate producer Jamie Cobb and their team of artist-filmmakers, engage in a radical creative collaboration with an incredibly talented cast of actors that gave themselves fearlessly to this film. Through guided improvisational scenarios crafted to capture deeper truths as they emerged – the bold process was designed to abandon the script entirely before the end of production to make for an honest resolution that could never have been staged. What ultimately unfolds on screen is a compelling human drama that is terrifying and meaningful, darkly funny and suspenseful. White Knuckles take us on a courageous journey to redemption.



BNFF 2011 Review by Jared Mobarak:Buffalo-Niagara Film Festival

“On White Knuckles: A Review by Carol Green”

“Larry Strauss: Who Got The Part?” – Backstage West

The Makings of Forgiveness: A Review

Marion Kerr: Who Got The Part?” – Backstage West


There are only a few things in life that can compare to the experience of giving your full attention to an honest film. An honest film asks of an audience what nature requires when venturing into the wilderness – to explore outside of the known, to be open to experience, to be present to what is happening, to be aware of the mystery in everything, and above all, to be truly awake.

When it’s over, maybe all that’s left is an image of redemption, or an unspoken understanding, or a singular gesture, or a moment of clarity (…as opposed to a tidy, forced, fully disposable ending).

Sometimes such truthful moments resonate and open us to something greater – leaving us to integrate the experience into our heart. Perhaps we gain a deeper understanding of the human condition, or begin to ask greater questions in our own lives. To have any impact at all, such honest films require the deepest kind of attention.


How could it be that after 40 years together, somehow William and Julie have lost sight of each other and are picking each other apart? What could lead Julie to poison her husband? What is the source of their conflict? How dark must it get before change can happen? What if death was a possibility? These are some questions we journeyed with as this film unfolded during production.


White Knuckles results from a deep collaboration between myself, my crew and a terrific cast willing to take risks without feeling judged or vulnerable. Where Larry Strauss (who is currently coping with Parkinson’s Disease) and Martie Ashworth take the hearts and minds of their characters is incredibly courageous and often feels uncomfortably real. Their gritty depictions resonate with the kind of heartfelt honesty that is rare on screen, and their acting is the farthest thing from rehearsed ‘performance’. And what Larry Strauss delivers as a man feeling his mortality in this swan song of his career – is unforgettable.


Together, myself and the cast further explored a process of guided dramatic improvisation that we have found to be more organic and fulfilling than conventional filmmaking for every artist involved. As the adventure of this couple became our shared journey – we nurtured a collaborative environment where the story could be shaped through the living present and (not just the screenplay). Basically, the idea was to create, seek out and discover moments of deeper understanding between Julie and William that could not have been pre-determined. By design, I took the scripts back before the end of production and opted to capture the remarkable conclusion of Julie and William exactly as it happened.

Kevin K. Shah


Kevin K. Shah is a writer/director/producer of several feature films that wanted to create a deeply personal and honest project using an immersive collaborative experience where the actors would develop their own voice and improvise certain parts of the story. The experiment was an effort to uncover transcendent moments in cinema that could otherwise never have been planned or scripted. He is working on A Falling Rock, a thriller by sabi.


Larry Strauss

Excerpted from Production Journal – July 2006 “…Larry Strauss, one of our first choices, basically came in for the audition, nailed the scene – and told Zak and I that we should cast him because he understands William better than we do….“

In real life, Larry Strauss is very different from the character of William. What we see in Larry is a dancer, a kid, a comedian – a man that is full of life. Even though he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s before the film, he’s shared with us his unstoppable child-like spirit from the first day. Larry brings a lifetime of acting experience to William, and I’m so thankful to have had the experience of working with him. He’s currently directing Death of a Salesman in Laguna Woods (see email below).

From: Larry Strauss Subject:
Re: A White Knuckles Christmas?
Date: December 24, 2007 6:50:42 PM EST

Dear Kevin and all……..

What a lovely holiday present to receive! thank you! yes of course you can use my footage and I would like to get that myself. frankly i didn’t even know it existed. i remember like it was yesterday when Martie & i sat on the couch at the audition and ran lines. it’s one of my favorite memories. Before i go on, congratulations to you and Neha and g-d bless you. Kevin, i trust that we will still be able to show the film here in Laguna Woods as a Parkinson’s fund raiser, perhaps this spring? As soon as you have a date for me, i will arrange with mgt. to book the theater. I’m directing Death of a Salesman her in mid march & you are all invited. I believe I told you sometime ago that I was directing here but what I didn’t tell you was how much of your wisdom and humanity I have borrowed to make me a better director. thank you. and finally, I can’t wait to see you all….. and White Knuckles.




The character name “Julie” comes from a woman I met only briefly while running errands in Pacific Palisades back in the summer of 2000. A remarkable older woman – extremely sweet and pleasant – an d somehow, I found out through our brief conversation that she was an actor – and she dreamed for a lead feature role for a senior (where she could unleash her years of experience). I hung onto her card hoping that the story gestating in my heart about an older couple would someday come to fruition. When the film became the slightest possibility – I knew that I would have to meet Julie Parrish again, to see if she would come in for an audition. When I couldn’t reach her, I looked her up on the internet and learned that Julie Parrish had passed away after a heroic battle with cancer.

Before I met and was quickly captivated by Martie Ashworth, the image of the character of ‘the wife’ while writing the story was my memory of Julie Parrish, so it was only fitting that Martie and I ultimately decided to keep this character named ‘Julie’. Here are some of the deeply heartfelt and meaningful excerpts from a letter that Julie’s loving family posted on her behalf on their memorial website:

Words of Julie Parrish, who passed away on October 1, 2003:

…It actually didn’t hit me until I was in my late 30’s. I’d just left a truly mentally abusive relationship with a man five years older than me. I was broke. I’d lost contacts and all my property, and it took me quite by surprise. Ageism I mean. I don’t think one can ever be prepared for it no matter what. After the anger that hangs around the edges like a ghost for a while, it comes down to a sad feeling, one more of disappointment than anything. Disappointment, I think, in humanity. A feeling that leaves you feeling devalued and vulnerable. You start not being able to make a decent living anymore. You accept the challenge. You work in a dress shop. You work in a coffee shop. You get religion. You go to college as a freshman. You love it. You get the Chancellor’s distinguished Honor Award for your grade point average. You get your picture taken in your graduation gown. People say congratulations as you turn 50…

Julie Parrish

Julie Parrish

…Hollywood became somewhat of an “openly” ugly place, with film studio owners finding the right price for handing over the directorship of our beloved business to corporate America. Ergo some not always “creative-minded” people made choices for us with a clear focus on the bottom line. They became the dictators of what the entertainment audience would and could watch. Sex and violence seemed to bring in the most money. An advertising frenzy directed toward the very young and the upwardly mobile did not seem to care what I thought.” …I sure as hell didn’t see any male character descriptions where they called him “past his prime.” You roll that around in your craw a while and see how it feels! Then arrives that day when you come to the place where your mortality is threatened for the first time, and you realize “cancer” could actually happen to you! The final insult!

…Through this I keep reminding myself that I am right on time, and knowing that when I think anyone is being a jerk to me, I have to recognize what a nice opportunity it is to practice forgiveness and to practice not taking other people’s “stuff” personally. I know that if I don’t, then I will be stuck in this little “hell” until I do. Between you and me and the fence post, I found this “way harder” to do than it sounds, but a sense of humor helps tremendously…The spiritual teachers and philosophers that I have studied, for the most part, teach that whatever it is that is on your plate is what you are supposed to be dealing with right now, right here. Every meeting is a divine appointment. I think that’s true. At least it has worked that way for me… So I’ve learned to meet life’s challenges head on, and to be as honest with myself, and with others, as I am able to be. The “Golden Rule” seems a good one to follow. What real harm could come from treating other people the way you would like to be treated? If you find that it doesn’t work with someone, then you need to examine why you are there…”

God bless us all.


Julie passed away on October 1, 2003. These respectfully excerpted words of Julie Parrish can be found on her Memorial website at All words © 2000-2007 Julie Parrish & Family. All Rights Reserved.


Martie Ashworth

Excerpted from Production Journal – August 2006 (Post Casting Session)

“…so it turns out Martie Ashworth – our first choice from the mountain of headshots and resumes we studied – is going to play Julie. Amazing that all of our first choices, Julie, William, Dora (and Zak having found Gabe and Amber for the next film)… All of our gut instincts have turned out to be right.

…there are so many talented actors over 45, over 50, over 60 and above in this town-it is astonishing. The talent pool at this age is incredible – it’s truly a wonder why more films aren’t made with, by and for this age bracket. I think Martie will be one of the great ones –Julie was described in the script as being in the autumn of her life – Martie is when the leaves are at their most beautiful…”

When we brought Martie to improvise with Larry, it was chills all around: suddenly William and Julie were Real. Here are excerpts from a bio that Martie sent to me before she had even read the script.

From an email sent on August 13, 2006 by Martie Ashworth

…It’s hard when a person wakes up and realizes they are unfulfilled and that they are stuck. Most times the thought that they have choices never comes to mind. This is it, and there’s no way out.

If a person’s soul could curl into a fetal position, Julie’s had. William had lost his joy long ago, he was unhealthy from sitting around for so long, and he was now experiencing age-related health issues. Worse of all, he was chronically depressed, and forever complaining about how bad he felt.

A person who doesn’t know that change can be made, has a mind that tends to make up scenarios that ease their angst. The dreams of William miraculously recovering and becoming vital again were eventually replaced with thoughts of his car running off of the road and going over a cliff. The idea that he would suddenly have a revelation that Julie was sad or lonely and that he needed to get his act together, was replaced with William getting food poisoning and dying in the hospital. Dying in the hospital was replaced with William dying in his sleep before anyone could even get to him to try CPR. Such was her desperate and lonely life.

But, in the end, Julie knew that “till death do you part” was a vow that she must not ignore. So, she clung to memories of how William had supported her, held their baby son, had came home with “stolen flowers” that she loved so much, and how they fit together so well as they curled up upon one another as they slept.

They would find their way…



First: It is impossible to think about White Knuckles, or share any of the creative behind the film with out thanking first and foremost the crew that made this film a reality. Every time I think of the years leading up to the days of production, I feel like it was all simply preparation, blue-prints for what our cast and crew created during that fantastic month together. In no particular order — Lucas, Kester, Sam, Neha, Jamie, Kirti, Savanna, Matt, Jim, Eric, John, Alyce, Charles, Anoop, Ryan – you are the family of heroes that made this possible. Every single person’s handprint is on this film, each of you contributed selflessly and believed in what we were creating together. And of course, Zak Forsman – who is not only a source of tremendous encouragement and great inspiration – but also a partner in the telling of the creative vision of White Knuckles from concept to completion. He’s the eyes that captured what we ultimately see of this journey. For his dedication to the film, I am grateful beyond words.

kks (11/7/07)


Kester and Sam Krueger

Kester and Sam Krueger

Sam and Kester Krueger joined Sabi Pictures on this production (and went onto work as First A.D. and First A.C. among other roles on Heart of Now) but we somehow feel like we’ve known them from a previous life. Zak and Jamie arranged and conducted most of the entry interviews for Crew – and they found Sam. We liked Sam so much we met his brother Kester and hired him right away. After that – Lucas Cheadle – our awesome A.D. & the Krueger Brothers stole the show. Their work ethic is critical to a production like White Knuckles, and I would recommend them on any production. Also they keep things light and the morale high. True filmmakers in every sense of the word and I speak for all of us as Sabi Pictures when I say we can’t imagine making a film without them.

Lucas Cheadle

Lucas Cheadle

On Aug 31, 2006, at 4:18 PM, sam krueger wrote:

>…I had a long conversation with my brother about your
>production. And if you can offer him the same deal you offered me
>he would definitely take you up on it. Rex Trailer once said that I
>work harder than any two people he has ever met. Well my brother
>is the same. Together we are even more. We can definitely do it,
>if you can. It would be extremely cool. But I understand if you
>can’t. When would be a good time to drop off the Crew Deal
>Memo? I could also bring my bro bye if you would like to meet him.
>Anyway it was great meeting you yesterday. I’m very excited about
>this project.


album covers designed by Alyce Hans Forsman

The album covers of the records that Julie puts on the player throughout the film are all fictional — they were made by our incredibly talented graphic artist team led by Alyce Forsman (along with Charles & Ryan). Here’s an example of initial pitches and works-in-progress. The final result was printed, aged & carefully glued onto an existing record album.

Alyce is an artist that works tirelessly on our films during pre-production from locations on the east coast – sending proofs, tests, designs, pitches, concepts, special photographic effects, stickers, mailers, props – whatever came up. Without giving anything away, Alyce’s terrific artwork appears consistently throughout White Knuckles.

From: Alyce Forsman
Subject: Album Covers
CC: Charles
Date: Sat, 19 August 2006 21:46:51

Charles gave me the specs regarding the album covers, I threw together some using your suggested names. These would have to be printed out and pasted onto existing albums. So far, there are just covers. If any are acceptable, I can do backs and/or insides, add fake songs, etc. I just showed Chuck the Yello one and he informed me that there is a band called yello but I included it thinking the name could be changed to Hello or Mello or something. Maybe Yikes, a favorite word of mine. i can change it on the t-shirt, too. The silver fox is a cover I did using Tobey’s old band so I already have a back cover and insides (I had made a cd cover) i enlarged it and removed the bands name… Like I said, I threw these together, after reading your email to Chuck… So, feel free to tear these ideas apart and suggest changes. I am so used to it… ah the life of a graphic designer. I recognized your Mother’s name in Pra G. Na … clever. (That’s 23 year old me as Sadie Jones) The Men at Lunch guys is an old photo I took from work. They are long dead and gone.



Mountains in the Mist

Mountains in the Mist

There’s a scene that has always been in the story since the beginning of it’s inception:

We were so honored that Roger Bansemer, renowned painter and talented artist allowed us to use his beautiful book “Mountains in the Mist: Impressions of the Great Smokies” a rare hard-cover out of print. Not only did Roger generously give us permission to shoot and use the beautiful paintings in his book – but he also sent Sabi Pictures an autographed copy with “Best Wishes to Julie”.

A filmmaker feels such a deep gratitude when Artists do what then can to help each other – and Roger embodies every sense of that word. Visit the links below to visit his websites & learn more about Roger and his work.

Mountains in the Mist | Roger’s personal website

Roger’s e-mailed reply graciously allowing me to use his book in our film:

On 8/15/06 5:25 AM, “Roger Bansemer” wrote:

I would be honored for you to use my book in your film. Please keep me posted as to your progress in the production. Put me on your e-mail list if you would. I’m going to put you on my contact list if it’s OK with you. I send out emails as I do new paintings and such. If you need any assistance in this area of the mountains, I’d be happy to help you if I can. I’m curious to know how you came upon my book. Once again, I’m very pleased to have you use my work in your project.

Sincerely, Roger Bansemer


plants draw water from her hands
fingers taste the soil like soft chocolate cake
somewhere a leaf changing color
stops and falls

a symphony sadness
she’ll open her eyes to the sun

record needle breaks
the hum of his breathing
comes to a stop (to let through a soft purr)
skipping an absence

days. the same. moments of quiet,
broken by the screaming ending
(as badly as it began)


Initially, White Knuckles was to be written more like a play or a poem to ensure that the actors (and the director) didn’t get married to the words on the page. N. Itrik called the (very early) version of the story a “scroutline” – (script + outline), but I know he was just trying to insult me. I was just trying to remind myself we wouldn’t need the words at all—that with the right guidance and the right intentions – truthful dialogue would come naturally. For practical purposes however (like financing, scheduling, budgeting, creating sides, getting actors and agents and my editor on board). N. Itrik was right – I needed to write a normal script. This excerpt is from an early chapter of the emerging “old people story” (ugly typos and all).

He eats. They are silent.

He: What’s wrong?

She: I was thinking of Cheryl.

He: What about.

She: I think she doesn’t want to see me.

Silence between them. He looks at her for a long time. Sits back. Changes the subject.

He: How would you like to rent an RV.

She (blankly): For what?

He: I don’t know, to hit the road. We could drive someplace. Maybe we could drive to st. louis.

She: What’s in st. louis?

He: I don’t know. There’s that arch.

(she stares at him –)

He: Well then maybe lets go to the great smokey mountains, what do you think of that?

(she thinks)

He: You’ve always wanted to do that. Saw you got that book on Tennessee.

She: Okay

He: Want to? Really?

She (after a long pause): I don’t know.

He: It’ll be good for us.

She: Why don’t you go?

He (suddenly frustrated): Don’t change your mind – what’s not to know? Come on, for Christ sake, why would you change yo——(He suddenly has a fit coughing, choking).

She watches him. He gulps down his water – trying to get control – he’s hacking so hard he can’t complete his thought. He looks at her for help – but She just watches, offering only a blink.


This is an excerpt from an email from my friend Fritz, who was one of the first to hear the verbal pitch from me of the story (and my many incarnations thereafter) as well as one of the first to read the initial draft of the script (which subsequently went through 6 months of revisions). Fritz, god bless him, had to suffer through many of the ideas that were ultimately cut (such as the scene Fritz is referring to here). His friendly, intelligent, thoughtful responses would haunt me for days while making the final revisions.

Date: November 17th 2005
>From: Fritz Darling
>Re: White Knuckles
> I think at this moment William needs to
> not focus on himself. Rather he needs to echo her
> beliefs that she should move on… that he had been
> failing for a long time in giving her the kind of
> life she deserved. Being the person she deserved to
> be with. He could even paint a rosy picture about
> how life would be better without him (her
> relationship with her son etc.) At that moment the
> mirror is being held up in front of her and she is
> forced to take responsibility for her life and have
> pity on herself. She needs to forgive herself as
> much if not more than her husband.
> If the focus remains on him, and his motivations
> are still self centered than I don’t believe that
> Julie would see anything worth saving in general.
> Let me know if this makes any sense.
> Best,
> FD


Translator’s Note: This was translated from an analog recording N. Itrik had created while in Chile. Much of the meaning and poetry in what he was saying is lost in the static and my poor, hurried translation.


“…[White Knuckles] has huge variety of songs from Pace Rubadeau and Mr. Special on soundtrack – strange, jazz electronica, trumpet, beautiful – and meaningful to the syncopation of the images, words and sonic landscape…[…interruption…]” “

…[White Knuckles] was written with record changes indicated in the screenplay. [The director] wants music to be on the record player only, diagetic but also non-diagetic! Same time! [For example] Julie puts a new record on – Music Composition #4 –fast – this short script description gives an editor no direction, but Mr. Special had a song [that fit] every image….”

“…I had to work with the music myself, [the director] gave me Mr. Special songs – but I laid the music [under the imagery]. We selected songs from bands that give the feeling or mood that was most truthful for the images. [Rather than] a typical score, I told White Knuckles through carefully selected song changes – or glued the images through silences and sounds.*”

–N. Itrik – Editor


Before we were fortuitous enough to have cleared rights to use Bansemer’s terrific paintings (see previous link) we were putting feelers out for a few pictures of the Great Smokies with artists and photographers. It happened that an incredibly talented photographer named Ward Hale was on assignment shooting photos near Kentucky and Tennessee. Since he was going to go to the Smokies anyway – he generously offered a series of beautiful pictures for us to check out and potentially use… but tragedy struck when Ward slipped and fell. Ward will be remembered as a talented artist that loves among other things, to capture beauty in nature at great risk. These are the last two pictures Ward took ever with this camera.

Subject: Re: smoky pictures
Date: August 23, 2006 2:39:04 AM EDT

you’ll never believe this… I was in the smoky mnts today… slipped on some moss… fell into the raging river, busted myself to pieces on all the rocks, and ruined my camera… it was a sad day. Here is the last picture taken with the camera… and also my favorite of the day. Hopefully I’ll have figured out a way to get a new camera by the time you are doing your next project.

All Pictures © Ward Hale 2008. All Rights Reserved.


The stories of White Knuckles and what evolved into Heart of Now, were conceived of together, having a relationship like two sisters. Not only were there shared themes, but certain characters would overlap both stories – specifically, the characters of Amber and Gabe.

So more than a year before Heart of Now went into preproduction, I was casting the two leads so that they could make their debut in White Knuckles. This is how we met Marion Kerr and Kelly McCracken. On their last day of shooting at the Encino location, I gathered them into a room and asked them to join me in continuing the story of these two characters in a film of their own. Thankfully, they accepted.

Zak Forsman


The fun video was made during the final mixing of White Knuckles with sound designer, Zach Seivers. Seivers was crucial to the sonic landscape of this film, and he and Snap Sound come highly recommended for all your sounds needs.


87 Minutes | HD | 1 : 1.85 | ENGLISH | DOLBY 5.1 | 2012 | DVD | Not Yet Rated


  • Private Cast and Crew Screening in Los Angeles at New Beverly Cinema.
  • Joe Sutton “Heart of Hollywood” critic reviews the film.
  • Official Selection at Derby City Film Festival.
  • Larry Strauss nominated for Best Actor at DCFF.
  • Martie Ashworth nominated for Best Actor at DCFF.
  • World Premiere at the Derby City Film Festival.
  • Carol Green reviews the film.
  • Psychotherapists become interested in analyzing the film.
  • Psychology Undergrad & Graduate Study Guides are created.
  • & Psychology Movies both promote the film through their site & newsletter for patients & clients.
  • NY Premiere and Official Selection at Buffalo-Niagara Film Festival.
  • Laguna Woods Private Retirement Community Closed Circuit screening.
  • TV Interviews & Screening on Local CCTV for 22,000 residents.
  • Critic Jared Mubarak reviews the film.
  • Receives Distribution through Vanguard Cinema.
  • Dubbed in Russian, White Knuckles screens on Russian TV to thousands.