Husband and wife team John Forrest and Lainee Frizzo of Alton make movies that cannot be pigeonholed into conventional categories.
“Our last project (a short film called ‘Innards’) got some attention and won some awards, but it was hard to categorize,” Frizzo says. “Was it a zombie film? Horror? Supernatural?”
Hardly surprising, as not many films are dedicated to “pica,” a disorder that … well, look up the meaning after you eat dinner.
Now the duo is at it again with their latest undertaking, a comedy from the female perspective entitled “Drinksgiving,” wrapping its initial filming in Alton last month.
While Frizzo describes it in her own unique way (“There are some shenanigans, some hijinks and a little bit of vomit”), the tagline actually reads, “A comedy about friends, family and growing up — whatever that means.”
The night before Thanksgiving, one of the busiest nights of the year for bars nationwide, has exploded in popularity in the last few years — and yet a feature film dedicated to the “unofficial holiday” (also known as “Blackout Wednesday”) has yet to be made.
“I was just thinking, this night is bigger than New Year’s Eve at the bars, and yet no one that I know of has ever made a movie about it,” Frizzo says.
Sarah, a 20-something in grad school, decides to throw a “grown-up party” for her friends rather than deal with the bar crowds, recruiting her friend Jake to help. As the evening wears on (and wears on Sarah), she begins to question, “Why did I get myself into this?”
“There are not really many female-driven comedies done from the female perspective,” Frizzo says. “‘Bridesmaids’ is a good example, but we take a different approach. Our character is kind of neurotic, too, but we definitely have our own spin on things.”
The comedy also ventures into some serious territory, examining friendship and romantic relationships, with some scenes coming out much more heartfelt than even the filmmakers planned or intended.
The couple assembled a motley crew of actors, directors, friends and movie magicians to bring their vision to life.
Matt Olmon from L.A. joined Alton’s own Bart Elfrink to direct (Elfrink is also director of photography). Pamela Mitchell, who worked with the team on “Innards,” returned to play the lead role as well as co-produce and cast the project, bringing together L.A. actors Keylor Leigh and Kari Wasoba, Jeff South (who also starred in “Innards”), Suki Peters from St. Louis (well-known in the area for her work with the Shakespeare Festival St. Louis and her “Game of Thrones” parodies), popular local actor and filmmaker Brian Jun and Jacob A. Ware (best known for his role as Federal Agent Harold Selby in “Boardwalk Empire”).
“The really magical part of this film was the collaborative effort between all of the producers, directors and actors,” Mitchell says. “For me, the greatest challenge (aside from playing Sarah) was heading the casting of the film, and getting the right people in the right place. I was incredibly fortunate that John and Lainee trusted my instincts so much, and we ended up getting what I felt was an incredible mix of talent that really gave this fun and wonderful script even more depth.
“I have met so many talented actors over the years, and to get to put them in one place and add new faces to the mix was so rewarding.”
Forrest and Frizzo co-wrote and co-produced, with Frizzo also taking on script supervision, catering supervision and financing.
With so much talent and experience on board, the filmmakers encouraged the actors to stray from the written lines, helping the characters come to life.
“We wrote a script, but we also wanted the actors to be free to improvise as much as they wanted,” Frizzo says. “I was amazed at how the actors would sometimes just take the story and run with it with improvised dialogue, and we just kept the camera rolling.
“There is so much good stuff, but the entire film takes place in one night, so we don’t want to have a marathon movie. We are cutting it down to a good length.”
“I come from an improv background in NYC and Los Angeles,” Mitchell adds. “We cast this movie to reflect that creative mentality … to have actors who can explore and expand on the scene, either physically or verbally, was the most important part of the casting.”
Filming in Alton
The Bossanova Martini Lounge in Downtown Alton is normally dark and empty at 1 p.m. on a Wednesday, but today is different.
Behind the locked doors, people are busy, bustling around the bar while making small talk and setting up lights and equipment. On this summer afternoon, the local hangout has been transformed into a movie set, filming a poignant scene for the film.
“It was a great place to shoot, and (Bossanova owner Russ Smith) was wonderful,” Frizzo says.
The majority of the footage was shot a little closer to home, however…John and Lainee’s home, to be exact.
“There were people everywhere,” Frizzo says with a combination of fond nostalgia and fatigue in her voice. “It was surreal to live there when you have sound stage equipment set up in your hallway. Things that would happen in the movie would happen to us in real life.
“We had people asking where serving spoons were, where to find the toilet paper.”
But Frizzo says more than frayed nerves, the close quarters actually created a bonding experience, along with memories she says she will treasure forever.
“Everybody got along great, and it was a fun shoot. People were actually crying when they were flying back home, saying it was like summer camp.”
Plans originally called for the movie to be filmed in L.A., until Frizzo began pricing the costs related to shooting locations near Hollywood, along with equipment rental and lodging.
“We did ‘Innards’ in three days, I think,” she recalls. “This was a 12- to 13-day shoot. The scheduling alone was challenging; trying to coordinate when people would be flying in from L.A. or New York, which scenes we could do, where people were going to stay.
“It was cheaper to fly people from L.A. to here and put them up than to shoot there, and in the end I really think it turned out great filming right here in Alton.”
Keylor Leigh, who plays Kelsey (the best friend”), is one of the actors flown in from L.A. for the project.
“We had such a good time as a group,” Leigh says. “Pam and I had a really fun dance scene in the party; we broke out our best junior high choreography for that one.
“Kari (Wasoba) is just all-around hilarious and completely kept us laughing both on and off camera. I had a hard time not breaking in our scenes together.”
When describing the film, it is hard to tell whether Leigh is describing the characters or the film crew.
“I think there’s something to be said for old friends that you have a history with. Your friends are your chosen dysfunctional family and you just learn how to love everyone and their quirks.”
Marriage and manuscripts
This is not John and Lainee’s first collaboration on a project. In fact, the two have written seven screenplays together to date.
“We both come up with ideas and characters,” Frizzo says. “He is much better at the storyline, the big picture and story form. I do most of the dialogue. He will give me a scene with bullet points and tell me what he wants to come out of it, and then I make it happen.
“He doesn’t like doing dialogue much. Me, on the other hand, my screenplays would be like ‘My Dinner with Andre,’ so together we make a good team.”
The two first met at a party thrown by a mutual friend, a fellow faculty member at Lewis and Clark Community College, in October 2006.
“We were talking about movies that first night, and have been together since,” Frizzo says. “I found out he used to write screenplays and was an agent in L.A. Shortly after we started going out, he read a script of mine and thought it would be a good idea to write one together.”
“Innards,” their first collaboration, was made into a successful short film, featuring “Drinksgiving” actors Pam Mitchell and Jeff South eating a variety of substances, including an air freshener (actually a jello mold) and aluminum foil (which really was aluminum foil).
The group still plans to turn the short film into a full-length feature.
“It is kind of on the back burner, but we have not forgotten about it; we just wanted to get this project done first,” Frizzo says. “That one also will be a higher budget, with more locations and special effects.”
A combination of full-time jobs, manuscript sharing, meetings with agents and shooting locations may sound a tad dizzying, especially for a couple, and when you throw a family into the mix, life can certainly get crazy … but it can also bring priorities to the forefront.
“Once (our son) Keegan came along, it really helped with time management, I think,” Frizzo says. “I thought having kids would take up all of your time, but you really can block out time for different things and be disciplined and it works out.”
The future of ‘Drinksgiving’
Filming in Alton has now wrapped. Post-production is aimed to be done and ready this fall.
“Matt and Bart are in the middle of editing right now, and our friend Justin has started to work on the music and composing the score,” Frizzo says. “We are also working on distribution and music rights and we hope to have a trailer out really soon.”
One scene is yet to be shot in L.A., and some voiceover work will be completed by the fall. While the budget is a closely guarded secret, Frizzo says it is safe to use the term “shoestring budget” (or, “floss budget,” as actor Brian Jun describes).
“I hope audiences watch this film and feel happy and empowered,” Mitchell says. “It’s really a story about a girl who is figuring out who and what are important to her, and why.
“It’s a bit raunchy, and true to real conversations that I know every woman has had with her friends, and hopefully encourages the viewers to appreciate the family that we choose … our friends.”
“We filmed a post-credits scene that I think people will find very funny, although it was awkward to film,” Elfrink says. “Be on the lookout for that.”
“(Sarah) isn’t freaking out about whether she’ll get married before she’s 30, she isn’t a sexy spy who specializes in martial arts and she didn’t just move to New York and immediately book a lead role in a Broadway musical,” Wasoba adds. “She’s a real person trying to have a real party, and the people around her are nuts. I want people to see this and relate.
AdVantage News will keep its readers up to date on the latest “Drinksgiving” news, including release dates and screenings.
The short film “Innards” is available at www.indiereign.com/v/6bdae.