The 90-minute feature-length indie film comes in “well below $500,000,” according to producer Tim Nash, but packs in plenty of Hollywood experience and Eastern Iowa scenery.
It’s the tale of two engineering students — hopeful romantic Quinn and serial dater Graham — who discover a mathematical formula for picking up women. It stars Brandon Baker from the 1999 Disney Channel film “Johnny Tsunami”; Reginald VelJohnson from the ‘90s sitcom “Family Matters” and the “Die Hard” and “Die Hard: 2” films; and Sasha Jackson from the film “Blue Crush: 2” and television’s “One Tree Hill.”
Baker’s co-conspirator is played by Fort Dodge native Mike Schminke, who has worked in Los Angeles and is now honing his comedy chops at Second City in Chicago.
The film, a year in the making, was shot last summer in Iowa City, Burlington and West Liberty. Before it hits the indie film festival circuit, local audiences, cast and crew can see a free sneak preview Saturday night at the Englert Theatre in Iowa City.
- Screening of “The Formula”
- 8 p.m. Saturday
- Englert Theatre
- COST: Free
Moving-making in Iowa offers the best of both worlds — Hollywood and the heartland — for the three Backrow partners who all have day jobs, but want to nudge more and more toward film work. Their two previous films — “Kung Fu Graffiti” and “The Wedge” — have grabbed enough industry attention that they decided to up the ante with “The Formula.”
“It’s our largest budget to date, but it’s not as high as you would think. It’s probably a pretty extreme low budget in comparison to the industry standard,” says Nash of Cedar Rapids, whose partners are writer/co-director Joe Clarke and executive producer Ravi Patel, both of Iowa City. All are University of Iowa graduates in their 20s and 30s.
“We’re still learning,” says Nash, 33. “We want to create something that will meet the Hollywood industry standard, but we want to keep the cost low. It’s the same as any other business model: Quality product at a low cost. …
“We think that we can continue to make quality films that people really enjoy. We can do that in the Midwest — we don’t need to move anywhere,” he says. “Iowa — and the Midwest in general — is extremely versatile. We can always find a cityscape if we need it, we can find pastoral scenes. It’s something that we really want to try to keep working towards, staying in the Midwest, doing what we’re doing, on an extremely low budget.”
He says proprietors readily opened their doors for location shoots, which range from Iowa City restaurants and bars and the Gaslight Apartments to the New Strand Theatre in West Liberty and a law office in Burlington. Other recognizable spots include the UI engineering building and City Park in Iowa City.
“The people are fantastic,” Nash says. “That is one of the things we love about working in Iowa City. A couple of us have talked about doing the Los Angeles thing — I lived in Los Angeles in 2002. It was fun and a different experience, but the great thing about working in Iowa is, when you’re making a film, people get excited about it. They get excited their establishment is going to be part of a film.”
Finding the Hollywood actors was pretty easy, too, Nash says.
Baker was at the top of Clarke’s wish list, so they sent the script to Baker’s agent. They liked it, and Baker came onboard. For the others, Nash says, “It was Ravi’s idea to see what would happen if we just started calling these agents” offering up the script for perusal.
“The concept is so simple — it’s these Midwestern kids who reach out to Hollywood to see if they want to be in our movies.”
VelJohnson arrived on a Saturday, shot his scenes, and left the next day. Jackson was in town for three or four days, Nash says, which makes it easier to attract established actors for indie films.
About 20 people worked on the crew, from a professional cinematographer to others working for room and board, just to be in on the experience.
The sky’s the limit for indie films these days, if they can grab the attention of heavy-hitters like Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, whose first film, “Good Will Hunting,” grabbed two Oscars and launched their careers.
“We hope that a distribution company will find us. I think that they’re out there,” Nash says.
It’s a matter of time and getting “The Formula” into film festivals where it will reach wider audiences. Regardless of where it’s screened, Nash says: “We just want people to have a good time watching it.”