You can add Frank X. Sommers and Frank Caruso to the growing list of local filmmakers who dream of getting their work into competition at next year's Sundance Film Festival. The two are pinning their hopes on Going Great White, a 90-minute mockumentary that has fun with the get-rich-quick world of 'multilevel marketing' businesses like Amway and Mary Kay Cosmetics. Sommers says that Christopher Guest's delirious satires of community theater and dog shows provided a kind of comic template for the film.
'I think the Guest films, in a kind way, poke fun at people with oversized dreams. In Amway and Mary Kay, people get very delusional and think they are going to get rich very quickly, and they don't have the skills to sell. So we take a look at them.'
Co-writers Sommers and Caruso took an early step toward their big goals of nationwide theatrical release and DVD sales by bringing a rough cut of the completed film to Sundance last month. They didn't screen Going Great White, but they used the world's most important indie film confab to make connections. They got copies of the film into the hands of actors, behind-the-camera types and industry players.
'We made brief pitches or set up times to meet for lunch,' says Sommers, explaining their crash course in Hollywood-style schmoozing. 'You also exchange cards. People at Sundance are looking for the next indie director, the next big indie film. No one really knows what that will be.'
Clearly, the Utah trip was successful. Although Sommers and Caruso didn't snag distribution, they got plenty of thumbs up from people in the film industry. 'So far nobody we got it to has not liked it a lot,' Sommers says.
They were especially happy to get a copy of the film to Parker Posey, a regular member of Guest's ensemble of comic actors. The two also had a sit-down with Eric Watson, who's produced films for director Darren Aranofsky (Pi, The Fountain), and Sommers says the meeting went well.
Caruso is a veteran of cable access television, and Sommers has experience in live theater (he's spent time on the staff of the Madison Rep) and has made corporate films. But both are neophytes when it comes to feature films. So they took any suggestions about how to improve their film very seriously. 'People said maybe trim five, six minutes off it,' says Sommers, relating one common complaint.
Sommers and Caruso self-financed Going Great White, which was shot last summer on MiniDV in Madison and Oregon, Wis. Two film professionals with Madison ties, Pete McPartland and Matt Sobocinski, served as cinematographers and gave the film a believable, fly-on-the-wall documentary look. They provided their services free of charge, as did the film's large cast, which includes a number of veteran local and regional stage actors.
The filmmakers appreciate those generous contributions of time and talent, and they think all the artistic support has paid off in a very funny film. But lots of quality independent work never makes it to a national audience. Sommers and Caruso admit that the film's fate now depends on whether they can hook up with distributors, attract fans in the industry and develop strong word of mouth. In other words, it's time to sell the thing, and sell it hard.
'We're entering in the Wisconsin Film Festival, Tribeca and all these festivals to see if we can get someone to pick it up,' says Sommers. 'We see it as a smaller film theatrically, but small films can do well. Borat had some bigger names behind it, but it shows people will go to films that aren't typical Hollywood fare. The same is true of the Christopher Guest films. I think with the right marketing and with the right people pushing this film, it could do very well in theaters nationwide.'