Your new movie The Last
Deal - in a few words, what is it about?
about a blackmarket cannabis dealer that tries to make one final score
before getting squeezed out of the business when marijuana becomes legal
What inspired you to make a movie about the borderline legal
marihuana trade in California, and what can you tell us about your
research on the subject?
been looking to make an action/crime film for quite some time but
couldn't find a strong enough and unique enough vehicle to set my lead
actor in. I have some close longtime friends in the cannabis
industry and I was trading a lot of cannabis stocks which taught me about
the legal side of the business, so I had some knowledge on the subject
from growing to selling and the legal ramifications. When one of my
close friends who started as a cannabis grower turned seller was slowly
getting squeezed out of the business when marijuana became legal, I saw
the opportunity to have a character with his back against the wall.
Other sources of inspiration when writing The
and gangster movies from the 70s as well as anti-heroes played a part.
I watched a 1970s Cassavetes film in October 2019 about a gentleman's club
owner, Ben Gazzara, that owed a gambling debt, and he made a deal that he
shouldn't have with the wrong people. I thought that's a simple
enough story, have a guy that owes money and makes a deal with the wrong
people. So that night, I used my cannabis backdrop for the story and
put the Ben Gazzara character into my main character's shoes. I
wrote up a quick outline and showed a couple of my friends. They
liked it so I showed my producer friend and veteran stunt coordinator Carl
Ciarfalio the idea. He liked it as well so I started writing the
first draft. We were shooting the movie less than a year later.
Pretty crazy. Doesn't always happen that way. But the pandemic
and lock-down helped since no one was working and I was able to get this
wildly talented cast and crew. We turned a really bad situation into
Do talk about The Last
Deal's approach to the crime thriller genre!
never thought too much about being genre specific cause I had to tell it
my own voice, but I was very aware that I wanted a slick Michael Mann
synthwave type sexy film. I wanted the audience to be empathetic
towards Vince, the main character, so every decision he made, every word
he'd said, although illegal at times, the audience would root for him.
The 70s and noirs from the 40s and 50s focused on the anti-hero that you
want to root for. So I more so placed my character in those shoes
and what a Robert Mitchum from Out of the Past would do. It's very
40s and 50s inspired with these characters that you shouldn't root for but
A few words about your directorial approach to your story at hand?
wanted the character to always be behind. Just when you thought he'd
get ahead, something else would happen. I used the George Lucas
approach to Indiana Jones, where he was heavily inspired from the short
serials that came out in theaters before your main show. Every 10
minutes the character would fall off a cliff or something drastic.
So I did the same with Vince. In post-production I wanted to make
sure I could cut the film so it'd slowly build and momentum would keep
picking up. I wanted everything to always be very tense and
anxious. Ryan Liebert, our editor, did an amazing job creating
the tense and energetic pace of the film. To keep the tension
up while shooting, I told Anthony Molinari, who played Vince, that I wrote
the film very anxiety driven, and that feeling should come through in the
character but without him busting at the seams. It's a fine line
cause you don't want the audience to be constantly anxious but you want
them interacting with your story and characters. I believe Anthony
did an amazing job creating this character that we want to root for while
he's in way over his head.
What can you tell us about The
Last Deal's key cast, and why exactly these people?
lead actor Anthony Molinari was a suggestion from my producing partner
Carli Ciarfalio. It was important that the lead actor have a stunt
background so I could keep all action on-screen and not cut away.
Anthony was perfect because not only could he act but he's a veteran stunt
performer. Anthony recommended Sala Baker, another stunt performer,
to play the Boss. I remember talking with Sala on the phone for the
first time and he has a New Zealand accent. Such a great device for
a bad guy! It's like Hanz Gruber in Die Hard. I love bad guys
with accents, and Sala is an amazing actor. We cast Mister
Fitzgerald from New York to play Bobby, and I couldn't have been more
blessed to have him in the movie. He's such an amazing actor and a
great human. Jeffri Lauren, who plays Vince's girlfriend Tabitha, was
probably my easiest cast because no one in the casting process exhibited
everything I pictured in the lead than her. She's such a great
talent and incredibly dedicated. Mike Ferguson who's the hardest
working actor in Hollywood was an automatic cast as well. The man
works more than anyone I ever met and since we shot during the lockdown he
was available. I was very fortunate to be able to have all these
actors as well as the rest of the cast in the film.
talk about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere!
busy and very full days. It was an ambitious shooting schedule, but
because we had a fairly small crew each day it gave the impression of a
very chill environment even though no minute was wasted. I was
blessed with an amazing DP, Dominic Lopez, that has a chill vibe and is an
amazing DP so that helped trickle down to everyone else. Anthony was
also very dedicated and guided but his emotions are fairly even off-camera
so that trickled down with the cast. Everyone bought in on what we
were doing. We would have 2-3 company moves on most days. We'd
start in Burbank, move several miles away to Ventura Blvd for another
scene and end up several more miles away on Sunset Blvd for our night time
scene; that was a normal day. I built a script that was a low-budget
movie disguised as a higher budgeted picture which meant a lot of
locations. I prep a lot and I've been directing for quite some time
now so I knew I could make it all work or die trying. All the grip
and electric fit inside the back of Kia so it didn't require a lot of time
per set-up. This gave me the opportunity of giving the actors at
least a few takes and getting plenty of coverage even though we'd have
three company moves and would shoot 5-6 pages a day on average. I
wanted everyone to have the opportunity of doing their best and exploring
their choices. It was very free in that regard and I made my days
which was important.
$64 question of course, where can The
Last Deal be seen?
open in 21 theaters across the United States on February
on VOD on February
Anything you can tell us
about audience and critical reception of The
response has been amazing so far. We sold out at the Boston
International Film Festival and at the 400 seat Chinese Theater in
Hollywood for Dances With Films film festival. Dances With Films is
one of the biggest indie festivals in the country and we were one of the
top three selling films at the festival. There's videos on-line of
both crowds standing and applauding. I've been very humbled by the
response so far.
Any future projects you'd like to
things settle down, I'm currently writing an action film that I'm almost
half-way through the first draft of the script. I'm hoping it's my
next film unless hired for something else.
What got you into filmmaking in the first place,
and did you receive any formal educaiton on the subject?
bug caught when my father would project super 8mm family home movies on
the living room wall. I remember being about five or six years old
and completely mesmerized by it. When he upgraded to one of those
giant VHS camcorders, I started making stop animation G.I. Joe short
films. After I graduated college, I moved to Los Angeles and
directed my first feature. I've had no formal education although I
do wish I did study film in college. But I've been doing this long
enough that I like to think I've learned a few things along the way.
can you tell us about your filmwork prior to The
Last Deal, I made three short films that did well in their own
regard and got me some recognition and somewhat steady work but I wasn't
getting the opportunities that I wanted nor regarded as a filmmaker like I
would have liked. I did direct a feature and produced and/or
directed three feature docs but I wasn't getting that satisfaction I
wanted. The opportunities weren't there and it's near impossible to
get any type of real funding without some serious "move the
needle" elements in place. I knew I had to make a very
commercial film that still beat to my heart. I looked for years for
a script like The
Last Deal. You have to go out and write it
yourself sometimes unless you have a roommate, friend or friend of a
friend that has a script. But all that experience that I gained was
what led me to making this movie the ambitious way that I did and
gathering the cast and crew to make it happen. If I didn't have
all those years of training, there is no way I would have gotten the
actors and crew that came aboard nor make the days that were written in
the schedule. We had over 60 locations in some unique places with multiple
company moves daily, it's quite crazy but with teamwork we got it
How would you describe yourself as a
very prepared and if I'm not it makes me very anxious. I'm like your
grandparent that shows up to the airport five hours early although I never
actually did that. But I think my preparation is what makes me very
calm on set and allows me to have fun. At the end of the day, I just
want to explore and have creative opportunities while staying serious to the plan
ahead. I think that's where the magic comes from is when you can
pivot on an idea you originally had but because you already thought out
all the possible outcomes, you can recognize a better option when it
appears. I like to create a safe environment for everyone to play in
and that they feel safe to collaborate and explore their talents. A
lot of the fun for me is collaborating with others. Playing jazz as
some say. You bring in all these people that are the best you could find
at what they do, so I want them to feel safe to explore and take chances
and be the best they can be. Many times the actors would give me
different lines to try or choices and I love hearing them cause a lot of
them make it into the final product. I mean you can't take every
suggestion and you have to weigh them out but on every film, I make a
speech on the first day that I want anyone in the cast or crew to not be
afraid to take chances and make suggestions if something isn't working.
Cause if it isn't working on set, it may not work in post.
Filmmakers who insprie you?
a big Christopher Nolan fan. I love how he brings all the elements
of filmmaking to life. I'm a very emotional filmmaker and I love
score and music, and Nolan does that coupled with his editorial smash
cutting style. I'm also a big fan of filmmakers that use their own
original voice without being pretentious. It's a very fine line
sometimes where a director is communicating through their soul vs sense
memory from other filmmakers they watched. A good example of the
former is Sean Baker, I love everything he's done. It's so
refreshing and he channels some Terrence Malick in all his works which I
love. I love the wide angle Emmanuel Lubezski style of shooting.
Taylor Sheridan is a big inspiration behind my writing. He gets
right to the point in his scripts without too much exposition.
like the 40s and 50s noirs like Asphalt Jungle and Sunset Blvd, the
Eastwood spaghetti westerns of the late 60s and 70s, the gritty crime
films from the 70s - and since I grew up in the 80s, Star Wars, Jaws and
... and of course, films you really
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
nothing I'd say I totally deplore because I applaud all filmmakers that
make a movie. No one goes into a film trying to make a bad film so
I'm pretty empathetic towards that. But having said that, to
play along with the question, I do have a short patience for films that
come off pretentious in their style or writing. Where the filmmaker
may possibly be trying too hard and the style isn't coming from an
original place. So, yeah if you're framing your shots in a
pretentious way all movie long, I have a pretty short fuse.
Your/your movie's website, social media,
We use our Instagram the most which is @TheLastDealMovie
Anything else you're dying to mention and
I have merely forgotten to ask?
out to the movies!
Thanks for the