I saw “The Almost Guys” a few months before the 2005 Jacksonville Film Festival started. Once I learned that the film was screening at the festival, I decided to contact writer/ director Eric Fleming to see if wanted to meet up at some point and conduct an interview. He was down and after meeting him, I was totally grateful. We had many conversations, at various bars and in the back of a Lincoln Towncar, before the old tape recorder came out.
For Eric Fleming, it all started with a short film entitled, “Fallen Arches.” It was a mockumentary piece that Eric co-wrote and directed about Ronald McDonald’s quest to find a new job, after the notorious fast food chain fires him. “It was just something I made with and for my friends,” says Fleming. After some copies of the short found their way into some notorious Hollywood big boys, everything changed for Fleming.
“I don’t know how these people got a hold of it but next thing I knew, the phone was ringing and I was talking to people I never would have dreamed of.” The range was varied too; from Ron Howard to Eddie Murphy’s people. Fleming continues, “All of the sudden I was getting calls from all these people that loved it and wanted to work with me on something.” For the next couple of years, things became exciting for him as various offers flew his way.
“Because of this short, I was offered a couple of things… like I got a script for a film that was entitled, ‘East Great Falls High’ which eventually became ‘American Pie.’”
“You turned that down?” I ask him.
“Yeah, I mean I got it in the really early stages. I didn’t find anything that special with it,” he declares.
“Wow, I congratulate you for that. That’s really admirable. I think I am the only person in the world that walked out of the theater during that eyesore,” I assure him. “Is it okay if I put that detail in the story?”
He pauses for a moment and then answers, “Let me get back to on that.”
For the next few years, things didn’t go so well for him. Fleming got some more directing offers for other teen comedies but ended up passing on them. During this time, he was green-lit for producing a couple of television shows but do to various studio heads changing jobs, most of them remain in the vault. As the years went on, Fleming became frustrated working with various project stuck in developmental hell and finally decided to take matters into his own hands by writing and directing a feature length film, which would later become “The Almost Guys.”
Thinking back to 1974, he brought up Michael Cimino’s “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot” with Clint Eastwood.
“I love that film and I thought, ‘well no in the indie scene doing like, a 70s comedy like that with disenfranchised and disillusioned losers.’” He continues, “So I just wrote it as quickly as I could and Andrea Michaud (producer) raised the money totally independently. I had no intention of getting stuck again in the development process because I just wanted to make something; I just wanted to make a movie.”
Eric spoke some more about how tired he was of taking studio notes and working on projects that never saw the light of day. “I just wanted to run some film through a camera.”
With the money in place, they got casting director Paula Rosenberg in charge of finding the right people. Since Eric was playing the main character, Rick Murphy, another man was needed to play his cohort in crime, dubbed ‘The Colonel.’
Eric continues, “We had all kinds of people looking at that role. At one point, we were talking to Ossie Davis’ representatives, all kinds of people. It was amazing the type of response we got.”
Robert Culp (a writer for television’s “I Spy”) was awarded the role and did a perfect job with the part. “He was very passionate about doing it and he’s a very hip guy.” Fleming mentions Culp’s role in Paul Mazursky’s “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. “He was a guy that knew how to work in the independent world.”
“The Almost Guys” also featured a predominate role that needed to be played by a child, which as any filmmaker knows, is a challenge when you have to work around the child labor laws. Fleming knew these difficulties going in and had no problem working around it. The young and rising Oliver Davis was eventually cast as Buddy, Rick’s son, and played the part phenomenally.
When asked about how much of his background was brought into a story about two car repo men kidnapping an already kidnapped baseball star, Fleming replied, “I grew up around Jupiter, Florida.”
“I can sympathize with you. I still live in Florida,” I tell him.
“So you know what I am talking about. Anyway, there was a bunch of rednecks there and I always get a kick out of rednecks, which is where my character gets some of his traits from.”
“Do you know baseball players?” I ask him.
“A good friend of mine was a pitcher for 7 or 8 years and I sort of took some of our experiences into his character, minus the kidnapping plot of course.”
The discussion then turns to the filmmakers he always admired.
“Any Coen Brothers movie – especially ‘Miller’s Crossing.’ The movie is a huge influence to me. I also like a lot of older Woody Allen and Neil Simon stuff.”
Watching “The Almost Guys” knowing this list of influences isn’t surprising. The film is a perfect mix of originality and influential tags throughout.
“I also love anything Kurosawa.”
This also isn’t surprising, since there are some aspects of “The Almost Guys” that are reminiscent of Kurosawa’s “High and Low.”
The conversation then came to an end. After the festival, Eric sent me e-mail discussing the good time he had at the festival and inviting me to hang out with him should I ever make to Los Angeles. He also put in a sentence that answered a question I had asked him during the festival.
“Feel free to mention my pass on directing ‘American Pie.’ F**k them.”
“The Almost Guys” should be getting a limited theatrical release in a few months and will also be released on DVD before the year’s end.