Friday, November 13, 2009

Simply Mafia

I love DIY culture, this was probably my first chance to cover something in that vein.

Published Nov. 5, 2004, in the Keizertimes

"Simply Mafia" doesn't have a cast of thousands, just 22, and Hollywood's A-list actors weren't clamoring to audition.

Still, the cast seemed to enjoy themselves, and for producer, writer and director Zeek Earl, the real payoff was in the film's grand debut.

"We had estimated about 200 people would show up, but we had about 360 and raised about $1,000 for Nate Van Slochteren's medical bills," said Earl, a 17-year-old McNary student.

Van Slochteren is battling cancer, and the film is one of several local fund-raisers to help his family pay medical bills that are not covered by insurance.

"Simply Mafia" debuted last Friday at McNary. It is Earl's first feature-length film, clocking in at about an hour. He turned out two shorter efforts in the past three years.

"We filmed over about four months, but if I compressed all the time, it probably took about three weeks with editing to get it done," said Earl.

"Simply Mafia" tells the tale of rival gangsters seeking to secure the top spot in the underworld after boss Simply Dennis is killed.

Earl, son of Shepheard and Sharon Earl, said the idea for the film came from a closet at home.

"I found a closet full of suits and asked myself what I could do with all those suits. A mafia movie was one of the things that came to mind," he said.

Earl said that he knew where he wanted the movie to begin and how he wanted it to end, but the rest of it was put together on the fly.

"When we started filming I had the first two scenes written, but I wrote the rest of the it as we were filming and we improvised a lot of it on the spot," said Earl.

The film was shot in various locations in the Salem-Keizer area, from Riverfront Park to an abandoned train station in Brooks to the loft of the Earl family's barn on their small farm.

"Mostly we were looking for places where no one would harass a bunch of kids filming a movie," Earl said.

Earl said that the entire movie changed course several times when actors couldn't or didn't make their cue calls.

"My entire cast was a lot of fun, though, and I couldn't have done it without them," said Earl.

When it came time to name the film, the working title "Who Shot the Dalai Lama?" was scrapped in favor of the punchier, more concise "Simply Mafia."

The young director earned money to make the movie by working during the summer and filming weddings on the side.

When Earl produced his first film, he named his production company "Being Chased" after sheep on his farm that would chase people, which also explains why the logo appears in front of a short video clip of sheep roaming in a pen.

When he isn't busy behind the lens, Earl can be found on the soccer fields with the Valley League champion boys varsity team or with members of his church youth group. Film, however remains a favorite distraction.

"I took a film appreciation class a couple of years ago and started watching movies on my own. I realized that I had something to say and that I could make movies that appealed to me and my friends," he said.

Jason Heimerdinger, a fine arts teacher at McNary, said that Earl's improvements with "Simply Mafia," are visible over his earlier efforts.

"The biggest problem with most high school films is just having enough interesting material. Zeek has done a good job of honing his material and taking out the things that may only be funny to a few people," said Heimerdinger.

Earl said that the biggest challenge was simply wearing the many hats that a small production requires.

"In a normal film, they have costuming directors, make-up directors and so many other people, but I had to take on all those tasks myself. The most enjoyable part was putting it together during editing," said Earl.

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