Johnny’s Slade’s Greatest Hits is a feel good movie that pulls deliciously at its darker undertones. How did you get involved with the project?
It was my project from its inception. I am Johnny Slade Productions essentially. I wrote a script called The Blue Moods of Johnny Slade which was more of a crime film noir piece. I called Larry Blamire, a talented playwright, and we banged things around and Slade morphed into its current state. I left Larry to write and went out and raised the money and put the machine together. The financing was raised through business men in the Boston area and we are now in the process of trying to get distribution and I also have several scripts and projects I’m trying to mount for a 2006 shoot. These include a bigger budget Slade sequel to be shot in Vegas.
This project parodies many of the mafia/police procedural series you’ve been involved with in the past. Was this a stumbling block or were you pleased to be doing something different?
We figured it was a winning genre we all liked and wouldn’t it be cool if we put our own spin on it? For me, it was an easy transition from the Sopranos and some of the stuff I’ve done to Johnny Slade. Working on the Sopranos was great, it was an extremely close group, and we all bonded and became friends, like family to some extent. It was easy then when Slade happened to call some ‘old buddies’ to see if they wanted to come play with us.
The film has a great ‘feel good’ element to it and it’s hard to put your finger on how this has been achieved. Any thoughts?
The story had heart – it’s a classic underdog tale with some variation. Most of us put all we had into it and tried to imbue it with that spirit. During the shooting at times we did not know how it would all come together, but we tried our best and basically are pleased. The story isn’t based on any real events, Larry Blamire drew some influences from the 39 Steps (1935) and a collective understanding of those kind of hi jinks.
Do you think private investment is a more effective film making model than the traditional studio method?
Yes and no. It’s fun to do your own thing, but hard beating the bricks for money too. You’ve got to find people who want to support the arts really. I was fortunate to have a tight group of friends who were looking for a fun investment (a low budget indie can be a welcome diversification for some). As an investor in a small film they get to feel that are truly part of the entire endeavour, which of course they are. I had about twenty investors, about half got really involved in seeing the project through beyond a financial capacity – they knew people and helped in getting locations and equipment and so on. As a first time producer, I was selling my dream and enthusiasm to investors, I think most people would have invested no matter what movie I proposed as long as I believed in it.
Does touring the film festival circuit really help to get distribution?
Festivals are great. You see your work up on the big screen, the people are fun and supportive and you meet others pursuing the same insanity, and that usually makes you feel better. Everyone knows what you are going through. In the grand scheme of things it’s only a movie, but some of the crises that pop up can cause widespread panic, and the cost, even at low budget is more than most houses so it is a serious business too. We have good DVD distribution interest, but we’re really only starting our marketing campaign now so we’re hoping to get some theatrical interest.
The film is very tongue-in-cheek, obviously bad things happen as a result of your character singer but you never see that much violence. Did you think about upping the sex and violence stakes?
I was a proponent for having more and the director wanted to have less. He didn’t even really want to show any of the violence, he felt that I could sing a song and the end result would be you read about the effects of it in the newspaper every time. I wanted to add more, though!
When you wrote this script was it riskier to independent investors because of its unusual comedy source to push this because it was a comedy?
I would say it has somewhat of a risk to it. In retrospect there are always things that we could have and might have done differently. I think the very same subject matter with a lot of money shot in Vegas or New York or LA could have had a different vibe. Because of the quieter sets and not so many people it feels more like a cultish, art-house movie, I think that’s the only trade off. It’s a different spin on a winning genre. It’s tough to come up with something really original in that whole genre. I came up with the story and hashed it out with the writer. In this particular case where it was Soprano related, a lot of my investors had that kind of East Coast –American background and could easily relate to the type of humour that I was trying to get across. We tired to extrapolate the Soprano’s humour that works so well, some so they kind of got it right away, but for audiences it’s always a gamble.