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Seven Las Vegas filmmakers talk failed projects, promising ideas and post-apocalyptic mermaids

Josh Bell & Jason Harris

Even though Las Vegas is just a few hours from Hollywood, it can seem like we’re light years away. But local film culture is as vibrant as it’s ever been. Here’s our look at seven up-and-coming Vegas filmmakers making exciting independents, a veteran projectionist and the local company that lets audiences grade the movies. So, please silence your cell phone and pass the popcorn.

    • Rob Sholty

      One of the most buzzed-about films in the Las Vegas filmmaking community at the end of last year was Rob Sholty’s Patient Zero, as he puts it, “the origin story of the first person to get infected with the zombie virus.” In fact, the film shot about 12 full production days before it was temporarily scrapped. Sholty diplomatically says, “We had a few sudden scheduling conflicts which halted our production.”

      Growing up in Pahrump, Sholty was an avid skateboarder who often injured himself. While healing, he would work on short films to pass the time, and also shot skate videos of his friends.

      Another product of UNLV’s film school, Sholty looked beyond the classroom for the value of his education: “I really think film school is what you make of it. What I believe helped me even greater than the classes was actually making films with all my fellow classmates. I forged friendships and bonds that still run deep to this day.” He has been the director of photography on numerous short films and commercials, and one of his goals this year is to continue to improve on this area of his repertoire. “I plan on training as hard as I can to get better at the craft of cinematography,” he says. “I still have a lot to learn in all areas.”

      And Patient Zero? It’s currently in rewrites. “I’ve learned from many failures and mistakes that the script is king, so I have put as much time and effort into the screenplay as possible,” Sholty says. “It’s easy to shoot a movie. It’s damn near impossible to write a great one.” –Jason Harris

    • Rebecca Thomas

      When we sit down to speak at LA’s AFI Fest, Rebecca Thomas has a packed schedule, going from meeting to meeting, interview to interview, party to party. That’s all thanks to her feature debut as writer and director, Electrick Children, which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in February 2012. It’s already been released in a number of foreign territories, and it will open in limited theatrical release—along with video on demand—later this year in the U.S.

      Vegas native Thomas got her filmmaking start as a student at Bonanza High School. “My best friend and I got super-obsessed with Final Cut,” she says. “We’d spend all day after school cutting these really terrible BMX videos together that we sort of ended up loving.” From there, Thomas studied screenwriting at Brigham Young University and went on to get a master’s degree in film directing at Columbia University in New York, where she’s now based.

      Electrick Children was shot largely in Las Vegas, at places like Arts District bar Artifice and music rehearsal space the Alamo. “I love Las Vegas, first of all,” Thomas says. “I didn’t realize how bizarre it was to grow up there, especially as a Mormon, until I moved away from it.” Electrick Children itself is a bit bizarre, balancing the ethereal and the mundane with its story of a fundamentalist Mormon teenager (Julia Garner) who believes she’s been impregnated by listening to a rock song on cassette.

      As for the future, Thomas is working on “a post-apocalyptic mermaid movie set in Japan” and a “sort of thriller noir set in New York in the wintertime,” but she’d love someday to return to Vegas for a TV series. “I’m interested in exploring the suburbs some more, getting into the other side of Las Vegas,” she says. “There’s such a diverse range of people who come to Las Vegas to live there. I’m really interested in showing that side of it.” –Josh Bell

    • Jeremy Cloe

      Of all the local filmmakers to make noise last year, perhaps none was louder than Jeremy Cloe, 26, whose first feature film, Liars, Fires and Bears, has played in film fests all over the country, including Austin, St. Louis and Big Bear, where it won the grand jury prize for best narrative feature. The film, which began as a short, germinated into a full-length while Cloe and star/co-writer Lundon Boyd kicked around ideas during UNLV’s graduation ceremony.

      The story revolves around a mismatched pair, an adult man played by Boyd and a 9-year-old girl played by Megli Micek, both with a lot of emotional baggage, and the road trip they take together. Cloe, also a skilled director of photography, plans to continue on the festival circuit and lock down distribution for Liars this year.

      A Vegas native, Cloe has directed music videos for Vegas bands like GoldBoot and Rusty Maples and can’t say enough good things about developing his skills here: “It’s a really strong filmmaking community. Permits are cheap, locations haven’t all been shot a million times, and there’s a ton of really talented people. It’s also a really untapped backdrop for stories, since most big movies that shoot in Vegas just revolve around partying in casinos. I love it here.”

      While Cloe is a huge advocate of the Las Vegas film community, he’s currently honing his skills in the directing program at the American Film Institute in LA. “It’s a two-year program which keeps me really busy seven days a week,” he says. “We make four films during our time there while balancing a full class schedule.” Cloe is writing another feature with plans for two more after that. –Jason Harris

    • Ryan & Cody LeBoeuf

      A desperate salesman tries to convince a couple to take a boat tour to see a prehistoric reptile. An old man faces down a mysterious figure outside his house. A taciturn man goes around stealing empty boxes. The short films of Ryan and Cody LeBoeuf are little masterpieces of surrealism, so it’s no surprise that the brothers describe their upcoming first feature, tentatively titled Rabbit Days, as “like an absurdist horror film, in a way.”

      Thanks to the Johnny Brenden Filmmakers Award, the LeBoeufs have $25,000 to make Rabbit Days, along with a specific timetable set out according to the administration of the grant, which is awarded by the UNLV film department. That means that the brothers, both current UNLV film students, will have their script and production plan in place by May. “We didn’t apply for anything,” Ryan says of the award, which was decided by the school. “It was shocking and really crazy.”

      Ryan, 22, and Cody, 20, grew up in New Orleans and have been making movies together since they were kids. “We’ve been doing this for so long together that we sort of have a shorthand,” Cody says. “We can reference things to one another that we both understand, because we’ve grown up together. I think that helps tremendously when it comes to collaborating.” As for Rabbit Days, it’s about “this eccentric man who invites some guests out to a lodge in the middle of the woods. It’s kind of like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? meets House on Haunted Hill, in a way.” Sounds like the perfect mix of horror and absurdity. –Josh Bell

    • Sean Jackson

      Sean Jackson has come a long way since his first effort at making a feature film in 2004. “It was horrible,” the Detroit native says. “I got about half of it in the can before everyone quit on me. Looking back on it, I don’t blame them. I’d been writing since high school, but that was my first attempt at directing, and I was not ready at all.”

      Using the film that never was as motivation, Jackson continued refining and working to improve his game. He’s written and directed more than 30 short films, and Jackson finally cracked into the feature game with the thriller Bubblegum and Broken Fingers in 2011, shot for $24,000 on weekends over the course of two years. “Everyone kept telling us we’d never finish, but we did,” Jackson says of Bubblegum, which has won numerous awards at film festivals, including the Audience Choice Award at the Action on Film Festival. It landed with video on demand distributor R Squared Films, with whom Jackson now has a five-picture deal.

      The next two features in that deal are slated to be shot this year in Las Vegas and Hawaii. One is a post-apocalyptic cannibal movie, and the other follows two college students who become bounty hunters to pay their way through school. In addition, Jackson’s Somnium Productions will launch its own YouTube Channel in February, SomCom, which “features really edgy comedy skits using a lot of local talent.

      “I feel like the Vegas indie film scene is going through a major renaissance,” Jackson says. “So many filmmakers in this town are growing very fast technically and creatively. I’m very proud to be a Vegas filmmaker.” –Jason Harris

    • Mike Lenzini

      Mike Lenzini has always wanted to make a movie; it just took him a little longer to get there than some people. “I can remember still, specifically, the day the first time I saw Clerks,” he says. “I was like, ‘This is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen.’ I knew the story about Kevin Smith, so I was like, ‘I want to do this.’” But Lenzini, 36, who grew up in Vegas and now works as a floor supervisor at the Suncoast, put off his moviemaking dreams for a long time. Even when he came up with the initial story for his debut feature, A Monster Among Men, he put the script aside for years. “It took me probably eight years to get the confidence to do it,” he says.

      After working as a grip on a couple of movies directed by Vegas-based B-movie legend Ted V. Mikels, Lenzini started connecting with more people who had filmmaking experience. He also had the encouragement of close friends, including BMX champion and TV personality TJ Lavin, whom Lenzini has known since they were kids. Lavin came onboard to play a supporting role in Monster, and also worked as a producer. “He played a huge role in just me getting it done,” Lenzini says.

      Lavin offered the use of his cabin in Duck Creek, Utah, where Lenzini shot the film in August 2011. It’s a small-scale thriller about five friends whose weekend getaway turns deadly when they start disappearing one by one. “It was the greatest experience of my life,” Lenzini says of making the movie. Now that he’s proven to himself that he can achieve his goals, he’s looking to get Monster into film festivals and find distribution, and he has two other potential projects in the works. “I want people to take me seriously,” he says, “so I have to take myself seriously and just go for it.” –Josh Bell

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