‘We have to talk through our trauma’: Graham High School grad discusses new film

Zac Titus co-wrote and produced “Two Yellow Lines’' and stars in the movie with his daughter.

Independent filmmaker Zac Titus weaves compelling themes of connection, parenthood, regret and redemption in his new movie “Two Yellow Lines,” released by Universal Pictures on Nov. 9 directly to video.

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The St. Paris native and Graham High School graduate co-wrote, produced and stars opposite his real-life daughter, Alexis, appearing in her film debut. He is also the brother of Alicia Titus, a flight attendant on United Airlines Flight 175, which crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

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“Two Yellow Lines” concerns the testy relationship between Jack Elliot, a veteran smoke-jumper, and his estranged daughter, Hanna. Jack, struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder after losing most of his unit in a runaway backcountry fire, has to face his troubled past when he receives a call from his ex-wife to pick up Hanna from a camp in Wyoming. Atop his 20-year-old Harley, Jack ventures on a four-day motorcycle ride with Hanna journeying a thousand miles across Montana.

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Alexis Titus and Zac Titus in "Two Yellow Lines."

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Alexis Titus and Zac Titus in "Two Yellow Lines."

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Combined ShapeCaption
Alexis Titus and Zac Titus in "Two Yellow Lines."

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

“I wanted this film to be an intimate, slow burn,” said Titus by phone from his home in rural Ventura County, California. “This film is saying we have to talk through our emotions. We have to talk through our trauma. We can’t just bottle it up and move on. Whether it’s a father, daughter, brother, sister or friend, if you know someone who has gone through something and they’re not dealing with it very well, you have to find a way to connect to them.”

Titus, 43, also views the subject of mental health as significant subtext within his formulation of the story.

“It’s important to create a conversation about mental health and what that entails,” he said. “A lot of our grandparents went through very tough times, particularly men and women who came home from war who were taught to present themselves as fine when they certainly weren’t. And they didn’t necessarily have a way to communicate what they were going through. At the beginning of the film, Jack is seemingly fine, he has a new job, he’s isolated, but he’s not fine. He’s realized what he’s left to get to this point, and what he’s repressed and pushed down. It’s only when he becomes honest with himself can he be honest with his daughter and start a conversation that can blossom into a new relationship.”

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Reflections of the past

Titus and his wife, Lana, moved to Montana in August 2001. His sister was killed one month later, but her legacy continues to influence him as an artist. In fact, he fondly considers Alicia’s high school performance in “Sweet Charity” inspirational to this very day.

“It was her freshman year,” he recalled. “She was singing on a porch swing elevated above the stage. I was blown away. She had transformed. She was so free on stage. I think I’ve been chasing that freedom for a very long time because it takes a lot of personal growth to gain confidence to be that free in front of people.”

Although he enjoyed performing in shows at Graham High School and within community theater, Titus admits he didn’t see a future in acting.

“It never once crossed my mind,” he said. “But I knew I loved performing and being on stage.”

After attending Urbana University, he finished his schooling in Montana at Carroll College, where he was a member of two NAIA National Championship football teams as a kicker. Post-graduation, he began dabbling in fitness modeling before realizing a stronger path would be to pursue acting full-time. In turn, he and his wife, who had operated a bed and breakfast near Helena, moved to Los Angeles in 2006.

Over the next 12 years, he studied his craft, appeared in commercials and print work, and wrote short films, eventually leading to the development of “Two Yellow Lines” with his friends: writer/director/cinematographer Derek Bauer and producers Billy Zeb Smith and Jake Olson.

“Personally, as an actor, I’ve been looking to write Jack for a couple of projects,” said Titus, a father of four daughters. “He’s a character that’s been festering inside of me and needing a release of some sort. This was the perfect opportunity, especially (dealing with) Jack’s inability to parent. It helped me to tap into some of the trauma I’ve faced in my life and to really take a look at that and consider what my parenting would have been like if I wouldn’t have had the same support and love I had around me.”

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Zac Titus

Zac Titus

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Zac Titus

Supporting wildland firefighters and independent film

Shot on location in Montana in 2018, “Two Yellow Lines” also brings attention to the importance and sacrifices of wildland firefighters. To coincide with the film’s release, Titus recently raised money for the Wildland Firefighter Foundation, a non-profit that assists families of wildland firefighters who have died or are injured in the line of duty. An avid outdoorsman, he set out to hike the entire Backbone Trail, 67 miles across the length of the Santa Monica Mountains, in one day.

“There aren’t a lot of smoke-jumpers or wildland firefighters in Ohio, but out West they are everywhere,” he said. “Most often, they are part-time and grossly underpaid. They put in extremely hard hours and put themselves in the line of fire. I wanted to do something that gave back to that community. I love the mountains, trail-running and mountain biking. I figured I could complete the Backbone Trail in two days, but could I do it in one day? It would be a real undertaking, allowing me to be as vulnerable as a wildland firefighter. I was scared, but I also knew it would help me figure out what I’m made of.”

Overall, the film has been a labor of love for Titus, who has a recurring role as Charles Bernitz on the Apple TV sci-fi drama “For All Mankind.” Financing for the project stemmed from a film grant from the Montana Film Commission as well as maxed-out credit cards and assistance from family and friends. He hopes audiences are moved by the story and will support the beauty and grit of independent film.

“Independent film is the voice, the representation, of the everyday man and woman,” he said. “Often times studio films are driven by big names and big, grand ideas, but they’re not really based in the reality of our society. Independent film offers a slice of life, a perspective, people can relate to, coming from voices of writers and filmmakers who are grinding to find a way into a career. Often times they have the most interesting stories to tell. Their stories are not dumbed-down. There are a lot of actors like me who will probably never be in a big studio film. But I continue to do what I was taught while wrestling at Graham High School – put the work in, grind every day, and make my own mark.”

“Two Yellow Lines” is available on Amazon, Apple TV, DirecTV, and other streaming services as well as the film’s website.

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Zac Titus and Alexis Titus in "Two Yellow Lines."

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Zac Titus and Alexis Titus in "Two Yellow Lines."

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Combined ShapeCaption
Zac Titus and Alexis Titus in "Two Yellow Lines."

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

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