Las Vegas filmmaker Dale Neven’s journey to making his first feature film, the supernatural thriller Unwritten, has taken him from studying film at California’s Orange Coast College to working various positions (production assistant, grip, set dresser) on film projects in California to video production jobs in Vegas for Southwest Gas and a local megachurch. “[It] was a great experience, learning all the different crew positions, especially now with directing this one, just to know how the different departments work,” he says of his time in the trenches.
Now Neven is getting ready for the world premiere of Unwritten, which stars Vegas-based actor Gabriel Burrafato as Albert Flinch, a failed writer who owns (and lives in) a used bookstore in the middle of the Nevada desert, and has become convinced that a villain from one of his unfinished stories has come to life and is stalking him. The idea sparked for Neven when he was reading over an old sci-fi script he’d written. “I was looking at the date that the villain was going to be born, and I was like, oh, he’s going to be born five years from now,” he explains. “Immediately, I thought, what would happen if he really was born in five years?”
Most of the movie’s cast is local, but the producers (with the help of co-star Mark Justice) were able to land one famous face, casting veteran character actor Lorenzo Lamas as a military general. Neven admits to being a little intimidated, as a first-time director, working with a well-known star, but he got over it quickly. “I didn’t have too much time to be nervous,” he says. “Too many things going on.”
For a movie that takes place almost entirely within a used bookstore, Neven needed the perfect location, and he found it in Amber Unicorn Books, the longtime local establishment that’s recently gone through some rough times. “They were just so awesome,” Neven says. “We took over their lives for two and a half weeks. I love Myrna, and I became a fan of the bookstore and just how great they were.” Owner and co-founder Myrna Donato lost her husband and fellow co-founder Lou in November, and the store has struggled since the closure of an adjacent Trader Joe’s last year.
Since Amber Unicorn played such an integral part in making Unwritten a reality, the filmmakers decided to return the favor, and proceeds from this week’s premiere (which is open to the public) will go toward purchasing books from Amber Unicorn, which will then be donated to children’s literacy charity Spread the Word Nevada. As Neven’s filmmaking journey continues, he’s doing what he can to give back to the community that supports him.
UNWRITTEN February 25, 7 p.m., $13, AMC Town Square. facebook.com/unwrittenmovie.