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In the face of great sacrifice, two Los Angeles puppeteers refuse to give up their insatiable passion for their art.


This short documentary peeks into the lives of two Los Angeles based puppeteers, Cain Carias and Gary Jones, who have dedicated their lives to their craft. Both men, Cain near the beginning of his career, Gary nearing its conclusion, seek validation and purpose in a world that seems to be leaving this ancient art form behind. As men of color, the two craftsmen yearn to use their art as a voice for their people. While they sometimes struggle to make the life of an artist work, they find humor, joy and ultimately peace when performing for an audience.


Press Kit Info

Student Produced at the University of Southern California
Format: HD · 16:9 · 1080P · 5.1 TRT: 20:40

The Journey of Two Puppeteers

In the face of great sacrifice, two Los Angeles puppeteers refuse to give up their insatiable passion for their art.

All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.

Puppetry takes many forms all around the world, but they all share a common thread: animating the inanimate. Since ancient times, humans young and old have used puppets to tell stories and communicate our ideas and longings. The short documentary, Life On a String, peeks into the lives of two Los Angeles based puppeteers, Cain Carias and Gary Jones, who have dedicated their lives to their craft. Both men, Cain near the beginning of his career, Gary nearing its conclusion, seek validation and purpose in a world that seems to be leaving this ancient artform behind. As men of color, the two craftsmen yearn to use their art as a voice for their people. While they sometimes struggle to make the life of an artist work, they find humor, joy and ultimately peace when performing for an audience. Full Synopsis Life On a String pulls back the curtain on two Los Angeles based puppeteers of color, Cain Carias and Gary Jones, who have dedicated their lives to keeping an ancient artform alive. These charismatic performers have given over to what Gary calls the “Red and Gold Fever”—an uncanny “disease” that keeps artists going back to the theatre no matter the cost.

What begins as a story about the art of puppetry evolves into an examination of the lives of two extraordinary artists. Through intimate interviews with Gary and Cain and fly on the wall looks at the rehearsal and puppet-creation process through to final performances, the story turns an inspired eye toward the challenges of life as an artist. Illuminated through the stunning beauty of handcrafted puppets and a sweeping score that invokes both contemporary and classical moods, Cain and Gary remind all of us that dreams are worth pursuing, even when they may seem foolish and impossible. What’s at the end is up to you.

Character Bios


Gary Jones - Rod Puppeteer

After turning down a job with the Jim Henson Company, Gary Jones founded his Blackstreet USA Puppet Theatre in Chicago in 1975, a remarkable company of all-black puppeteers. “What I started [was] a crusade to remind African American people that they are, indeed, just gorgeous. It’s still very much necessary.” Through Gary Jones · Blackstreet USA Puppet Theatre
40+ years traveling the country and the world, Gary has delighted, entertained and educated audiences with his unique and lyrical performances, always with an intention toward highlighting the inner and outer beauty of African Americans. Now nearing the end of his career, Gary contemplates his legacy and his own future as a puppet artist. From a mildly-attended public performance in LA, to a whirlwind tour in India, Gary’s journey in the film reflects a life of overcoming challenges and experiencing unending possibilities. “Letting go and opening to something extraordinarily new is the right thing. Regardless of where I go ... the language of art is spoken everywhere. It’s humbling that I have been given something that I can share, that I know is going to touch humanity.”


Cain Carias - Marionette Puppeteer

Cain Carias is one of the last remaining puppeteers at Bob Baker Marionette Theatre to have been personally trained by Bob Baker himself—LA’s late, beloved puppeteer. Coming to the United States at a young age, Cain grew up in an unfamiliar country. Raised with an absent father and a house full of siblings, he was forced to quit school to support his family. Bob became a father-figure to Cain and shared with him his lifelong passion for puppetry. “Puppetry saved my life.” Five years after Bob’s death, Cain works to keep the legacy of Bob’s theatre alive while struggling to come to terms with the return of his own fat her into his life. “I [considered Bob] like family. He was like a father figure that I never had before.” Young and ambitious, Cain dedicates nearly every minute of his life to ensuring the Bob Baker Marionette Theatre will continue for generations to come, even as the downtown Los Angeles neighborhood it has called home for 50 years seems to be outgrowing it. Bob spent a lifetime building his puppets and his puppet theater is one of the most revered in the country. But Cain also has plans to expand its programming to be more representative of the Los Angeles community it serves. “[The] future for me is to continue here at the theater … what I want to bring into it is … Spanish [language] shows.” 










Crew Bios

Jonatas da Silva - Director Headshot - Life on a String

Jonatas da Silva - Director

Jonatas da Silva is an international filmmaker with a Brazilian and Senegalese background. He is an award-winning director and producer who has worked with fiction, documentary, and VR projects both in domestic and international markets. He is a recent graduate from the USC School of Cinematic Arts where he received his Master of Fine Arts in Film & Television Production.

Jonatas is deeply passionate about highlighting African and Latino talent both behind and in front of the camera. He was recently given a full scholarship from HBO to attend the highly competitive "Tomorrow's Filmmaker Today" Program through the Hola Mexico Film Festival. Additionally, he was most recently a semi-finalist for the Latino Lens Grant through the National Association of Latino Independent Producers & TimeWarner Foundation.


David Hemphill - Producer

David Hemphill is a multi-faceted filmmaker from Miami, Florida where he received a BFA in Musical Theatre from New World School of the Arts. He is an award-winning actor, director, writer and producer telling stories in a variety of genres and forms. Prior to joining the USC family, David founded and worked as the Producing Artistic Director of the Project [theatre] (Miami’s premiere immersive theater company) and Project [films] (in Los Angeles). He has performed as an actor on stage and screen from regional theater to network television, commercials and films. He is passionate about the role documentaries play in our narrative understanding of the world and loves educating and inspiring others. He is currently pursuing his MFA in directing and producing at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts.


Jeffrey Simon - Producer

Jeffrey is a filmmaker from Chicago, Illinois. A series he’s developing, Camp Abercorn, raised 100k on Indiegogo with help from GLAAD and George Takei and most recently was workshopped in the IFP Screen Forward Lab. Also a composer, his most recent short musical, SPARK, premiered at the Don Thompson Film Festival. Prior to attending USC, Jeffrey worked in the art department on films including Spider-Man: Homecoming, Edge of Tomorrow, and the upcoming Venom. A film he art directed, Filly Brown, premiered in competition at Sundance.

Bruce Chiu - DP Headshot - Life on a String

Bruce Hsin-Ta Chiu - Cinematographer

Born and raised in Taipei, Taiwan, Bruce is an experienced director and cinematographer for commercials, narrative films, and documentaries. He is interested in making films for social issues and believes that the power of storytelling can change the world. With a strong ambition to become a better filmmaker, he is currently studying film production at USC School of Cinematic Arts, focusing on directing and cinematography.


Erin Offenhauser - Editor

Erin Offenhauser grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She was lucky enough to know at a young age that she was interested in filmmaking. Her favorite movies are Miss Congeniality (2000), Superstar (1999) and Rear Window (1954). It wasn’t until moving to attend UCSB that she found editing was her passion. Erin’s dream is to work in international cinema so that she can combine her passions of travel and culture with filmmaking.


Mozhu Yan - Editor

Mozhu comes from China where she majored in Chinese Literature for her undergraduate education at Sichuan University. After attending an exchange program at Columbia University, she became determined to become a filmmaker in order to tell the stories that exist on paper and in her mind. Currently, she is a student at the University of Southern California, Film & Television Production MFA Program.


Jacob Fadley - Production Sound & Design

At age 17, Jake watched the events of the 9/11 as a Senior in High School and shortly after enlisted in the US Navy. He served two deployments in Iraq as a Combat Camera Operator before returning home to go to college. But quickly found he missed being around the Military. Just like that he was off to Army boot camp and then trained as a Journalist shortly after. He deployed two more times with the National Guard, both back to Iraq and Afghanistan, while finishing his undergrad at Ohio University Scripps with a Bachelors of Science. It was during his second deployment to Afghanistan that he decided to leave the Military for good, and pursue a career in Film Making. Jake currently lives in LA with his wife, Kim Hill, where he attends the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, as a graduate student.


Nicole L. Thompson - Production Sound & Design

Nicole L. Thompson is a filmmaker from Newark, New Jersey. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from The College of New Jersey. She also studied filmmaking at Northumbria University in England. Nicole began her career at SAG-AFTRA as the Digital Strategy & Production Coordinator. While at SAG-AFTRA Nicole filmed interviews of Kerry Washington, Carol Burnett and many more. She has directed several award winning short films. Currently she is studying directing at the University of Southern California where she is pursuing an MFA in Film & TV Production. Nicole proudly serves as the president of the USC African American Cinema Society.


Joel Willman - Animation

A voracious consumer of art from a young age, Joel Willman nurtured his love by frequenting the fine art galleries of Ringling Museum in his hometown of Sarasota, Florida as a child. He went on to complete a BA in Animation before settling in Richmond, Virginia as a full-time animator in the advertising industry.
So far Joel's work has been seen on national TV, as well as garnered him two bronze tellys -- but television advertising isn't his only passion. He enjoys working on projects that challenge current design trends and push the obscure styles of art that have fallen to the wayside.


Featuring Cain Carias and Gary Jones
Directed by Jonatas da Silva
Produced by David Hemphill and Jeffrey D. Simon
Cinematography by Bruce Hsin-Ta Chiu
Edited by Erin Offenhauser Mozhu Yan
Production Sound & Design by Jake Fadley and Nicole L. Thompson
Original Music by Alex Robert Heinrich

Animation Joel Willman
Colorist Luke Sargent
Sound Mixing Jake Fadley and Nicole L. Thompson
Additional Photography Mary Gerretsen and Jonathan Miller
2nd Unit Photography (India) Saptarshi Roy and Abhinav Kakkar
Additional Sound Recordist John Zhao
Additional Music Arrangement by Rodolfo Iriarte Tórtima
Music Recorded by Daniel Blanck
SCA Business Affairs Reba Molock and Brenda Williamson
Still Photographer Sam Sikora
Transcriptions Kristin Muller Transcription Services
Translation Jose Cruz Berber
Vocals David Hemphill and Morgan Vinson
Musicians Jared Blajian, Jaimee Cao, Barry Fowler, Josh Ginsburg, Alex Robert Heinrich, Akane Hinamoto, Nao Kubota, Osmário Marinho, Sydney Mariano, Sophie Mathieu and Shelby Wong

Documentary Faculty
Directing Amanda Pope
Producing Lisa Leeman
Cinematography James O’Keeffe
Editing Kate Amend, ACE
Sound Richard Burton
Avid Instruction Jeremy Deneau
Story Development Doe Mayer

Graduate Assistants Hao Chen, Mary Gerretsen, Eric Han and Emily Kalish The

USC Intellectual Property and Technology Law Clinic
Valerie Barreiro, Kate Hahm, Jake Myung and MacKenzie Pearson

The production team would like to thank:
Bob Baker Marionette Theater
Miguel Ayala, Molly Fite, Bob Baker, Grace Kim, Karina De La Cruz, Ana Maria Linares, Alex Evans, Jared Ramirez, Audrey Densmore, Missy Steele and Ginger L. Duncan Nate Holden Theater
Wren T. Brown, Gayle Hooks, Rosa King, Anuradha Sharma and Alice Williams Cain’s Family
David Carias, Jorge Carias, Noe Carias, Stephanie Carias, Yulissa Carias, Abel Contreras, Lety Contreras, Emily Posada, Faith Posada, Angel Robles, Miguel Robles

Special Thanks
Brian Alvarez, Ryan Carpenter, Glória Chasseraux, Arthur Dong, Nancy Forner, Elena Flores, Avis Frazier-Thomas, Irv Glovin, Rich Glovin, Jaime Greener, Kaleb Greener, Michael Sean Greener, Selah Greener, Mark Harris, Krista Heinrich, Sophia Heinrich, Yusra Khan, Doe Mayer, Timothy Nordwind, William Pearson, Vasu Primlani, Suze Q, Laura Richards, Debbie Glovin Rosenberg, John Rosenberg, Jason Rosenfield, Salomon Santiago, Matthew Scott, Adelphina Warner, Amy Warnke, Chad Whiting and X.X.T

Made possible with support from:

The Chip and Kathleen Rosenbloom Endowed Fund for the Support of Documentary Film

The Les Blank Endowed Fund for the Support of Documentary Students

The Oskar Schindler Humanities Foundation

Ain’t We Got Fun
Music by Richard A. Whiting
Lyrics by Raymond B. Egan and Gus Kahn
Arrangement by Alex Robert Heinrich
Performed by Morgan Vinson Don

Quixote, “Pas de Deux”
Music by: Ludwig Minkus
Arrangement by Rodolfo Iriarte Tórtima

La Bayadère, “Entrance of the Shades”
Music by: Ludwig Minkus
Arrangement by Rodolfo Iriarte Tórtima

Archival Materials
Photography of Carias Family courtesy Yulissa Carias

“Eyewitness News” WLS-TV Chicago, ABC
“Go Tell It” NBC
“Channel 2: The People” WCBS Chicago
Photography of Bob Baker provided by the Bob Baker Marrionette Theater
“The Art of Puppetry & Marionettes | SubCultures” Soul Pancake, Participant

Media Edited on AVID
Filmed on CANON

Student Produced at the School of Cinematic Arts, University of Southern California

Life on a String Copyright © 2018 University of Southern California, All Rights Reserved



Jonatas da Silva - Director
Tel: +1.757.359.8736

Sandrine Cassidy - Senior DirectorFestivals & Distribution (USC)
Tel: +1.213.740.4432

Jeffrey D. Simon - Producer
Tel: +1.708.436.3858

David Hemphill - Producer
Tel: +1.706.284.5819