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CineVegas '05 Interview ('Little Athens' Director Tom Zuber)

by Erik Childress

The "Little Athens" Pitch: A day in the life of young suburbanites. Intersecting stories about those of us who donít go on to change the world.

You refer to your film as an "anti-coming-of-age drama". Elaborate on that for us.

TOM: The time period just after high-school graduation (or, for those who drop out, what would otherwise have been high school graduation) is a crucial time. Some of us go on to college, or to work for parent CEOs of large companies, etc. But some us just hang out, doing full-time the jobs we previously did part time during summers off from school. No longer having the luxury of structure that came with high school, and the long-term destination (even if not deliberate goal) of graduation. In this sense, for some, this period of life is less coming of age than coming into nothing, and knowing it. Those years when you come to realize you wonít be a pro baseball player, or an actress, or a rock star. Youíll just get older. Little Athens focuses on these young people, whom most of us are or know, and what we/they do with our/their time.

Will this be your first time at CineVegas? Any other film festival experience?

TOM: Yes, this is my first time at CineVegas. Yes, I was on the festival circuit with my first film, Lansdown, which won the Best First Feature Award at the Cinequest Film Festival. Please see

When you were 14 years old, if someone asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, what would your answer have been?

TOM: Not sure. I think a neurosurgeon at that point.

How did you get started in filmmaking?

TOM: My friends and I decided we wanted to make a movie together, so we made Lansdown. We wanted to obtain some experience the hard way, so that we could make a film that was a little bit bigger the next time out, namely Little Athens. Lansdown was actually my first time standing on a movie set or holding a film camera.

How did you get your film started? How did you go from script to finished product?

TOM: My brother Jeff and I wrote the script. Producer Josh Lawler, Executive Producer Matt Lendach, Jeff and I pitched the script around to private financiers to raise the money.

When you were in pre-production, did you find yourself watching other great movies in preparation?

TOM: Yes, definitely. All of the classic films, and more contemporary films by Kubrick, Scorsese, Fincher, the Coen brothers, etc. Chinatown and L.A. Confidential.

Name the three directors working today that you most admire.

TOM: Bernardo Bertolucci, Martin Scorsese, Curtis Hanson.

Your film follows in the tradition of multi-character/multi-storyline templates all converging in a short period of time. Magnolia and Crash notwithstanding, what films have you seen that represent the best and worst of this genre?

TOM: Short Cuts and Gosford Park are two of the best. Wouldnít want to publicly tell a fellow filmmaker that their film was the worst.

How have things changed for you since your film started playing on the festival circuit? If this is your first acceptance into a film festival, describe what that's like and your thoughts about CineVegas.

TOM: CineVegas will be our world premiere. We just finished editing the picture (yesterday). Itís very exciting, but at the same time, Iím excited to make another movie.

When you were shooting the film, did you have CineVegas (or any other film festivals in general) in mind?

TOM: I didnít think too much about film festivals, but a friend screened his movie at CineVegas, and he raved about the experience. I was very excited to hear that we are making our world premiere at CineVegas. And I love Las Vegas.

Have you been turned down by other festivals? If so, which ones and what do you think could be improved with festivals in general.

TOM: The producers submitted a weeks-old rough cut to Sundance, with no music, etc. Donít think Iíd tell any festival to do anything differently, though. I would have nixed that film, too. 8 months of editing and scoring later, we have now a complete and very different film, obviously. Iíd accept this one for sure.

Have you seen any independent films recently on the festival circuit, in theaters or on video that influenced you? Or anything that you would just like to give a shout-out to that audiences should be seeing (or given a chance to see?)

TOM: Fresh Meat. Itís a very low budget horror/comedy that my law firm represents. Itís an intelligent, witty, self-aware, highly entertaining adherence to the lowest common denominator. We just sold it to ThinkFILM.

The festival circuit: what could be improved? What's been your favorite part of the ride?

TOM: Re what could be improved Ė you can never have too much press coverage! Re my favorite part of the ride Ė with my brother Jeff, and my buddies and business partners Matt Lendach, Josh Lawler, and Olivier Taillieu, meeting and hanging out with other filmmakers.

Whatís the one glaring lesson you learned while making this film?

TOM: Stand your ground when insisting for more time for pre-production.

If a studio said Ďwe love this, we love you, you can remake anything in our back catalogue for $40mí Ė what film, if any, would you want to remake?

TOM: Wow. These are creative questions. Have never been asked this one before. The Truman Show. Peter Weir is a great director, and the Truman Show is an excellent film, but as per my own personal taste I would have made it darker visually and otherwise, I would have ended the movie when Jim Carrey shuts the door without cutting around to all of those more comic reactions - some other things. That movie is based on such an amazing concept. I also wouldnít accept the offer without doing a movie at 5 or 10 million first.

Two parter Ė name an actor you'd KILL to work with, and then name an actor in your own film that you really think is destined for great things.

TOM: Iíd kill to work with Morgan Freeman. Iíve seen him in some bad films, but have never seen him in a dishonest moment. Heís always amazing, and elegantly simple. Michael Pena is destined for great things. That was obvious the first time I saw him perform a scene in acting class. Although we set up a meeting so that my producing partner Josh Lawler could meet him, Mike was effectively cast in Little Athens based on that performance in class.

At what point will you be able to say, "Yes! I've made it!"

TOM: Every time I walk onto the set of a green-lit movie that Iím directing and/or producing. That may sound corny, but thatís fine. I already have financial security as a lawyer, so it wonít be receipt of a monetary sum or anything like that. Would be great if I can just keep making more and more movies until I can make them like some of the directors mentioned above. If that takes 20 or 30 years or more, thatíd be fine by me.

A film is made by many people, including the director (of course), but you'll often see movies that open with a credit that says ďa film byÖĒ Ė Did you use that credit in your film? If so, defend yourself!

TOM: Yes. Most lawyers agree that the bar exam is pretty worthless, and a very poor indicator of how good an attorney one will make. When I took the bar exam, I did it because every other lawyer in the state had taken the bar exam and I had to do the same to compete - not because it made sense inherently. Know what I mean?

Little Athens (directed by Tom Zuber and written by Tom & Jeff Zuber) - starring John Patrick Amedori, Jorge Garcia, Shawn Hatosy, Michelle Horn, Erica Leerhsen, Rachel Miner, Kenny Morrison, Leonardo Nam, Michael Pena, DJ Qualls, Jill Ritchie and Eric Szmanda will have its premiere at the 2005 CineVegas Film Festival on Sunday, June 12 at 6:00 PM and screen again on Monday, June 13 at 4:00 PM.

Visit the Little Athens Website and watch the TRAILER

link directly to this feature at
originally posted: 05/19/05 08:18:39
last updated: 05/27/05 06:05:08
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