GTO 3987 on Mulholland

GTO 3987 on Mulholland

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

How to Shoot a Feature Film in 15 Days (And Survive to See Profits): The making of Dead Right

I met Vito di Bari who was an Italian film distributor at a film market in Las Vegas and struck up a conversation. What follows is an excerpt from How to Shoot a Feature Film in 15 Days (And Survive to See Profits).

When I had run out of small talk, I said to Vito, “I can make a police action thriller for [undisclosed, loss-leader, unbelievably bargain basement sum here].” “How can you do that?” he wanted to know. “I do it a lot,” I told him looking more sad than proud of the fact. “What would the film look like?” he asked which told me that he was either incredibly forbearing or had bitten off on a small piece of my implied proposition. Time to offer him a larger bite, I thought to myself.

“If you’ll come down the hallway with me, I’ll show you.” This was a nice trick to pull out of my hat, because it just so happened that my producer’s rep had a suite down the hall and there, one of the films they were pushing, was my latest movie Bleeder & Bates to be seen. I escorted Vito into the suite, exchanged brief hellos with my rep, appropriated a video player that wasn’t being used at the time and racked up my movie. As I did so, I noticed Vito studying the poster for Bleeder with its shiny, silver police badge, the Porsche Turbo (with Martini racing colors), two guys with guns and intent to kill and two women wearing what looked like Victoria’s Secret lingerie. This arrangement of images piqued his interest even further. We watched the opening of Bleeder.

After about ten minutes, Vito asked me to scan ahead to the middle of the film, which I did. There we watched another ten minute segment of the movie; possibly the sequence with the Porsche Turbo racing along Mulholland Drive was in this section. Then, he asked me to scan forward to the last portion of the film which we watched taking in the enigmatic ending where a police commander is shotgunned to death at the front door of his home by an assailant that is implied rather than identified. “Let’s talk,” was all he said.

We didn’t go back to his company's suite but, instead, found a sofa at the intersection of two hallways and began our discussion. “When could you start?” Vito asked. “In about three days.” I told him this knowing how crazy that would sound to him. It reminded me of a scene from the film Patton where Patton tells the command that he can pull out of battle and move his troops in a winter storm a hundred kilometers to another region and take up the fight again. Vito was just as incredulous as were those Generals listening to Patton’s declaration. Vito needed an explanation. “Vito, I founded a repertory company for film and television,” I began. “We have about a hundred actors at any given time whom we have trained and prepared for the roles we create for them in the movies we make. Think of us as a studio from the old Hollywood studio system with our own actors but without the overhead and real estate and operating as guerrilla filmmakers.” I added that it was my habit to write the script as we shoot the movie and went on to say that if we required three days to start, it was only because I needed a day to get back to Los Angeles. He began to see that I wasn’t quite as crazy as he at first thought. “What kind of film would it be?” he wanted to know. It will be very much like the one you just looked at; a thinking man’s cop drama looking at the relationship between crime, law enforcement and politics. If you liked what you just saw, you’ll like what I do for you.

If you didn’t, we should stop now. Do you have a story in mind, he asked. No, but I have a title—Dead Right.

Vito and I shook hands on the deal and he gave me his card asking me to call his office in Los Angeles so we could set up a meeting to formalize our agreement to make this movie together. Coming away from the encounter, a friend pointed out that I had just made a deal whereby a distributor, whom I had never met, would fund a film for which there was no script and which, in the real world, isn’t supposed to happen. It occurred to me that if I only did things that were supposed to happen, I would be selling life insurance in the San Fernando Valley. “I think he liked the title,” I told my friend

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