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The “John Milius Effect”: Making $50K and a Callgirl: A Love Story

The “John Milius Effect”: Making $50K and a Callgirl: A Love Story

How They Did It

Screenwriter Ross Patterson is known for his twisted sense of humor and no-holds-barred brand of indie storytelling. He wrote and starred in the 2012 masterpiece FDR: American Badass, which featured Barry Bostwick as the wheelchair-bound, machine-gun toting, Nazi-fighting President, and was quickly propelled to cult status by its reception.

His newest film, $50K and a Callgirl: A Love Story, is a road trip movie about a man (played by Patterson) diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and given six weeks to live. His older brother, Seth (played by director Seth Grossman), offers to use his $50,000 wedding fund to spend on making Ross’s last few weeks amazing.

In this exclusive, Patterson describes what he calls the “John Milius Effect” and how it relates to the release of his new film on Hulu this month.

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Like one of my heroes, John Milius, I wanted to make a dangerous film.  The irony is, I almost died making a film about a man with 30 days left to live. I wish I would have. We probably would have gotten into Sundance. Maybe next time? Everyone who has seen $50K and a Callgirl: A Love Story always has the same question: Was this real? After reading this list of what was depicted in the movie, you tell me if you think this sounds real.

Took mushrooms at Joshua Tree. Got real tattoos. Flew a fighter jet from Top Gun. Jumped out of an airplane and my shoot didn’t open. Threw a frat party and had Asher Roth play at it. Bought a puppy and had it legally certified to be a seeing eye dog in less than 24 hours. Took a helicopter over the Grand Canyon. Got married by Elvis in Vegas. Went to the World Series. Took Molly from a bearded man in New Orleans. Visited Graceland. Took the elevator up the St. Louis Arch. Had Rockefeller Center shut down to propose on the ice rink at 5 p.m. on a Friday. Fired off 300 live rounds of handguns and shotguns in the desert. Stuck my head in Niagara Falls. Handled a boa constrictor. Drove a truck six feet deep into a bunker on a beach. Was a best man in one of New York City’s first gay weddings. Went to an Ohio State football game where the final play ended on a game winning Hail Mary. Bought 100 pounds worth of fireworks and blew them off in one night. Hijacked a Hollywood tour bus and gave a fake tour for two hours to total strangers. Got arrested in Atlantic City.

The answer is yes – this was real, painfully so. I’m convinced that shooting this film took about five years off of my life; I know it took 3,600 miles off of my truck’s life. Why did I do it? I wanted to push myself to do things I never imagined I could and to truly test the limits of what a few people with cameras could actually get away with. Just like my favorite filmmakers of the past. More importantly, I wanted to show the perspective of what a real person would want to do if they found out they were dying. The only shit they show you on TV is someone being wheeled out on “Ellen” and then the cast of “Glee” pops out with a Target gift card to commemorate their impending death. Fuck that! I don’t want to throw a football with Tim Tebow; I want to sleep with a prostitute. Would anyone want to watch it? It turns out millions would, but not the ways in which you would expect. Let me explain.

The Particulars Let’s get down to brass on the numbers. We really did do all of the aforementioned stuff for $50,000 as it suggests in the title of the film. That’s no bullshit. However, with crew, post-production, music, actors, sound, editing, color, hotels, gas, etc., the final budget came in around $200,000. Not bad. Not great…when you don’t have a “star name” attached. I’ll get to that.

The Actors To make this movie seem as real as possible we had to go with unknowns. The director and his fiancé played my brother and sister-in-law. When I was writing the script, the key to the film was finding the role of the “Callgirl.”  Typically, I write with specific actors in mind. But for this, I needed someone real and virtually unknown. Frustrated during the rewrite of the third act, I went to see a movie about another fucked up love story that some friends had recommended. It was called Bellflower and the lead actress in the film gave one of the most heart wrenching and real performances I have ever seen in a film to this day. This was the fucking girl I needed for my film! I went home, IMDB’d her, called the casting director, and said, “Hey, so I only need you guys to bring in one person to audition. Her name is Jessie Wiseman.”  I could literally hear them high-five that they wouldn’t have to sit through days of shitty casting calls in which they would have to call agents and say, “No, they just need someone to play it real.”

Fuck the Big Film Festivals Here’s why it’s not great to not have a “star name” attached.  You probably won’t get into Sundance, Cannes, SXSW, or Tribeca.  Is it possible? Sure. So is getting blown by Kate Upton on a chance meeting at “your favorite sports bar” while your ex-girlfriend, whom you still have feelings for, walks in. Seriously, you’d have a better shot at winning the lottery. This isn’t to discourage you from entering. Always give it a shot, but don’t be disappointed if you don’t get in. It’s all fucking rigged anyway. Case in point: I’ve been fortunate enough to do 20+ films with 15 or so being indies. I’ve had only one indie film get into Sundance. It was a $15 million dollar budget, had two Oscar winners, two others who were nominated, and twenty other famous faces. It was like fucking New Year’s Eve up in that bitch. There was nothing indie about it. Worst of all, the film sucked. I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that it didn’t deserve to be there. But if you gave that slot to true indie filmmakers who actually cast the actors who were right for the roles, who would pose out in front of the Smirnoff Ice tent for photos? A non-famous person? Fuck that. They don’t give a shit about real indies anymore; just sponsors. It’s not your film, I promise. To test that theory, I submitted my film along with my best friend’s film this past year to SXSW. At the time of submission, our sales agent was already shopping $50K and a Callgirl and we had eight offers on the table from major indie distributors. My best friend had just finished shooting his film, and had only sent in 53 minutes of the first rough cut. He said he “knew a dude on the committee.” I laughed in his face and he called me two months later and laughed over the phone in mine from Austin at his premiere. True story. His film still hasn’t sold almost two years later. My point is: If you make a great film, you will get distribution. A big festival is nice, but not everything. Also, don’t think I wouldn’t cut my own dick off faster than that member of Wu Tang Clan to get into Sundance. Just being real.

$50K and a Callgirl

Distribution The offers we got – the advances were very low or there was no advance at all. Why? Because we didn’t have a “star name” in the film. I’ve heard that fucking phrase so many times now that I’m convinced if there is a heaven, Jesus will look at me when I die and ask, “Sorry, did you bring someone famous with you, because otherwise you can’t get in, bro.” I’m totally grateful that we got any offers, so please don’t think I’m being an asshole. It’s just that the feedback from every single distributor was, “We love this film, but we would have loved it more with famous people.” Thanks for the backhanded compliment. In the end, we went with the company, Filmbuff, who offered us worldwide digital distribution because of what I like to call the “DVD Apocalypse.”

The DVD Apocalypse On my previous films, you could count on at least $50,000 to $100,000 just in DVD sales. It didn’t matter if the movie was shit. Blockbuster or Best Buy pre-bought DVDs and it was a hard goods transaction. Boom. Guaranteed payday. Not anymore. With the switch to everything going digital, you now have to make a good movie that people will want to pay for. For us as filmmakers, we have to do our own marketing and make people want to see our films. If audiences don’t dig it, they aren’t buying it. It has to be exciting, it has to be shot well, and it has to be dangerous. Filmmaking has harkened back to the John Milius days. As our film was released into the zeitgeist, the “John Milius Effect” took place.

The John Milius Effect At our first few screenings in theaters, people were blown away at all the crazy shit we did. Everyone said that it had to be real because how could you fake that? Well, we did fake one thing: my own death. When I showed up to do Q&As after the screenings, people were really freaked out. Word started to spread. I told people how on my first skydiving trip, the shoot didn’t open and the dude strapped to me had to pull the reserve. It was fucking scary. Articles came out detailing the wild things that happened, like our pilot dying in a plane crash after the film finished. It turned out that he wasn’t a licensed pilot at all anymore and the website that offered people “a chance to have a real dogfight like in Top Gun” was a scam to get money. The FAA took his pilot’s license away and he fled in his plane to China and died in an airshow. The plane we flew in our film was now blown to a million pieces two months later. I got a few calls from reporters asking, “Didn’t you film a movie in that thing?” I was scared to answer because honestly, I didn’t know what the legal ramifications were. By the time Filmbuff released the film, it was pirated and illegally uploaded within hours. It shot to number six on Pirate Bay and stayed there for almost a month. The buzz around the film was great and we had unbelievable reviews. As pissed as I was about the potential money we lost from piracy, we were bought by Hulu thanks to all the hype. Now, everyone will be able to see the film for free around the world. Will we recoup all of our money? I have no fucking clue. But I made a film that one of my heroes, John Milius, would be proud of…and if I hadn’t, I don’t know that anyone would have seen it at all. Watch $50K and a Callgirl on Hulu in June 2014 and find out where else you can see it on the film’s official Facebook page. Catch the trailer below. MM

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    John

    June 10, 2014 at 5:29 am

    This is easily the most entertaining arcticle I’ve read on here. It’s also refreshing to see someone actually talk about their f-ing budget! Finally. Thanks man, will definitely rent this and support.

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