As a writer, it always helps to have interesting friends. They can provide plenty of invaluable inspiration. Just ask Jerome Courshon.
“I grew up with a bunch of crazy friends, and we still get together and hang out when we’re in the same city at the same time. Doing a story around this camaraderie was the inspiration, and from there the script just took off as I wrote it. It’s funny, but I’ve heard some people say that the diversity of characters in “God, Sex & Apple Pie” strains belief that they’d still be friends as adults, even though they were friends as kids. And I say it’s just another example of truth is stranger than fiction…”
So it’s from this pool of crazy friends that the script for “God, Sex & Apple Pie” was born. Jerome would go on to produce and star in the film, which involved living on location with the entire cast and crew, including director Paul Leaf.
We recently spoke with Jerome Courshon about his experiences in making “God, Sex & Apple Pie.”
How did you assemble your cast?
From many different sources. One actress from an acting class I was in, another actress I previously knew, a couple actors from audition notices in Back Stage and the Breakdowns, one through a casting director referral, and the stand-up comic character I found by scouting The Comedy Store on Sunset.
It was not an easy process. We were really having problems finding the wannabe stand-up comedian. Someone who’s both talented at stand-up and acting is not as common as one would think. Not finding this combination in our auditions, I began scouting comedy clubs, and found our guy literally weeks before our start of principal photography.
We also had problems with another role, where we kept losing actresses during rehearsals because the part wasn’t big enough. Only in LA. We finally found the right actress (Maria McCann) to play the part, who came to us through one of the actors already cast. And because she’s very talented, she made her part bigger than it was.
How long was the actual shoot?
18 days. (Three 6-day weeks)
Did it ever get scary living with a bunch of strangers while shooting the movie?
Yeah, because you never know if someone is a closet serial killer, waiting to take their Hollywood frustration out on some poor suspecting indie filmmaker. We were living on location for the entire shoot, 6 hours away from Los Angeles, and all in all, it wasn’t bad. Of course, a number of the actors cornered me the first night of my arrival to complain about things, but hey, we weren’t big budget. And we did our best to weed out any convicted felons from the crew. To play it safe though, I stayed in the condo with the D.P. & camera guys, since I thought I’d stand the best chance of surviving any bodily harm with them.
What were some of the biggest challenges in getting this film made?
Biggest one was money. I wanted to shoot 35mm, but only had enough cash to get the movie shot and in the can. It took enormous effort and persistence to find the money needed to do post production. But that wasn’t the end, of course. Needed more money to market & promote it (festivals, etc.), and then when distribution wasn’t forthcoming, going out and finding even more money to open it theatrically in selected cities. You know, you gotta be f*****g insane to be a filmmaker, to go through years of torture. Or a masochist. I think I’m a masochist, because I’m looking forward to doing it again.
How did you raise funding?
All of my attempts to raise funding failed. After two & one-half years, I said the hell with it, I’m going to make this damn movie no matter what. So I applied for credit cards. Got 26 of them, worth $100,000, and set a start date.
As glib as that sounds, I really don’t recommend this for everyone. I don’t think I’d ever do it this way again. (Hopefully won’t have to, but who knows…) When I was in arrears on payments, one collection agency hired someone to investigate me, who not only went through my trash, but also attempted to break into my apartment. Talk about scary…
Once shot and in the can, I then solicited investors, foreign sales companies, rich relatives — anyone with a bank account — to get the rest of the money needed. Unfortunately, the wealthy relatives I approached wouldn’t invest a dime. One even bellowed, “What the hell are you doing with this movie business? Get a real job!!” (I kid you not.) That was fun.
The rest of the financing eventually came from a foreign sales company, who subsequently went out of business. But I got the movie done before they did.
How did you land distribution through Warner Bros.?
I think Providence finally smiled and figured I’d suffered enough.
Seriously, it was really a matter of not giving up, and not letting every door being shut in my face get to me. It wasn’t easy, as I would have weeks or months of questioning what the hell I was doing, and asking myself if I should stop and move on to something else. Or even do something different with my life.
Briefly, after not landing distribution during or after the festival circuit, I pitched many home video companies. With most of them saying no (no “names” in the cast being the issue), and a couple saying call us in six months to discuss again, I felt the only way to turn it around was to open it theatrically (for reviews and hopefully decent box office numbers). After I did this, I approached all the same companies again, plus some newer ones. While that hunt was in process, I was introduced to someone who put me in touch with Lightyear Entertainment, who was just getting into movie distribution. Lightyear loved the movie, and made it all happen with Warner Bros. distributing.
I don’t think there’s any question, that in my case, opening it theatrically is what had to happen to get distribution. It’s now in independent video stores and all Hollywood Video outlets for rental across the U.S., and in many retailers for purchase such as Best Buy, Borders, Tower Records, Fry’s, Sam Goody, etc.
Did you learn anything from your experience making this film that you would like to share with aspiring filmmakers?
The biggest thing is to not give up once your movie is done, and particularly if you feel it’s good. Because making your movie is only the SECOND step, of a three step journey. (The three steps being finding the money, making the movie, then getting distribution.) I think most filmmakers don’t realize that the last step may take much longer than the first two steps, and by the time we reach this third step, we may be damn tired. And if a distribution deal isn’t achieved at the first festival or two, this is the last place to quit, because the distribution journey is only just beginning…!
99% of all truly independent movies do not secure some amazing deal at their first festival or at Sundance or Toronto. It’s all in what one does and how one plays the game after realizing you aren’t the lucky lottery winner who’s getting a $2 Million advance from ________ (name your favorite studio specialty arm distributor here). I believe festivals are important, particularly for the no “name” stars, genre-challenged movie. (Genre-challenged meaning it’s not a horror/thriller/action film which is an easier sell.) Use the festivals to build a “pedigree” for the movie — good press, reviews, awards, etc. — the more of this you collect, the more you’re showing a potential distributor that your movie really IS worth something. And the more you separate yourself from all those filmmakers with movies who don’t do this.
Any upcoming projects for you?
Well, given I’ve spent years on my genre-challenged comedy/drama, the next movie I’m developing should be an easier sell — a supernatural thriller. But hopefully a smart one and not one of those cheesy B movies.
Check out “God, Sex & Apple Pie” at the film’s official website.