Alok Mishra worked in film market research for 18 years before he and his partner produced their first film, 1BR, under their Malevolent Films banner. 1BR, the story of a young woman who moves into an apartment complex with very strictly enforced rules, is available today, and you can watch the trailer above. Here’s Alok on how 1BR was almost shut down by a ridiculous series of obstacles, and how it overcame them all.
I tested mainstream films across the country for almost 20 years for the big-name companies that do those things. You know, the folks that ask if you want to come see a free movie. “Film Market Research” is the industry term, which is just a nice way of saying “come see a free screening so my company can give bad news to the film’s producers, who will shoot a new ending nobody is really going to like (until the director’s cut).”
Producing my own films was always my goal, but the market-research lifestyle—nice salary, social connections, and all the other things it brought—made me complacent. A divorce (spoiler: mine) shook me out of that. It turned into one of those what-does-it-all-mean moments. If I wanted to make movies, why not now? I had the passion, and just as important, I had years of experience studying what real moviegoers want to see.
My friend and former colleague Shane Vorster and I shared a love for elevated horror films—the really scary ones that always stay a step ahead of you. We set out to make one of those. We connected with director/screenwriter David Marmor. He wrote a terrific script called 1BR. He had done some fantastic shorts. So we went for it. What could go wrong with two first-time producers and a first-time writer/director?
We assembled a great set of other producers to shepherd the project. Allard Cantor and Jarrod Murray were David Marmor’s managers at Epicenter—they were very connected to the agencies. Nic Izzi and Sam Sandweiss were brilliant with production. Our executive producer, Peter Phok, had amazing relationships in the festival world and brought a wealth of experience to the table. We had even had a name TV actress approach us, wanting to play the lead.
With this popular actress signed, she persuaded us to cast her friend in the male lead. He was on a YA show that I had never watched, but it seemed like he could act and he had a sizable social media following. He seemed like the dark, handsome, mysterious type that we needed for the role. As producers, we thought we had hit the jackpot.
Everything was coming together, and we thought we were so lucky. A bunch of lucky idiots. By December 2017, with production about a week away, everything was going surprisingly well.
Until suddenly it wasn’t.
First, the Skirball Fire happened. Our office was in the direct path of the massive, Mordor-like blaze. Police and firefighters told us our offices were off-limits and shut us down. We didn’t even know if the building had burned.
As an interim solution, we moved the production office to my home, out of the immediate danger zone. Our lead actress, new to L.A. and not knowing the way the city is arranged, was understandably nervous, so I made a trip to the Valley, where we’d be shooting, and took cell phone footage of our apartment location, to prove to her that there was no smoke and that we’d be nowhere near the fires.
Story continues after the fire…
You’ve read all the stories about legendary bands and their riders—some legit, some not (that green M&M story is true, and brilliant for safety purposes). One thing our female lead required in her contract was a feminine energy drink. Our producer Nic Izzi very smartly negotiated a sponsorship deal with the company that makes said drink, but the product wouldn’t arrive until the third day of production. So Shane and I had to run to our local store to buy a case of the drink ourselves. Indie producers wear many hats, including being a modern-day Gunga Din bringing feminine energy drinks to their leads.
That’s where we were, in a grocery store with a cart full of feminine energy drinks, when we got the call. Our lead actress had abruptly dropped out. To this day we don’t know why. I dropped to a knee in Aisle 9 and tried not to throw up, because I thought we were completely fucked.
Then we found out there was more fucking to come, because when she dropped out, her YA show friend dropped out too. Lesson: Don’t trust the word of an actor you don’t know too well. And maybe don’t also hire that person’s friends.
As we were licking our wounds at a bar, we got a call from the rep of the older actress in our film, a hard-working, well-respected character actress who has worked in the business for years. Her husband had collapsed and been rushed to the hospital. Tragically, he then passed away. Understandably, the actress had to bow out.
After this trifecta of shit news, we made the decision to delay production by a week, though we weren’t sure at that point that we’d ever get to shoot. The chips weren’t just down — they’d fallen through the gutter.
That’s when Nicole Brydon Bloom stepped in. She was so visceral and engaging, we immediately knew we had traded up. It was truly kismet we got to collaborate. Certain films are career-making for their leads, and when we saw the dailies we knew this just might be the case with Nicole. Think Jamie Lee Curtis from Halloween. Nicole was amazing (she can seriously cry eight different ways), and we knew we’d be looked upon as smart for casting this incredibly talented actress. We have to give kudos to Rhonda Price from Gersh as well. If it hadn’t been for her, we really wouldn’t have pulled this off. Nobody sets you up for how stressful all of this can be.
But the Friday before our Monday start day, we were still scrambling to cast those other two vacant roles. We sent the script to Giles Matthey, but didn’t hear anything back, and while we were waiting, I saw the reel of veteran character actress Susan Davis. I called the number at the end of the reel, thinking it would be her agent. But Susan answered. I told her, “This is highly improper and probably unusual, but I’m going to pitch you the movie and pitch you us, and see if you are interested.” By 11 a.m., we had a deal.
Fast forward to that night. We were sitting in Barney’s Beanery wondering if we’d have a male lead to shoot on Monday when we got the call that Giles was in. He’d been driving down from San Francisco when we sent the script, and he’d had to pull over to the side of the road to read it on his cell phone. My favorite recollection is that he only had time to read his part, and said yes based off of that.
I simply have to give thanks to our other amazing cast members Taylor Nichols, Naomi Grossman, Alan Blumenfeld, Celeste Sully, Clayton Hoff, Earnestine Phillips, and Curtis Webster. They were such pros that they made the whole production just hum.
Oh, and when we eventually got the shipment of that feminine energy drink? I swore not a drop would touch my lips, and as a joke we often shook our fists at it. That fucking feminine energy drink. To this day I get upset when I think about being done dirty in the Marina Del Rey Gelson’s.
Day six of our 15-day shoot. A text hits my phone in the middle of the night. It’s our producer, Sam Sandweiss. He tells me something “really bad happened” but it’s going to be alright…”I think.”
The bad thing started when a White Escalade pulled up to our thankfully non-burned down production offices, someone hopped out, broke into one of our three production trucks, and drove off with it in eight minutes flat. What the thieves did not know was that we had a parking PA sitting in another truck watching all this go down.
The bad thing turned into a crazy thing when the undaunted PA gave chase in his own car, talking to 911 the entire time while following the truck through the Los Angeles Holy Trinity of the 405, 10, and 110 freeways. The police told him to stand down but he absolutely would not stop pursuing the stolen truck until the cops actually showed up. The law finally pursued and caught the perpetrator at a McDonald’s/Chevron station near the iconic Felix sign next to USC. The chase even made the local news.
To avoid distracting people, we didn’t tell our director or any of the cast about the incident. As crazy as this was, we were only delayed one hour the next morning. We finally told the story at the wrap party. Fucking producing!
We offered at a minimum to buy the intrepid parking PA a bottle of expensive alcohol as a thank you token, but he just wanted McDonald’s gift certificates. We countered with In-N-Out gift certificates. He stuck to McDonald’s. The heart wants what the heart wants.
We later learned that the theft was planned by a ring of box truck thieves who had never been caught. The person who got arrested was the new guy in the crew and we were told he turned state’s evidence against his truck thief compatriots. We expected some sort of restitution, but we’ve never seen a dime.
The Happy Ending
Despite all these perils and pitfalls, we finished the movie. David Marmor did a tremendous job and we are working on another project together because we truly feel that he is a visionary and his next project will be even more interesting.
1BR premiered at Fantasia Fest in Montreal and had a terrific festival run before being picked up for distribution by Dark Sky Films. There was supposed to be a small, ten-theater theatrical run along with a cool premiere party, but unfortunately it was cancelled because of the Coronavirus lockdown. It’s always something, right?
On the bright side, we are happy to say that we are still premiering on all of the most popular VOD platforms today. The film is around 84% on Rotten Tomatoes, so clearly people are liking it.
As first-time producers, Shane and I learned a lot. If there is any justice in this Coronavirus-addled world, hopefully we’ve convinced you to perhaps rent our little film.