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Boston International fest screens Kevin Nealon Flick

REMARKABLE POWER! is the latest feature film from filmmaking duo, writer/producer Scott Sampila and writer/director Brandon Beckner whirling the audience through the trials and tribulations of a late night talk show host, Jack West, played by Kevin Nealon. His show is successful. His wife has an affair. He takes revenge on his wife. He concocts an elaborate scheme to win back his show. REMARKABLE POWER! refers to a self-help video to improve one’s wealth.

The comedic thriller also stars Tom Arnold as a private investigator with Evan Peters as Ross who causes an accident with the REMARKABLE POWER! Infomercial actor and Nora Zehetner as Athena, the photographer who captures deaths around the city. The film is currently on the festival circuit, having premiered at The 2008 Santa Barbara International Film Festival. The film has been in Phoenix, Vail, Palm Beach Film, Delray Beach Film Festival and soon at The Boston Film Festival.’s Michelle Paster throws some Q’s to writer/producer Scott Sampila.

MP: How did you come up with the idea for the script?

SS: The initial impetus for the story came from a friend of ours who was traveling in Eastern Europe with someone he barely knew and with whom he got into a violent argument one night. The idea became: what if you accidentally killed someone behind closed doors, nobody knew you were there and you could just walk away. But after you do walk away, guilt haunts your every thought so you return to the scene of the crime only to discover the body is gone and the place is spotless.

The L.A. setting led to the creation of this eclectic assortment of characters that get sucked into a scheme, which ties back to this missing body. We’re big fans of movies like PULP FICTION, BOOGIE NIGHTS, even SHORT CUTS that blend multiple characters and storylines with a darkly comedic edge. We’re also big fans of stories that contain a mystery element, trying to keep audiences wondering where this is going and what’s happening next.

It actually took quite a long time to write this script, as it’s not your typical narrative or a single protagonist driven story. There are many different components that had to be woven together to make it not only compelling, but coherent and funny.

MP: What was the process getting Tom Arnold and Kevin Nealon on board?

SS: The key to securing all of our principal talent was the hiring of our casting director Shannon Makhanian, who has an extensive list of Indie film credits. She was the second person we brought on after our Line Producer, Mykel Denis, who had worked with her before.

Our realistic approach to casting through development and even as we segued into pre-production was: let’s get two, maybe three recognizable names in there. When Shannon came on, that completely changed. Her attitude was: this is an ensemble, let’s get recognizable names for all of the main roles of which there are arguably seven or eight. Shannon pitched the project to their agents, submitted the script and made an offer.

Brandon and I went to meet Tom Arnold for the first time. He had this nice house up on Mulholland Drive and we sat in his backyard. We had this long conversation almost entirely about the character, Van Hagen, he ended up playing in the movie. But, I happened to be sitting with the back of my neck exposed to the sun and as the meeting continued I was getting more and more hot and sweaty to the point where I was concerned that he was going to see me sweating, think I was nervous, and pass on the project because he didn’t want to work with someone who wasn’t confident. Strange the things you think about in certain situations.

MP: You and Brandon worked together on Resin - where originally do you know each other from - where/when did the relationship come to be? What were your excitements and anxieties associated with producing (and Brandon directing) experienced talent?

SS: Brandon and I go way back. Not to date ourselves, but we met at UCSB and graduated in the early nineties. At this point we’re like brothers. Brandon has been making short, comedic videos since he was a kid. I got my first taste of “filmmaking” with him. We’d come up with a basic concept, get some friends on board and whip out a cheap video camera. Shorts about rebellious Mormons, disco dance offs, goofy little tales that we pure fun to make. I’m sure if You Tube had been around back then we would have done it more often.

Besides being a writer/director, Brandon is also a gifted musician & composer. Towards the end of college we staged an original musical that Brandon wrote the music for and I produced. Soon after college we tackled our first real movie project, a feature called FALL AND SPRING that I produced and Brandon wrote an original soundtrack of music for. That movie played at a bunch of festivals, but as is so often the case with Indies, it never secured a distribution deal. Another low budget feature, RESIN came a few years thereafter and the same fate befell that film as well.

By the late nineties Brandon and I were actively writing scripts together. I was in New York and Brandon was in L.A. REMARKABLE POWER! was originally entitled L.A. DOGS and the first draft was completed in 2001. When I moved out to L.A. in 2002 we were very eager to get a project off the ground. Since Brandon had no “reel” to support our intention for him to direct, we decided to shoot a sequence from the script.

In retrospect it was a slightly misguided effort in that it wasn’t really a short film with a beginning, middle and end, and didn’t really aid our efforts to get the feature made. But, what it did do was teach. A lot of lessons of what not to do on set were learned on that two-day shoot and it really informed the twenty-four days of production.

As far as anxieties going into production are concerned, by the time we actually stepped onto set that first day and saw the trucks and the people scurrying about and the realization hit home that hey, this is actually going down, I think the fears were replaced by enthusiasm and focus. We almost got shut down on more than one occasion during pre-production and coming out the other side of that challenge was really liberating.

MP: When you first began pre-production and production can you recall the first steps in the process in terms of script to screen?

In December of 2005 Brandon and I went to see the cast/crew screening for movie called 10 ‘TIL NOON. Brandon had once worked with the guys who made it and seeing this low budget Indie was really inspirational. It was like a light bulb went off: we can do this. In the two years prior, we had secured agents, almost got L.A. DOGS made with another director attached, sold a pilot to Fox and promptly been fired, and written multiple screenplays that people were interested in but nobody was buying. Our agents were never supportive of our desire to be filmmakers despite our continual mention of that and after our latest spec failed to sell, it was clear a change was in order.

We basically decided to make REMARKABLE POWER! some how, some way. We left our agents. The script hadn’t been touched for quite a while, so rewrites began, and we started working on a business plan to hopefully secure financing. By mid-July of 2006 we had “cast-contingent” money in place and went full bore into pre-production. Production took place in October, and by early November we were in post, which is an entirely different story.

MP: Every Indie filmmakers’ question they hate to love to ask: How was the film financed? Tom Arnold helped to contribute in this respect?

The movie was financed with private money. Since we don’t have a distribution deal, I can’t say exactly what our budget was. We approached a pair of entrepreneurs up in Santa Barbara with whom we had a prior relationship. They own several businesses including a very popular nightclub called Tonic. Our plan was to try and get these guys to be our first investors and from there we were going to approach others. Surprisingly and much to our delight, they decided to go all in.

It merits mentioning, however, that all was not fine and well on the money front. As happens quite often with Indie film, budgets go up, investors get spooked and either threaten to or actually do pull their money. We almost got shut down twice before we even started filming. As the realities of shooting our movie came into focus and the costs for talent, locations, and production design went up, our backers got nervous. At one point we had already spent a fairly significant sum, budget increase number one had already occurred, and we didn’t have Tom Arnold or Kevin Nealon on board yet. For the investors, it was: do we cut or losses now, or keep pumping money into this very uncertain entity? The very day they were going to walk, Tom signed on. That was the first time he saved us.

Our budget continued to increase as pre-production rolled along. Many mornings I would walk into the office and Mykel would look over at me and say simply, “we’re fucked.” About eleven days before we were scheduled to commence principal photography, I got the call with the ominous opening line “I got some bad news.” We needed additional funds to get through production, we had just lost two of our key actors, and we had yet to sign Kevin Nealon. Things were not looking good, and after all the effort it was pretty devastating.

That very afternoon the crew heads were set to have a page turn, script read through. Brandon got on the phone with Tom Arnold who in turn called our investors and told them this was a worthy project that he believed in and would continue to support well after it was done. As the read through was going on, I was laboring over how we were going to tell everybody that the show was being shut down. I was probably on my fiftieth cigarette that day when I got the call: we were back in business with the budget increase to make it happen. Tom Arnold had saved us again. Hence, Tom Arnold is an Executive Producer on this movie. Ultimately though, the credit goes to our investors who have, despite many ups and downs, believed in and supported us the entire way.

MP: Do you have a bizarre set story? Are you, as the producer, on set daily?
I am definitely on set every day. Glued to the monitor most of the time, listening and looking for something Brandon may have missed or not been thinking about, which wasn’t very often.

My favorite on set story is one night we were shooting at a batting cage out in the Valley. In the scene, Dule Hill’s character is strapped to a dolly with his mouth, taped shut and positioned directly behind the plate. It’s a comedic “torture” scene where they guys who nabbed him are taking swings in the cage with Dule effectively forced to play an immobile catcher.

The camera guys are several feet out in the front of the plate ready to shoot. I was on the ground ready to pitch these plastic balls. Brandon calls action and one of the other actors in the scene, Bob Sapp, pops a token into the machine. Somebody forgot to tell the owner to actually turn the machine off. The yellow light kicks on, you get that grinding sound, the ball launcher is seconds away from whipping a ball at major league speed, and everyone starts scrambling. The crew is pulling the camera to safety, actors are fleeing. Dule ’s back there, strapped to a dolly, duct tape over his mouth, trying in vain to hop out of the way. I can laugh about this now, because they managed to turn the machine off just in time. But what happens to a production if one of your stars gets slammed on set by a hard rubber ball at 70mph? Glad I never found out.

MP: From a technical standpoint, what was the production and post pipeline like?

We decided early on that were going go to shoot the movie on HD. We wanted to try and recapture the feeling we had back in college making these video shorts. The attitude was: let’s make a really long video. We were initially thinking about the Panasonic HVX-200 which had just come on the market, but by the time we hired our DP, Damian Acevedo, it was clear the project warranted a bit more than a prosumer camera we weren’t sure about. Damian had shot multiple music videos and commercials using the Sony F-900. It was a good call. Damian did a phenomenal job.

Post was difficult, to say the least. We brought in our good friend Eric Archer to edit the movie, but we only had him for three months. He took a leave of absence from his very well paying job cutting high-end trailers. From the get-go there was this time crunch, compounded by the fact that our production sound was recorded old school, on DAT, which then required the creation of wav. files in order to be loaded in our rented Avid Express HD editing system and synched.

Shooting tape, we often rolled for multiple takes without stopping; very time consuming for an editor to just get the movie prepped so the creative work could begin. By the time Eric left we had a cut that ran about two hours and twenty minutes. This was in January of 2007. It wasn’t until October that the movie was finished.

Brandon is also an editor, so he took over the cutting duties. After many months and many people having come and gone on the show, it was back to the two of us. By March we had a cut we were happy with and started looking for a place to do our online, color correction, graphic effects, and mastering. If I were ever to give an aspiring Indie filmmaker any sort of advice, I would say: be very careful whom you hire, especially in postproduction.

The guys we ended up going with, entirely for financial reasons, nearly killed our movie. Delay after delay, compounded by frequent deception, what should have been a several week job turned into a several months of agony. I’m tempted to say the name of this Company so people will avoid them like the plague, but I won’t, partly because the delay actually helped us.

Our financers brought on a consultant named David Florimbi, who was instrumental in shepherding a battery of creative changes to the movie, which we might otherwise not have made. Although there is no justification for a shady little post house to hijack your movie, the extra time did lead to a better end product in our case.

We don’t have a 35mm print. We’d have to get lucky and secure a deal with limited theatrical play for that to happen. Prints are very expensive to strike, and at this stage there is really no need as most festivals exhibit video masters. Since we shot the movie on HD-Cam, our master is an HD-Cam.

MP: What is next in terms of post festival world? Current distribution is in place? You can detail a little of this process, as well, if you like.

We are currently in search of what every Indie film covets: a distribution deal. For us, that pursuit is two-pronged. One is the film festival circuit.

Meanwhile, we’ve recently met with a producer’s rep and we currently have the movie being looked at by the Indie division of one of the major agencies.

The audience response has been great. People are engaged and laughing, which was our hope from the very beginning. The vibe is very encouraging and it will be most interesting to see how the process plays out.

Look for Scott Sampila’s and Brandon Beckner’s REMARKABLE POWER! at The International Boston Film Festival June 14 at 3:30pm. .

Michelle Paster is a documentary filmmaker and journalist living in Los Angeles.

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