With the tremendous increase in local film production over the past several years, New Orleans residents have become more than accustomed to seeing big movie stars around town and having traffic diverted around film sets. But despite their nearly continuous presence throughout the city, not many locals have had the opportunity to actively get involved in these movie productions.
Most, though by no means all, have been substantial, Los Angeles-based productions, concerned much less with our city and its people, than the big-time tax breaks the state offers. They breeze through town, make a big fuss, and duck away never to be heard from again.
Though a fair few, mostly from the indie movie side, do make a better overall effort in the city – mainly through publicity, community outreach, or just a mutually beneficial relationship. One of the best examples of this is the multi-Oscar nominated Beasts of the Southern Wild, a film that’s story and crew became truly invested in Louisiana before, during, and after production, and in turn, the local community embraced it and is rooting hard for it this Sunday at the Academy Awards.
A few years ago, another film production came to New Orleans and took this admirable approach to heart as well. Written and directed by Leone Marucci, The Power of Few is a crime-drama with religious-conspiracy undertones starring Christopher Walken, Christian Slater, Jesse Bradford, Anthony Anderson, local rapper Juvenile, and an expansive, diverse ensemble cast. Told from multiple perspectives, the film takes place over a span of just twenty minutes and follows five separate, but connected characters on a sunny New Orleans afternoon. With the film, it was not just the local community that Marucci and producers wanted to involve, but a global community as well.
“It started with the premise of the script. The movie is a multiple perspective story in which the plot unfolds through the eyes of a lot of different characters, so we wanted to apply that to the filmmaking process itself,” Marucci explains the genesis of the interactivity.
“With a web design background (with his production company Steelyard Pictures), I was able to see was happening in that space over the years and I came across a couple of really interesting technologies that said to me, ‘Look what’s possible: You can invite the world into the filmmaking process,’” he explains. “We combined these things and made an experience beyond the film where people can be involved in creating it. One of the first things was to make it as interactive as we could. And in concert with the theme of the script, it was an easy thing to say, lets open it up and add the perspective of the world into the shaping of the film.”
Marucci’s producing partner, actress Q’orianka Kilcher, was also integral to the creation of this highly interactive process and really helped the film get off the ground in the early going. “When she officially connected herself, that’s when we started treating it a like a viable project,” he admits. Kilcher had been only recently “discovered” herself a few years before, landing the role of Pocahontas in Terrence Malick’s underappreciated The New World (2005). When she formed her own production company (iQ Films) afterwards, she really wanted to pay it forward and focus on helping others get their start as well.
With that in mind, an idea was hatched to open up the casting of one of the film’s smaller, gender-neutral roles through an international casting call via the internet. The script was put on the film’s website and participants uploaded videos of their individual takes on the scene and character. In all, over two thousands auditions were submitted, then whittled down through online voting to about one hundred. From the finalists, Marucci and Kilcher selected Stephanie Mejlaq, a teenager from Malta, to play a feisty Rotolo’s waitress in the film.
In keeping with the interactive element of the film, the next step came during the actual shooting of the film in New Orleans. “In line with everything else we were doing interactive, it made complete sense that when we came to town that we didn’t just snowball through and just some L.A. –production that left the town in shambles," Marucci clarifies. "We said lets reverse that trend. Let’s include everyone we can. Let’s reach out to people who might not have a chance to be on a movie set otherwise. There are so many artists and young kids looking for that chance.”
Spearheaded again by Kilcher and iQ Films, they set out to make the set as welcome and inclusive as possible, working with the Boys and Girls Club of New Orleans, local drama school groups, Covenant House, and local homeless shelters. Artwork was provided and featured in the film and many students appeared along with other locals as extras. “Anytime you can include the community, as filmmakers, we learn something about that community and at the same time, it’s a nice opportunity for them to get involved.”
The third and final way Marucci invited the general public to be a part of the film was through a post-production scene editing contest. Participants were given all the tools (multiple camera angles, music, numerous takes, etc.) to edit a specific scene in the movie through a program connected to the film’s website.
“Really, the first idea was the editing contest. I really love the post-production process. We came across a company that was creating an online editing website, so that’s when the light came on. Tying it into the theme of the movie being from multiple perspectives, it was a pretty easy decision.”
After the years of fundraising, making the film, and crafting its three-pronged interactive approach, The Power of Few is finally hitting theaters. The film opens this weekend in New Orleans and Baton Rouge and Marucci is excited to bring the film back to the city. “It’s exciting. And for everyone that was a part of it to get to see it and for me to bring it back, it’s all very special. It all happened to here, so where else should it roll out?”
In the end, Marucci and The Power of Few may have come to New Orleans for the tax breaks, weather, and culture, but unlike most, they left an indelible impression of good works. And in turn, as it often does, the city left a profound impression on him as well, and on the film.
He says of his experience in the city, “When you setup your camera in this city and you look through that lens, it’s amazing what you get. The texture of the city just pours through the lens . . . It speaks volumes for character. There is something about it. You can’t fake it.”
The locals already know this about our fair city, and hopefully it will catch on soon with Hollywood too . . . embrace us, and we will embrace you right back.
The Power of Few opens Friday, February 22 at The Theatres at Canal Place with showtimes at 11:10 a.m., 4:45, 7:15, and 9:40 p.m. daily.
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