Perhaps it was not quite as glamourous as when Lana Turner was discovered at a soda fountain in Hollywood, but it was just as unlikely when across from a conference room table in Austin that Steve Mims found the inspiration for his next film. As anyone in the film industry could tell you, distribution meetings are hardly the place where one would go to find talent, but it was while the filmmaker of the acclaimed documentary “Incendiary: The Willingham Case” was hatching out a release strategy with representatives from the on-demand distributor Tugg that he first noticed a frizzy haired kid that might be an even better fit to star in movies than to help release them.
“That’s an interesting looking person,” Mims says he first thought to himself about Alex Dobrenko, who would confirm the director’s suspicions he was star material when by chance Mims saw him doing an improv show a few days later. “The same guy was onstage and he was hysterical, so I followed up with him and we started up meeting with the idea of developing a feature project.”
That bit of serendipity turned into “Alex & Ash,” a new film currently raising funds on Kickstarter before a January 23rd deadline that aims to take full advantage of the unique comic sensibilities of Dobrenko and co-star Ashley Spillers, of whom we’ve been a fan since she starred in last year’s trippy “Saturday Morning Massacre.” This year is already starting out with a bang for the pair, who will first appear together in the sexy Slamdance-selected short “Hearts of Napalm,” but should their crowdsourcing campaign be successful, they’ll be heading almost straight from Park City into production on their self-titled comedy in February, a quick turnaround that Mims is hardly concerned about since he believes the biggest challenge facing the picture is behind them.
“The hard part is always having a very good script and then having really great people to be in it,” says Mims, who was excited enough after meeting Dobrenko and Spillers to tear through the writing of a screenplay built around the two in a little less than a month. “I’ve really been trying to work around the opposite way of how a lot of films get made where you write a script in a vacuum and then you just hope people are going to show up for an audition and that it’s going to work out.”
To that end, Mims is proud of the fact that while the particulars of the plot must remain under wraps since it literally revolves around a puzzle the couple receives piece by piece in the mail, with each segment bringing a new prism with which to view their relationship to each other, he’s planning to limit the mysteries of actually making the movie to a minimum by keeping it small.
Besides Dobrenko and Spillers, the story, which he’ll only divulge is one that he’s “never seen before” onscreen and may have been influenced by the steady diet of Truffaut films he’s been enjoying since the summer, particularly “Stolen Kisses,” calls for just four more actors in supporting roles, around seven locations and a 16-day shoot, resulting in a film intended to be no longer than 80 minutes. Making the production even leaner and meaner, Mims is also tapping into the pipeline of talent from the courses he teaches as a Radio-TV-Film professor at the University of Texas at Austin, able to offer course credit to film students who will get firsthand experience working on an actual movie.
Such youthful energy is already evident from the film’s playful, fast-pitched Kickstarter pitch video, which appears to embody the momentum typical of the project so far. Still, for a film that involves the piecing together of a jigsaw puzzle, it’s only natural that “Alex & Ash” will require some help from the crowd to make it whole, though it’s filmmakers are hopeful.
“There are a lot of moving parts and unbelievably, it’s all coming together,” says Mims, before promising that it’ll all be worth it. “Film shoots can be like the Bataan Death March. You just go and go and go and by the third day, you start wondering why you ever started to do this. We’ve got funny people, it should be a fun movie.”
To back this project and to watch the filmmakers’ personal pitch video, visit the film’s Kickstarter page here.