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By Patty Fantasia
Photo credit: Patty Fantasia

Producer and Filmmaker Panels at Las Vegas Film Festival Offer Good Advice for Movie Making


This year there were three panels held during the Las Vegas Film Festival from July 14-17 at the Hilton Hotel: one for Screenwriters on Saturday and two others for Producers and Filmmakers on Sunday.   The latter ones featured producers, directors, cinematographers and distributors all trying to share their experiences and answer questions for both filmmakers and movie fans alike. Among those participating were: Brian Pasternak (Prepared Productions), Andrew Freeman (Press Play Productions), Jeff Porter (Ostrow and Company), Kelly Frey (Never Too Short Films), Piran Zarifian (Piran Zarifian Films), Saman Yaghmai (Aledavoud Saman Media) and Ali Saam (Slowdown) on the Producers Panel and Akis Konstantakopoulos (Vesuvio Entertainment Corp.), Amanda Jane (Brave Films Pty Ltd), Andrew Spieler (The Response), Charlotte Barrett (Virgin Alexander), Eddie Mensore (The Deposition), Johnny Hickey (OxyMorons), Jsu Garcia (The Wayshower), Natasha Ward (Frazier/Ward Casting), Pamela Frazier (Frazier/Ward Casting), Rusty Meyers (RAW Productions), and Sean Fallon (Virgin Alexander).  

While many questions were raised and topics covered, there were a few reoccurring themes and the panelists weren’t always in agreement when they gave their responses.  Among the subjects discussed in detail where to submit writing projects, how to find talented local actors or attach cast members who are well known already, the different marketing and distribution strategies available to filmmakers and how to choose the right festivals that are a fit for your screenplay or movie project.  

Natasha Ward and Pamela Frazier from Frazier/Ward Casting recommended that aspiring screenplay writers write spec scripts, especially for the television market, and email them to producers, networks and studios once the material has been copyrighted.  They also suggested sending out small pieces, shooting a trailer or short film or researching and contacting production companies.  They pointed out that with so many more networks and cable stations along with the web there is a growing need for content.  Many also considered having multiple scripts to pitch is also important.  Charlotte Barrette and her husband/partner Sean Fallon reported that they had a different screenplay in competition, but the producer they met didn’t want to make that film preferring another project they were working on, which was “Virgin Alexander”, the film they showed at the Las Vegas Film Festival.
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There were also a number of tips for filmmakers on how to select festivals for their projects, particularly when you consider what it costs to enter them. It was pointed out that “Secret Friend” was sent to approximately 100 festivals, selected by 53 of them and the winning film in 11 and those numbers seemed consistent with other filmmakers on the panel.

Another observation that was made was that there are different levels where film festivals are concerned and that of the top 10 or 20, such as Cannes or Sundance, there are only one or two slots at most unavailable for unrepresented features.  One suggestion was that filmmakers start with shorts where they have a better chance of being selected since there are about 15 shorts screened for every feature.  This can also be a good way to find representation for your work.  Jsu Garcia compared getting to know programmers with lobbying in Congress.  He told the audience to find out what topics festival programmers are interested in and then try contacting them.  He said it may sound a bit manipulative, but once you get in the door it will be very helpful.  Charlotte added, “Try to keep in the same genre so people get to know you as you’re writing your scripts.  Stick to something that you really like and get good at it.”  She said that once you are established you can branch out, but in the beginning people like labels.

Johnny Hickey, who wrote, starred in, produced and directed “OxyMorons”, which he wrote about his own addition to oxycontin and its effect on his family, friends and community, is known for his “guerilla tactics” at screenings.  His film was screened on Friday night with very little notice, but he brought an entourage that handed out flyers and talked to people about the film and had a turnout of about 200.  “If 1 out of 5 people go, it’s good,” he believes.

Lots of time was spent discussing casting, which is considered one of the most important aspects of making a film.  Las Vegas actor Rusty Meyers said that filmmakers should find some actors who actually know what they’re doing and stop hiring family and friends pointing out that problems arise when roles are given to people who shouldn’t get them.  He also added that people should begin networking more in the cities where they live and go to workshops and meet ups held in bars in restaurants.  

The ladies from the Frazier/Ward Agency agreed adding that filmmakers should go out and meet local agencies in there area and also see local actors performing and see if there are any that are a good fit for projects until they can build up relationships with agencies that work with talent in LA and NY.  As for finding A list actors several panelists agreed that reaching out directly is the best course of action with one saying that you should be a stalker for your art.  Finding out places where you can run into them such as restaurants they frequent and hand them a script was an approach that several admitted trying with one producer admitting that he got Eric Roberts for his film this way.

On the other hand, Hickey decided against trying to put an A list celeb in his film, preferring to play himself.  “Don’t forget Sylvester Stallone.  He made Rocky and lock at him now,” he said.  At this point “OxyMorons” is successfully hitting the festival circuit and Johnny has a 12 million dollar project coming up in the fall.

Between both panels the consensus appeared to be that filmmakers must carve out their own path and figure out what methods to use in order to get their projects made with the most important action of all being that they just get out there and start working.
Indie Icon Winner Michael Madsen Would Like to Be Dirty Harry’s Son

Saturday, July 16th had already been a long day for actor Michael Madsen by the time we were able to do a private interview during the Las Vegas Film Festival at the Hilton Hotel where he had just been honored a few hours earlier by his friend actor/director Ash Adams with the Indie Icon Award.  The night before he’d hosted a party at The Bank inside the Bellagio and then at 4:15pm was a screening of “Vice” followed by the presentation of the award, a video tribute created by Adams and an audience Q&A.  Then, as if his schedule wasn’t jammed enough, the actor had a book signing at the Tempo Lounge before he was escorted to a room upstairs on the second floor looking tired, but happy as he was finally able to relax a bit.  Settled in a chair he was still signing books and DVD boxes before we started talking.

The award was presented by his sons at Adams’s suggestion and Michael was surprised when he realized that they’d left their seats in the theatre and joined him on stage. He said, his strong gravelly voice wavering, “That really got me.  I’ll never forget that as long as I live.”  The eldest, who is 23 years old didn’t make the trip, but the other boys aged 21, 17, 16, 13 and 5 all accompanied him and his wife to Las Vegas. “It totally took me by surprise.  I’m a sucker for stuff like that,” he admitted.
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Although he’s known for mostly playing tough guys in the 170+ films he’s made, Michael has enjoyed playing the few good guy roles he’s been offered, such as in “Free Willy” and “Thelma and Louise” when he can get them and producers don’t want him to kill people.  However, he does understand why he’s in demand for those types of parts and when I asked him about his dream role he said, “I would have liked to have done the Clint Eastwood pictures, like the Sergio Leone Spaghetti Westerns, you know.  The guy who doesn’t really have too much to say just looks at everybody and doesn’t have much to say.”  He misses the old Steve McQueen films like “The Getaway” and “Nevada Smith”.  “They don’t make scripts like that anymore.  They don’t make movies like that anymore.  There’s no John Sturgeses running around or Sergio Leones.  They’re gone, but if I could I think those would be the ones I’d like to make.  I think I could make “Son of Harry”.  I can regenerate the Dirty Harry Franchise,” he said adding that he could play Clint’s illegitimate son, who moves to San Francisco and wants to be a cop despite his father’s wishes.  “I’d have to shoot some bad guys. I don’t know.  I think I could get away with it,” he joked before concluding with a laugh, “How am I going to get in touch with Clint, you know?  He’s not going to call me back.”

Despite the number of films Michael has appeared in, it is only recently that he’s actually begun to watch some of them.  “For a long time I just never really wanted to see them,” he said explaining that he was disappointed when he saw himself in “The Natural” and “Thelma and Louise” despite the fact that he was perhaps the only supportive male character in the later film.  Instead he questioned his choice of profession and wondered if perhaps he should be doing something else.  Lately, he’s had a change of heart though, and has started watching older films he acted in 10-15 years ago and has decided from his perspective today that they were pretty good.  Of the ones he’s seen recently his favorite is “The Getaway”.  “It was really really fun to watch.  I remember I had a lot of fun making it, but I’d never seen it,” he related.

The conversation turned to the 2008 cop drama “Vice” that was screened earlier.  “I remember I read like the first five pages and I said okay.  I understood it, but I flipped to the end and I read the ending and I hated the ending.  It was terrible,” he recalled.  The story got to him though.  “But I knew there was something there, you know.  I knew I could manipulate it.”  Madsen’s character was complicated and he believed that the casting being considered for other roles wasn’t right.  “If there was going to be any redemption in the man whatsoever he had to find out where he was wrong and in the end he’s got to be punished for it, let’s face it,” he said.  At that point he asked to rewrite the ending and bring in the cameraman and cast he wanted before agreeing to do the film.  “It just worked out.  I had to force them into it.  They just didn’t understand, especially the rain shot.  I really really wanted it to be raining at the end in the car,” he shared.  It was a fight that he won in the end when they agreed to spend the money for the metal tower that would create the desired effect.  “It’s a giant shower is what it is.  To make rain visible on film it has to be really really heavy or you can’t see it.  It’s better to actually feel it rain, cause if you’re in the rain then you don’t have to pretend it is raining.  They argued with me about that until the very last day.  I won the argument,” he said.
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The actor also enjoyed working with co-star Daryl Hannah.  “It was really important for me to find a girl who would be believable as a cop.  You get some girls who are really beautiful playing a cop and whose going to fucking believe it.  It’s so hard to find a balance of the right femininity and the right woman and the right combination of the female personality to be believable as a vice cop.  I thought of her in the very, very beginning.  I wanted her, but I wanted her to have black hair though and I told her don’t do the blondie thing,” he continued.  Madsen went on to share that Daryl was also hurt the third day of filming when they were doing the shoot out and she fell down a big step behind her.  She landed on her tailbone and had to keep a big bag of ice pressed up against her during the rest of the shoot, which is why there are no shots of her behind or of her walking away.  Michael was impressed with her professionalism as well as her performance adding, “I love her.  She’s a good girl.”

After watching the tribute given to Madsen and interviewing him I’m happy to say that unlike the majority of gun toting tough guys he frequently plays, he is a down to earth family man who takes his work as an actor very seriously.  That said, I think he’d be great playing the son of “Dirty Harry”, so come on Clint why don’t you give Michael Madsen a call?
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