USC alumnus to showcase film at Union, with local talent

Nick Fricke

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A young filmmaker making his first feature film debut and a local film star are ready to premier their movie this coming Tuesday at Sacramento State.

Writer and producer Sage Bannick and actress Samia Doumit will be showing &Just Hustle& Tuesday at noon in the Hinde Auditorium in the University Union, followed by lecture afterwards with the two stars.

The movie, created by Bannick and director Ari Bernstein, is their first full-length feature film after several years of filming short stories. Both filmmakers met at the Hawaii Preparatory Academy 13 years ago and formed a friendship.

Following graduate school at the University of Southern California, the two immediately went to work on filming the movie.

&Just Hustle& is a detective movie filmed as an homage to French New Wave films such as Jean-Luc Godard&s &Breathless& and movies like &The Maltese Falcon.&

Johnny Mac, played by Bannick, is a private investigator who goes against his instincts and accepts a stalker case from a waitress.

As Mac follows the supposed stalker, he discovers he is a point man for a college gambling ring that is paying off a football player to make his team lose the national championship. When the authorities start to close in, Mac is the one who is now the focus of the scam.

&It was important for me to play the lead because we needed somebody who could be there 40 consecutive days,& Bannick said about his role as Johnny Mac. &Actors always have auditions that come up, so I felt more than qualified with my background to play the lead, plus (it was) out of utilitarian need.&

Filmed on a limited budget, Bernstein used the various types of film stock he had saved in his fridge for three years while attending graduate school at the USC. Bernstein and Bannick decided that a detective film would be the best genre for their project.

They would have access to different actors every day and film at sunset to get the lighting they desired. Being careful with the amount of film available, they would shoot two minutes of footage for 40 days, enough for an entire feature. The movie was filmed around a small area of downtown Los Angeles, using a diner as the main center for their operations.

The filmmakers made careful use of the film they had available, as there was little to waste on unnecessary cuts and bad takes. For certain types of scenes, different film stocks with different color saturations would be used.

&Every time the detective is investigating it&s in black and white as an homage to &Maltese Falcon,& every time the femme fatale and the guy are together, it&s in very saturated color & then slowly throughout the film that color de-saturates & as (Johnny Mac) is getting set up by (Naomi) to take the fall,& Bannick said.

The movie was shot silently on a non-sync camera, so dialogue and sound effects had to be added later in post-production. Bannick said this actually worked to their advantage because the loud highways and helicopters overhead did not affect the filming, resulting in less bad takes and less wasted film, although it did result in a tedious nine-month process of sound editing.

Chuck E. Weiss, a legendary blues musician, contributed his music to the soundtrack and also provides the narration for the movie.

&We felt very lucky we worked with someone with such amazing talent, and that really made the movie & it gave it a comedic undertone to a really dramatic piece,& Bannick said about Weiss& contribution to the sound.

The film features a variety of professional Hollywood talent, thanks to the connections Bannick and Bernstein have accumulated over the past few years as filmmakers.

Elfin Ramirez of &Napoleon Dynamite,& Jernard Burks of &Law and Order,& Jake Muxworthy of &I Heart Huckabees& and Benji Olson of the Tennessee Titans are just a few of many actors appearing in the film.

Muxworthy happens to be a childhood friend of Bannick, and Olson was an old friend at University of Washington and had been in one of their plays. When Olson signed a contract with the Titans, he gladly sponsored the movie and donated $15,000 to the filmmakers for the development and transferring the film.

One of the main stars of the film is Sacramento-native Samia Doumit, an actress who has been featured in Hollywood movies such as &The Hot Chick& and the television series &Boston Public.& Doumit plays the role of Naomi Rose, the cafe waitress who persuades Johnny Mac to take the stalker case, thus setting him up to take the fall for the college football scandal. A love story soon develops, all while Johnny continues to be deceived by Naomi.

Doumit had worked on Bannick&s previous projects, including a voice-over in &Cocaine Rules& and a role in &Denny&s: The Movie,& two short films Bannick wrote and produced in 2003. When casting for &Just Hustle& began, Doumit did not hesitate in accepting a part in the movie.

&We liked working with each other & and when (Sage and Ari) brought the idea of &Just Hustle& to me, I accepted &cause they are great to work with, and they are great writers and directors,& Doumit said. &The collaboration between us is awesome.&

Despite being shot on a limited budget, Doumit found &Just Hustle& to be fun to work on as the movie crew engaged in &guerilla filmmaking,& running to and from various locations at sunset for 40 days to get the right shots.

&That&s what art and creativity is all about, nothing is really set, it&s always moving,& Doumit said.

Doumit will be at the lecture presentation with Bannick following the movie screening, as she is supporting the film&s premier in her hometown.

After the theatrical tour, Bannick is hoping to shop the DVD version of the film to places like Amazon and Hollywood Video, with hopes of selling enough copies to cover the production fees, of which they still owe $50,000 to the actors for their services.

However, &Just Hustle& is already a success for Bannick and Bernstein as it has opened the door to more Hollywood projects with considerably larger budgets.

&Just by doing (this movie) we&ve moved so far of actually becoming filmmakers rather than just people who talk & if (Godard could make a cool movie) 40 years ago in France, there&s nothing stopping us right now from grabbing a camera, even if it&s non-sync & we&re gonna get it out to the people ourselves,& Bannick said.