This is a true story, made better with a few longshoremen lagers.
It all started over a beer at the Brew Co. with Paul McDonald, a former USC All-American and NFL quarterback. We were discussing making a documentary about the history of the USC vs. UCLA football rivalry and sealed our partnership over a pitcher. A City Divided later premiered at LA Live and ran for three seasons on Fox Sports.
San Pedro Brewing Company owner James Brown (J.B.) played a key role in the movie, serving as the smack-talking Bruin, more than happy to match barbs with his Trojan counterparts in the film. However, J.B. also perfectly illustrated how rivals can come together by telling his story of putting hometown hero Mario Danelo’s USC jersey on the wall of his establishment after he died in a tragic accident.
The cinematographer on A City Divided, Deverill Weekes, had become familiar with San Pedro when he shot my very first film, Port Town, and our connection would later spark another meeting at the Brew Co. to make a movie.
Like most filmmakers, I’m always brainstorming movie ideas and, as a documentarian, I became intrigued with making a fictional narrative film in a doc film style to give it a hyper-realistic feel. I enjoyed how some found footage films, like The Blair Witch Project, blurred the lines of fact and fiction and it got me wondering: What if you took certain aspects of a person’s true life and used them as the foundation for a fictional story? Enter Deveril’s wife, Juliet Landau.
Juliet has earned a great reputation for being an actress that dives deep into the characters she plays. Although she’s had numerous parts, Juliet’s largest fanbase comes from her role as Drusilla the vampire on the show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I approached Deverill and Juliet about basing a film around the idea that Juliet’s research for her role as a vampire caused her to get drawn into investigating a killer who was murdering people in the style of a vampire.
Juliet immediately took to the idea and expanded upon it. She explained, “The movie explores the repercussions of growing up under the sway of narcissism and evil. The picture is entirely scripted, but it’s crafted as a meld of fact, fiction, and the fantastical.” She added, “We’re living in a time where the escalation in narcissism, cruelty, and evil is daunting, but people are interested in addressing this. When you type ‘narcissism’ into a search, the numbers are staggering! YouTube has 9,120,000 videos. Google has 70,400,000 results.”
Juliet’s strong vampire fanbase and many Hollywood friendships were key to attracting people to the project. Oscar-winning actor Gary Oldman, who played Dracula in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Anne Rice, who wrote the classic, Interview with a Vampire, and Buffy creator Joss Whedon all agreed to play alter egos of themselves in the film, titled A Place Among the Dead.
We had all these great elements and now just needed to raise a few bucks to make the film. Back to the Brewing Company, where I had lunch to pitch my buddy John Ek. He was instantly on board, and soon, we set up a meeting at Brew Co. for other investors to meet Juliet and Deverill. Ultimately, local businessman Nick Tonsich — my Pedro High buddy, investment banker Melvin Lindsey, and, of course, the king of the establishment, J.B., all agreed to invest. Juliet and Deverill took the ball and ran with it from there. In addition to writing, shooting, directing, and acting in the film, they also raised the rest of the production money.
The pandemic has created a challenge for distribution, and so the film will premiere via Video on Demand. However, prior to COVID-19, a sneak preview of it got rave reviews from audience members. Juliet stated, “The entire audience was very emotional. They stayed for hours to talk about the movie and began sharing intensely personal stories. It’s been so powerful and beautiful.” spt
A Place Among the Dead premieres on Dec. 14 via VOD. Order an SPBC growler and give it a view! For more info, visit modernfilms.com/aplaceamongthedead.