Two Steps Forward For Indie Film

By Peter Foldy

Had the pleasure to see a very cool, low key indie thriller last night called “Two Step” written and directed by first time feature director, Alex R. Johnson.  The story deals with James, (Skyy Moore) a young college drop out who has a couple of very bad days after he becomes a victim of a home invasion robbery.

As the film opens, Jamestwostepjamesdotbarnice arrives at his grandmother’s house, his only living relative, to find her dying of a  stroke. Before long he learns that Granny has left him eighty five thousand dollars and her house. James is suddenly flush with cash.

He makes friends with a kindly neighbor, a former ballet dancer called Dot (Beth Broderick) who becomes something of a mother figure and his only friend in  town.

Meanwhile a psychotic low life criminal called Webb ( James Landry Hebert) has just gotten out of jail and is very quickly back to his old ways.  Webb is working a scam where he calls elderly people and pretends to be their troubled grandson who needs a loan. Most of the time the scam backfires, but once in a while it doesn’t.

Webb discovers that he has been dumped by his girlfriend, Amy (Ashley Rae Spillers) a girl who he had beaten up.  Amy  is now Two_Step_credit_Photo_Courtesy_of_quotTwo_Stepquotshacked up with Webb’s former employer Duane (Jason Douglas) and Webb is pissed. He owes Duane a large amount of cash and is quickly given an ultimatum. Pay up and get out of town or have your ass kicked by one of Duane’s heavies.

As Webb continues his calls to the elderly in order to find money he and James randomly connect.

It is a tense wait for the two to meet up in person and when they do the outcome is bloody and violent. Webb soon figures out that James has an inheritance and knows he has hit the jackpot. Now how to get a hold of the cash. James only has a $900 a day ATM limit.

More suspense and violence are in store till James and Webb’s destinies  collide for the last time and the third act sees the rampage come to an end. It’s a relief when it does. Johnson makes you care for these characters,images especially the innocent James.

“Two Step” is a finely crafted character driven thrill ride that keeps the tension on a low boil. That’s not to say the film doesn’t also have it’s “boo” moments that will have you jumping out of your seat.

The entire cast, all Texas locals, are excellent here, right down the the under fives. The film perfectly captures the tonality of suburban Austin, Texas where it was shot.

“Two Step” is also an inspiration to aspiring filmmakers. Made on a low budget it has garnered great reviews from Variety, The Hollywood Reporter and The New York Times.  It’s success shows that determination and a “no is not an option” attitude will get things done.  It’s a film made for art’s sake and writer/director Alex Johnson’s win here is also a win for indie crime and thriller fans everywhere.

“Two Step” opens Friday, August 7th at the Arena Theater in Los Angeles with VOD to follow in September.  With beautifully stylized cinematography by Andy Lilien this is well worth seeing on the big screen.

Production: La Chima Films
Cast: Beth Broderick, James Landry Hébert, Skyy Moore, Jason Douglas, Ashley Rae Spillers
Director/screenwriter: Alex R. Johnson
Producers: Alex R. Johnson, Paul Biedrzycki, Pat Cassidy, Charles Mulford
Director of photography: Andy Lilien
Production designer: Claire M. White
Editor: Benjamin Moses Smith
Costume designer: Rachel Marie Jones
Composer: Andrew Kenny
Casting: Beth Sepko

Where: The Arena Cinema 1625 N Las Palmas Ave, Hollywood, CA 90028  (93 minutes)  Not Rated.

Showtimes, Friday, August 7th. 7:30 pm SOLD OUT.

Saturday, August 8, 4:00 pm, 5:30 pm

Sunday, August 9, 4:30 pm, 7:55 pm

Monday, August 10, 9:30 pm

Tuesday, August 11, 8:00 pm

Wednesday, August 12, 6 pm

Thursday, August 13, 9:30 pm

 

Mad Max Fury Road – A Review

By Mark Salcido

‘Oh what a day, what a lovely day’

Feel the rumbling underneath of your feet from the roar of the engines. Feel that exhaust explode with power. See the roads race by as bodies are thrown through the skies. Your heart is pounding. Your ears are buzzing. Your eyes are wide and your jaw is dropped. You my friend have entered the world of Mad Max Fury Road. Welcome.

Mad Max Fury Road is director’s George Miller’s fourth installment of Max Rockatansky (aka “Mad Max”) as he travels the roads of Image 6a dystopian future. It stars Tom Hardy in the title role (originally played by Mel Gibson), Charlize Theron as “Imperator Furiosa,” and Nicholas Hoult as “Nux.”

As the story goes, Max finds himself captured by tyrannical cult leader “Immortan Joe,” (played by Hugh Keays-Bryne) “War Boys” and taken to the Citadel. There, Max is used as a universal blood donor and his first recipient is War Boy Nux (Hoult). Meanwhile, Immortan Joe rallies his War Boys and Furiosa (Theron) as she takes the wheel of a “War Rig” (AKA big and bad ass muthafuckin heavily-armoured truck with A LOT of horse power).

As the group heads to Gas Town, Furiosa purposely drives off route into the Wasteland. Only to reveal that she took Immortan Joe’s five prize breeders and are on their way to a place far away from the tyrant. And so the chase begins. Nux joins pursuit with Max strapped to the hood of his car pumping his high octane blood into Nux’s dying body. If you think that is nuts, sit back, it’s only the first 15 minutes of the film.

Before we get into the selling point of the film, which is the action, let’s talk about the plot. It’s thin but in a good way. The Mad Max films haven’t been known to have really deep driven dialogues but what is said is indeed memorable and can some ways, actually have a point. That Image 8being said, I will bring up the underlying message this movie that some people have claimed it’s making, feminism. No need to sugar coat it, we are adults after all.  There is indeed somewhat of a feminist statement made but not in the “hairy armpit feminazi” manner people seem to picture. The statement that Furiosa, Toast the Knowing, The Splendid Angharad, Capable, The Dag and Cheedo the Fragile (those are the breeders) is that they are not property. Some critics have gone far as to say it’s much more than that but that may be because this is not Max’s story, it’s Furiosa’s.   Max just happens to be dropped into the situation.

Hardy does a great job as Max but Theron’s Furiosa easily steals the show. Her character is an amazing bad ass that I would go as to say (and I’m sure I’m the first to mention this) that she belongs up there with the great action heroines Image 2such as Sarah Connor, Ellen Ripley and Foxy Brown. There’s even a scene where Furiosa goes toe to toe with Max and is able to hold her own.

Nuts doesn’t even begin to describe the action set pieces this film does. What makes these action scenes stand on top of all the other action films in the past decade is that most of it is practical. Now I say most because the portion that is CGI are some of the bodies being thrown around and an amazing scene where a sand storm is in play.

Speaking of sand storm, that scene played from the trailer is the only big action set piece. But don’t, worry it continues to go even crazier.  One particular action scene that I admire the most was set through a canyon as Max and Furiosa battle a gang of bikers. As the music ramps up, Max hands Furiosa a weapon, which he was keeping her away from. When that happens, no words are exchanged, only a look. A silent agreement, an understanding between the two, that their need for each other to survive is evident. And so the dance begins.

Max picks off one biker here (BAM!). Furiosa picks off another Image 7one there (BOOM!). The sequence for defense is laid out and it is seamlessly beautiful. I didn’t think it was possible to have a second viewing of the same film and still keep my heart racing as it did the first time.

The Bad.

I can usually pick out “the bad” from a film. Plot holes, horrible scenes, atrocious acting with god awful dialogue that makes you want to pull your teeth out, but I’m really finding it hard with this film. And I’ve seen the movie twice in theaters plus six times in my head.

So if you want some adrenaline in your diet with a side of pulse pounding action to wet your car crash whistle, this is the film for you my friend. I like to think that George Miller took a step outside of the G and PG rated movie building, saw the state of car action films these days and said, “Alright boys, let me show you how it’s done.” It took him 30 years to get this bad boy off ground; I only hope that it doesn’t take nearly as long for the next one. Because Mr. Miller, the world is going mad and we need more Max in it.

Where’s The Money

By Alan von Kalckreuth

Stick a few finance savvy attorneys on a panel and ask Joey Tamer, President of S.O.S. Inc. to moderate a discussion about “real” money and what attracts, or repels, it in the digital entertainment world and you are going to come away wiser and more confident that some one is going to get the money, even if it’s not you.  The panel was part of the Digital Hollywood summit held in Los Angeles last week.

It appears that the venture capital and strategic investment community, or VCs as these guys call these sub-species, are happy to put their money where their mouth is… BUT, Tamer warns, they have a game plan and if you take their money you’re now dancing to their tune.  They have an out strategy that they will stick to and that’s the timeline you are going to have to meet. 

The panel was well chosen to represent a range of VC engagers and not surprisingly they spoke with one voice.

The “next” check, a term tossed around like kindergarteners recite B is for ball, seems to be where your focus should be even before raising incubation funds.   David Albert Pierce of Pierce Law Group LLP revealed in his dry, knowledgeable way that when you get money to develop your great idea and you do a great job showing how your great idea is going to make a load of duckets for everyone involved, you then have to romance the next level VCers.  And this level is inhabited by VCites far shrewder and less forgiving that a ninth grade principle during a full moon.

The venture capitalist “don’t want to see a patchwork quilt,” as Ms. Tamer put it.  “They want to see neat and tidy capital share.”  What Ms. T is driving at is you don’t want to have given percentages to your gardener because he let you use his pick-up and the guy who printed your business cards because he took a post-dated check.

Mike McGlade former Chief Revenue Office for FastPay, a wheat-grass drinking sort of dude who has raised mega millions for digital enterprises, announced that he is firing up his own start-up and tells the room of eager learners that they should forget “the smoke and mirrors and the vapor-ware,” and get out and make sales.

“Know what the market is,” explained Pierce.  McGraw agreed and being the touchy-feely sort wants to imprint on everyone’s mind that the proof of concept should be evident from the reality that someone is prepared to pay for what you are setting out to deliver.

“Go to someone already in your business area,” advised Tamer.  You get to save yourself an awful lot of time explaining how your product or idea works, or why your version is the “must have” version.

Steve Masur, Managing Director of MasurLaw, and who looks like he drives an expensive Audi, said that there is a load of incubator resources in Silicon Valley to move projects to a level that the VC will expect it to be at before they run their numbers.  He advises that you keep something under your hat as you shuffle through this necessary savanna region.  Everyone agreed that it is easier now to set up a viable project because of the lower cost of technology and resources.

If you get through the incubation period and have a chance at this second level, which is pretty much the start of the game to these guys, you must now be as shrewd as a Trump, as focused as a cobra, and as positive as toll-booth attendant. 

“VCs have time-table and it’s easier to divorce your wife than your VC partners,” warns Tamer.  “A lot of entrepreneurs lose control of their company through sloppy capital deals.”  Her warning resonates from the chambers of experience.

McGlade put it this way; you’re in trouble if “the horse is bleeding.”  His concern is that the snappy decisions often made during the incubation stage may create “more liability for you in the future.”  “Leverage your receivables so you can keep you business running,” he advises.  Another strategy he suggests is obtaining a revolving line of credit, BUT “don’t give a personal guarantee, instead raise equity.  And if you can’t then go do something else –this might be a good indicator,” he warns wryly.

Pierce explains that if you have momentum and you are struggling because you are cash strapped it is not a bad idea to offer a “last-in, first-out” deal to you incubation investors for the money you need.  If they pass on the offer then open it up to whom every you can.

“Debt is not a bad thing”, Pierces proposes.  “Take Apple this week!”  Tamer strongly agrees.  “Take out a small loan… and pay it back,” she proposes, “that shows you have a history.”  I learned that when I was a child,” she adds.  I wondered about her upbringing!

“Work with smart people,” is key according to McGlade.  On this point Masur advises the audience, “you get what you pay for, so pay for value.”

Pierce summed up the struggle for money to make your dream a reality with the axiom; “If the money is coming to you it’s coming to you.  You can get fast and funny with it, but if the money is coming to you it’s coming to you.”

 

Future of Film Summit: An Overview

by Alan von Kalckreuth

Ben Forkner of Film 360 has it all, a studio first look deal and a stable of actors and writers that would give TMZ a good week of back-to-back material. So how good is it for him? That’s one of the questions raised at the Future of Film Summit held at the trendy Sofitel Hotel in Los Angeles this week.

First thing Ben should remind himself of every morning before brushing his teeth is that he’s in a small and elite club. Most producers do not have the luxury of a studio picking up a share of their overhead and get behind their project – assuming they don’t pass on it! Since 2000 the number of these deals has diminished alarmingly and the terms are not as sweet as they once were.

So what do studios want in return? Story driven, tent-pole movies that have strong international and domestic appeal… and if possible are the stuff of franchise. And that’s good news for writers. “The value of top writers has skyrocketed,” Ben declares. “Writers are now able to create a brand for themselves,” agreed J C Spink, “they were so passed over for a hundred years out here!”

So how’s the new digital landscape changing things? “As emerging platforms take shape you’ll see some changes”, Paul Green suggests. “But for the moment it’s steady as she goes,” he adds, but, “If digital distribution takes off, and Hulu and NetFlix start having first-look deals then things are going to change.”

J C Spink sees studios as being more savvy in the projects they go after. “Studios have a much better game plan, more sure of themselves,” he explained. As an example he pointed out that the dwindling return on DVD sales has hit the comedy market badly. Smaller budgets are now the norm for a genre that once demanded near action movie like coin.

Paul Green believes that the material and architecture of all movies, inside and outside the studio system is fundamentally the same, bankable players, soft money, foreign sales… oh! And a good story!

Where do you get that good story? J C Spink explained that that’s the hardest of all. “I read one hundred Nicholl’s scripts over a six week period and I found fifteen that might be worth a second look.” When asked what those fifteen looked like he said, “ten were good writers and five were good concepts.” But I guess zero were good writers with good concepts!

 

American Film Market Opens in Santa Monica

Los Angeles, CA – October 31, 2012

The 2012 American Film Market (AFM), kicked off this morning in Santa Monica. The AFM will screen more than 420 motion pictures, including 77 world premieres and 306 market premieres, for thousands of film buyers and industry professionals from more than 70 countries.

Films making their World Premieres include: A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III, from writer/director Roman Coppola and starring Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman and Charlie Sheen (Independent); The Colony, starring Laurence Fishburne and Bill Paxton (Sierra/Affinity); Cottage Country, starring Malin Akerman and Lucy Punch (VMI Worldwide); The Frozen Ground, starring Nicolas Cage, John Cusack and Vanessa Hudgens (Voltage Pictures); Nous York, starring Leila Bekhti and Géraldine Nakache (Pathé International); The Numbers Station, starring John Cusack and Malin Akerman (Content); and Pawn, starring Nikki Reed and Ray Liotta (Red Sea Media) and Summer In February, starring Dominic Cooper and Emily Browning (Speranza13 Media).

This year’s film market has shown a preference for more “name” driven, higher budget projects signaling a slight shift in power toward the independent producers of the film world.

While the zombie and horror movies that have long been the hallmark of the AFM haven’t gone away, more would-be producers of star-filled films will be working the halls of the Loew’s Hotel looking for independent financing or to secure distribution for their projects.

“There has also been an influx of buyers this year” stated Jonathan Wolf, AFM’s managing director and executive vice president of Independent Film & Television.  “We are seeing more new international buyers come to the market than in a decade,” he declared.

The country with the most new buying companies this year is South Korea (25), followed by China (13), the U.S. (11), Japan (6), Turkey (6), and Russia (5), France (4) and Italy (4). New companies attending include Snap TV from Argentina, Lume Filmes from Brazil, JY Entertainment from China and Mountain Pictures from South Korea.

The American Film Market runs from October 31 to November 7, 2012.

http://www.americanfilmmarket.com