1991 Publicity Photo (with Jennifer Guerin and Jeffrey Bryant)

Damaged Californians
"Nomen est omen" (The name is your warning)



on the set of "Wanderlust 1999


In 1987, writer D. Scott Hessels was given a 30-foot plywood Vanna White cutout from a billboard on La Brea Ave. While trying to recruit help in driving it home, a young filmmaker from Colorado named P. James Keitel offered his truck...and offered to film the event with his video camera. A wooden Vanna White flapping on the Hollywood Freeway triggered a friendship and partnership that has lasted 20 years and resulted in some of the most highly-acclaimed experimental media art projects in film, video, and the Internet.



Their first video, "Hillbilly Slid Loudly", was a brash, chaotic mix of backyard special effects and punk rock that announced the arrival of a new style of video art. Immediately recognized by the contemporary art community, the piece won the American Film and Video Festival and went on to show in festivals and museums around the world. The next five video shorts became legendary on the art scene garnering praise, awards, broadcast time, and museum space in London, Berlin, Houston, Rotterdam, Los Angeles, New York, Singapore, Toronto, and Amsterdam.

'dreaming of pet heroes' live performance 1988

planning a shot for "Wanderlust" in Coalinga 1999



Their first feature-length project, the 16mm art film "Below 30/Above 10,000" was critically lauded as one of the most innovative films ever made. The highly surreal project was shot underwater in the reefs off Belize and above the timberline in the California High Sierra, and went on to become a cable broadcast hit.

The 35mm feature "Wanderlust" followed. Gorgeous locations, an evocative score, powerful performances, and a compelling story about a group of ex-patriate drifters arriving at a personal crossroads made the film an audience favorite at film festivals around the world.


Music and Performance

The mid-1990's saw an odd international cult develop around the artists--college fan clubs sprang up, thousands of t-shirts were sold, a famous Oz punk band named their album in tribute. Having worked with the best musicians in LA's underground music scene, the D-Cals released a CD compilation of music from their films that became an instant hit on college radio.

Live, they continued their assault by juggling portable televisions during a PBS interview, showing a 1953 filmstrip in a Beverly Hills bathroom showroom, performing a 'dance piece' at a tiki lounge to President Bush's state of the union address, and shouting manic poetry on the MetroRail 'Art on Rails' event they produced.

filming the jeep sequence in "Wanderlust" 1999

the tracking shot in "The Radar of Small Dogs" 1989

The Internet and New Media

Their first website, a mockery of the high-tech 90's, was immediately nominated for "Cool Site of the Year," featured in People Magazine, and visited by millions during the competition. They produced the groundbreaking 'Your Winning Finish' for the Los Angeles Marathon, now considered a pivotal moment in video on the web. A commissioned artwork for the internet called "Alternate Routes" was a smash success for the Melbourne International Festival and won design awards around the globe. Their series of interactive films called "D-Tours" was another example of new directions for the artists.

Media historians and cultural pundits are increasingly recognizing Damaged Californians as pioneers in a style of comic avant-garde that defined a moment in Los Angeles cultural history between punk and grunge...a pop-dada, goofball, retro-tiki, collage of sly humor and edgy design. Never repeating themselves, the D-Cals have produced a body of work that was honored with two distinguished career retrospectives in 2003.

In 2005, Scott and James will release their first experiment in non-fiction--a documentary on a 1980's beatnik coffeehouse called the Pikme-up. The feature film will bend the rules of doc filmmaking and has already generated talk for it's stunning composite work and animation.

Separately, James Keitel is increasingly seen as an executive producer on other feature and short films with new filmmakers tapping into his experience and daring technique. Scott Hessels has been mixing cinema with new media technologies like robotics and sensors while teaching in the Design department at UCLA. He currently is on commission in Singapore although he and James continue to plot their next assault.

Hank Penning
March 2005

Scott's new media work can be seen at

on location in "Below 30/Above 10,000" 1995