After Christmas had passed, I started to scout talent for the supporting roles before holding any auditions. I wanted to work through a referral system to increase the film’s chances of not only finding undiscovered non-union talent but also to avoid the kind of difficult actors I had to put up with in the past. Some of those actors I found through J.R.’s acting classes at the Brooklyn-based Playhouse West which was taught by actor Jim Parrack, best known for True Blood, Fury, and the soon-to-be-released Suicide Squad. Most of the conversations I had with these actors were cordial. No guarantees of being cast. Whether they made the movie or not, I still wanted to keep them in mind down the road.
My shortlist for casting included actors who earned many accolades in my work. First there was Reggie Barnes who played my online radio co-host in Night Stream and would now be playing a strip club owner initially written with Ice-T in mind if we had a budget. I knew he could energize any scene he’s in no matter how big or small. Plus I think of it as a special guest star kind of role. Then there was Paul Wallace who was the scene stealing fraternity leader in my short comedy Tempted. As hilarious as he was in that film, Paul also had serious acting chops from the William Esper Studio in Manhattan. I felt he could bring sympathy to the role of a drug addicted son of a casino owner who finds himself in a world of trouble.
The next big search was to find an aspiring producer to bring on board the film. Too often on my previous films where I had to do most of the pre-production work on my own. So I wanted to find someone who could help with finding investors, promoting crowdfunding campaigns, and to help with the logistics of the project. My good friend who runs this blog Cos and I sorted through over 20 submissions within a three days. We knew we wanted someone who could bring a lot of resources to the table and loved the project. What we did not want was someone who just cared about getting paid and overstepping boundaries. By the time we were through, three interviews were scheduled.
J.R. and I held two out of the three interviews in a nice office space in Lower Manhattan. That’s where we met both Kalen Eriksson and Yu “Rose” Wang. Both were resourceful, dedicated, loved action movies, and had ideas for raising money. The third interview was with someone whose name will be kept anonymous for the purposes of this diary. Let’s just say this person, despite some impressive experience, was too doubtful about making an independent action movie because of their film school aesthetics. Kalen and Rose were joining the team by mid January.
As we started talked at options to raise money, my producing team and I considered investor contacts and arts-related foundations for grants before starting any crowdfunding on Kickstarter or Indiegogo. The more we could get invested on the street, the smaller the crowdfunding minimum goal would be. The difficulty in grants, however, were that most of them were for non-profit works or were a quarterly process in deciding who would be rewarded. As for investors, we were called to the attention of someone’s family friend based in China. Nothing was guaranteed until that person saw the script and a prospectus.
With all questions by possible actors, investors, and new crew being raised, it was perfect timing when the previous movie Dishonorable Vendetta was set to play in Manhattan that February as part of the NewFilmmakers NY Winter Series. Cast and crew from the first film attended along with some of the new team and possible new actors and investor. As long as that film took to get made, it was an out-of-body experience to finally see it on the big screen where it belonged. Sure not everything was perfect on a technical level. But holy shit did it have a rhythm visually!
After the screening, I was told that the investor was impressed with the film. Several weeks after the script was sent to the investor, I was told that in order for this person’s contacts to back Vendetta Games, they wanted more of an Oriental element to the story. I was more than willing to change one supporting role into a heroic Asian DEA agent. But when they wanted even more extensive changes to fit the culture, I resisted. Sounds silly to do that in an age where summer blockbusters tend to do their best business overseas. Take it from me though: If change alters your script in an unworkable manner, do not make the sacrifice for the sake of dollars.
The struggle to raise money and withstanding people’s doubts about making the film would be the hardest part to deal with going forward and still to this day.