Monday, September 28, 2009


On Wednesday, September 23, Bryn Mawr Film Institute welcomed filmmaker Tony Zierra, producer Elizabeth Yoffe, and actor Chad Lindberg (October Sky, The Fast and the Furious) for a special screening of the hot new documentary, MY BIG BREAK. Zierra's fascinating film, ten years in the making, captures the struggles of his four actor roommates as they try to make it in Hollywood and what happens when three of them miraculously achieve their Hollywood dreams.

(L to R) Filmmaker Tony Zierra, Producer Elizabeth Yoffe, and actor Chad Lindberg sign BMFI's guest book before the screening

In 1996, filmmaker Tony Zierra found himself with no budget, stars, or crew. So he filmed the only thing he could—the daily struggles of his four actor roommates. Unexpectedly, three of them—Wes Bentley (American Beauty, Ghost Rider), Brad Rowe (Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss), and Chad Lindberg—get their big breaks as Zierra's camera rolls. As the three become famous, the fourth actor, Greg Fawcett--pushing thirty and with no work in sight--gets increasingly desperate. My Big Break uniquely captures on camera both the good and bad that comes when someone achieves their dreams.

The initial cut of the film—then titled Carving Out Our Name—made waves at the 2001 Toronto International Film Festival, and overnight Zierra became the toast of Hollywood. However, that version of the film was never released because some thought that it would negatively impact the careers of the rising young actors involved. Frustrated, Zierra destroyed the film and disappeared from Hollywood for five years. Now, Zierra has reemerged with this brand-new cut, culled from over 200 hours of raw footage, which also includes a 2008 follow-up on the roommates’ careers.

The audience was full of questions at the Q&A following the screening.


Q: What was it like, having three rising stars living in one house?
Chad Lindberg: Between the three [working] actors, there was no ego in the house. We were all happy for the others when they got parts.

Elizabeth Yoffe: You’ve got to understand, the house was this crazy place; when the guys started to make it, everyone wanted to hang out there, party there, crash there. It was just incredible, the astronomical odds of three actors making it in one house. And it's not like the house looked like anything special, but people thought it was. I was always kind of on the fringe of the group, but I remember a friend asked me one time if I could get her into a party there because she thought that something might rub off on her, some of the good luck.

Tony Zierra: And we didn't want to leave. Wes had a hotel room [after he was famous], but he was crashing there all the time.

CL: Yeah, I moved out, but I was back every day. The house just kind of glowed. There was a lot of love there.

Q: What are the relationships with the roommates like now?
TZ: The movie has two sets of credits, one for Carving Out Our Name and one for this version. All three actors were listed as producers on Carving; Chad has been supportive the whole time, and he's here, but the others are not. 
The great thing about this movie is it is not about these guys; I use them to tell the reality of what happens. One day I hope that we're all here and can do the Q&A together.

Q: Tony, what did you do to support yourself when you weren't filming?
TZ: Besides the occasional garage sale, I was working in a dub house. It was strange--I would get the tapes of American Beauty and I would know that Wes [Bentley, who played Ricky Fitts] was there at home. That was interesting.

Q: What are some of your favorite scenes in MY BIG BREAK?
TZ: I love Wes on the roof, talking when he was at the peak of his career; when Chad agreed to have the operation [plastic surgery] on camera. Also on the farm with Greg [Fawcett, when he breaks down].

Q: Chad, what was your acting training like?

CL: I started acting in high school, doing school plays, and I realized that that's what I was good at and wanted to do. Jim Caviezial (The Passion of the Christ) was also from my home town [Mt Vernon, Washington]. I saw him in a spread in the paper about being in Wyatt Earp, and I said, 'If he can do it, I can do it.' So I picked up a paper, made some calls, and got myself an agent in Seattle. I worked for a few years there before graduating, then moved to L.A., where I was fortunate enough to get work right away.

Q: [Spoiler] What changed your decision about plastic surgery, Chad?

CL: I always knew there was something I didn't like about the way I looked, growing up, but I could never put my finger on it. Going to Hollywood, they're very quick to point out what they don't like about you. I would go to my agent and aks her, 'Why aren't I getting these lead parts?' and she said, 'I gotta be honest with you, it's your chin.' So I took out a loan and was all ready to get plastic surgery [at age 22] but my friends talked me out of it at the last minute. It was the right decision. Doing that, I grew into myself and I really felt good about myself for the first time. I pushed down any dissatisfaction about my looks for like ten years, until one day I was home, playing a board game with my mother and sister, and it struck me again how dissatisfied I was about my chin. My family sat me down and told me I should get the surgery if it would make me feel better about myself. Their blessing made all the difference. So I called Tony and told him I was getting it and asked him if he wanted to film me. It's the reality of the business to change your looks--everyone does it, big stars included--and even though I did the surgery for me, but I just wanted to show it. I wanted to be truthful. We wanted to make this film as a teaching tool for actors and those interested in the business, not just a candy-coated version of Hollywood like Entourage, so it was really important to be honest.

Q: There’s a gap in the documentary from about 2001 to 2008. What did you do in between?

CL: Well, I was on my way to film The Rookie, and my agency decided to clean house and dropped me. My agent was out of town at the time, so she didn't even call me, my manager did. I got some work but things were rough and I moved back home for awhile with my parents, at age 30. It's tough, especially when you get recognized every day but can't pay your bills. But things have been good lately. I just finished filming a movie with Ed Harris, Once Fallen, which was incredible.

Q: What made you revisit the project, Tony?
TZ: The film is dedicated to Heath [Ledger], who was a friend. His death woke us up to the importance of getting this project done, so people could learn from it. It's a messy world in L.A., these guys are like commodities. Everything's given to you for free if you're on top, but the town will spit you out if you fall.

Q: Was it all worth it?
CL: For me, yeah, because acting is in my blood. I have that drive, since I was little. It's blood, sweat, and tears, and there have been many times where I said I'd had enough, but I love it still. I love those highs and even those lows are good sometimes too. I'll do it until I die. It's a very seductive town--very enchanting and very hellish. I call it "Hell-A", but I love to act and perform and it makes it all worth it.

TZ: It's hard for people who can't get parts or work, and it’s hard in a different way for the people who are famous. But we still love it. Even when you're out of work, the hope still comes--that one part, you pay your rent for a year.

CL: You can't give up. If it's in your heart you can't give up.

EY: It's important to realize that this was a movie about four guys. For women and young girls it’s that much harder. The pressures for looks and competition is that much worse. If you're going to L.A., be prepared, and don't take it personally.

Q: The release of Carving Out Our Name got blocked in 2001. What's the key to your exhibition strategy this time?

TZ: I learned my lesson. Last time we started in L.A. and were going to move East. This time I'm doing the exact opposite--we're working the East Coast now and about to premiere in London. So far no one in L.A. has seen it and that will be the last place it will be shown.

Find more information about MY BIG BREAK and watch a trailer online at

Monday, September 21, 2009

Toronto International Film Festival 2009 - Juliet Goodfriend's Notes

A failed tweeter, I submit in good, old-fashioned prose my comments about the 30 films I viewed in part or in their entirety. As has become the custom, they are grouped in approximate descending order of appeal to what I take to be our audience at BMFI. Remember, too, that I have previously submitted notes on the couple dozen films we saw at Cannes ’09, some of which were major hits here at Toronto.

Emerging themes from Toronto: Uncertainty, infidelity, intoxication, and apocalypse—any relationship you see among them is purely intentional. What I noticed most was that there was very little blood in “My Toronto”. So here goes:

Worth showing and seeing
(I only hope we can screen them. Some we will not be able to get, of course, due to the unruly, anti-competitive, and downright annoying practices of certain distributors, or due to timing problems. But we will try.)

A Serious Man (Coen Brothers, USA)
One of the very best in fest from every angle. Is this the Coen brothers writing Woody Allen? Manhattan Murder is surely an ancestor. The pathos of uncertainty, the pretension of religion, and the humor of apocalypse. I smile just thinking of this film, filled with unknown actors and sly ideas. Damn the distributor who won’t let us make them money showing it! See it at the Ritz, unless you hear otherwise from us.

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (Terry Gilliam, UK)
Heath Ledger’s last role and a showpiece for Christopher Plummer, this film demonstrates the glories of computer generated effects as it explores the “Devil’s Bargain”. I fell asleep a few times only to wake in the dream world of this delightful piece. No uncertainty about this fantasy world.

The Most Dangerous Man In America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers (Judith Ehrich & Rick Goldsmith, USA)
Even though, or maybe because, I lived through this time I found this re-telling riveting. If five Presidents lied how can we trust any? The protagonist looks old, but the story feels very up to date.

Ahead of Time (Bob Richman, USA)
How is it we did not know the wonderful story of this remarkable and charming woman, now in her late 90s and still smart as a whip. Ruth Gruber was the youngest Ph.D. from the University of Cologne and landed jobs as a journalist that took her to the Soviet Arctic and just about everywhere else on earth. I hope we can invite her to show this film!

The Invention of Lying (Ricky Gervais, Mathew Robinson, USA)
Lighthearted though it is, this film annoyingly confuses absence of super-ego and free-wheeling id with the inability to lie. You will laugh as I did at the situations this absence provokes. But it is so reminiscent of Jim Carrey and The Truman Show, etc. that it doesn’t seem as fresh as its creators would like.

Capitalism: A Love Story (Michael Moore, USA)
Talk about apocalypses—we are living one and it’s called capitalism. Is Moore overstating the evils of capitalism? I doubt it the way things are going. I cried in this one, so disturbing is it. See it starting Oct. 2 at BMFI—maybe you will just enjoy it and not cry. Maybe we should be screening Sicko again! Where is FDR when we need him?

The Art Of The Steal (Don Argott, USA)
This is the Barnes story written as the Rape of Philadelphia. After seeing it one yearns for hear the “other side”. Full of people we know (the first person on the screen is my friend since kindergarten!), this film needs to be screened at BMFI and followed by a panel discussion. But for now, hey, it changed my view of the Barnes’s move and made me question the means to the end and the end as well.

Lebanon (Samuel Maoz, Israel)
Imagine Das Boot and Hurt Locker then squeeze yourself into the inside of a tank that gets lost in a battle and you have the feeling this extraordinary film evokes. All of it takes place in a tank and it could be a tank in any battle on earth. You would still come away sure that war is hell and then you die! Filmmaking at its best.

Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans (Werner Herzog, USA)
He’s done a splendid feature with a dry and degenerating Nicolas Cage as a policeman gone bad. Herzog’s genius keeps right on working. Oddly enough he denies any relationship to the earlier film of the more or less same name. If you love police dramas this twisty, quirky one will have you laughing! One of the best of fest. Look for the talking alligators and iguanas.

The Time That Remains or “The Present Absentee” (Elia Suleiman)
This is a fascinating tour de force of cinema, though its slow and quiet pace makes viewing it a bit trying. Influences of Tati abound in his use of sound and in a few funny scenes. It depicts five or six decades of life for a Palestinian family (Suleiman’s) in Israel. That nothing changes is the point. Who is present and who absent is hard to tell. Israel’s inability to effectively govern the Palestinians is subtly but definitely part of the message.

Leaves of Grass (Tim Blake Nelson, USA)
Edward Norton plays two identical twins: one a philosophy professor and the other a brilliant marijuana grower. The teaching scenes demonstrate Tim’s love of classics and his liberal arts education. The other twin’s scenes take place in what is meant to be Tulsa, Tim’s hometown, and its depiction of the Jewish life in Tulsa is right out of his childhood there. Very smart and very funny till the last “act” where it falls into teenaged slapstick and stoops to an audience that would not have loved the first two acts! A problem. Nevertheless the first two acts and Norton’s and Nelson’s performances are worth the price of admission.

Almost, But Not Quite There, Definite Maybes
Shameless (Jan Hrebejk, Czech Republic)
As a husband realizes his wife’s nose is too big, we realize that their marriage has even bigger problems. This film captures domestic decline in a fairly charming manner.

Love and Other Impossible Pursuits (Don Roos, USA)
The story of how a blended family can go wrong. If Natalie Portman could be any more self absorbed and destructive I cannot imagine. No one to like in this film, other than the stepson.

Snowblind (Vikrum Jayanti, USA)
The Iditarod as seen through the eyes of a team accompanying a legally blind young woman. Her drive is spectacular, the movie not so, but if you never expect to get to Alaska on snow team, then see it for the wonderful photography.

Google Baby (Zippi Brand Frank, Israel)
A documentary demonstrating the global surrogacy industry, with eggs from the US, carried by impoverished, desparate Indian women, and passed on to would-be parents from almost anywhere. While it is shocking and interesting, it is not quite crisp enough. The entrepreneur running this business is more likeable than the gun-slinging egg donor whose lifestyle we hope is not in her genes. Do we need more babies who grow up to be rednecks?

Creation (Jon Amiel, UK)
If only it had been less about Darwin’s grief over his daughter’s death and more about the origin of the Origin of the Species, I’d have liked it more. The “war on god” theme may have interesting responses, but the movie descends into sappiness. Would that Toby Jones as Huxley had a bigger part.

The Men Who Stare At Goats (Grant Heslov, USA)
George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, and Kevin Spacey have more fun in their roles than I did watching it, though a satire on the US in Iraq is always some fun!

Up in the Air (Jason Reitman, USA)
George Clooney, always wonderful to watch, plays the consummate road warrior, at home in the airport. A simple moral: the value of family. Not quite BMFI fare, but good to watch on a plane!

Chloe (Atom Egoyan, France/Canada)
Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore almost make this movie a success, but not quite. It is uncertainty about infidelity (there are the themes), but overwrought.

Le Refuge (Francois Ozon, France)
To be honest, it was with some discussion that I figured out the movie was about motherhood—of all types: selfish, aloof, frantic, abandoning. Very slow and lovely. Well made, but not long-lasting. A lot of focus on the pregnant belly.

Accident (Pou-Soi Cheang, Hong Kong, China)
A fast moving and very smart film of a hit gang who make every murder look like an accident. The protagonist believes he and his mates are themselves targeted to die. You have to watch it carefully.

The Search (Pema Tsedan with Pierre Rissient, China)
The scenery of Western China or Tibet is beautiful and the arch of the slowly emerging love story carried me along. A filmmaker's long search fails to find the right local and classically trained actors to use in a movie of a famous myth about a king who gives away everything including his eyes. Is this about Tibet giving away everything to China? Could be.

Definitely Not Going to Screen at BMFI; Missable

The Road
(John Hillcoat, (USA)
If this were one hour shorter, or even 30 minutes shorter, I would have thought it a success. But this apocalypse takes too long to climax. Read the book.

Dorian Gray (Oliver Parker, UK)
How disappointing: great story reduced to drunken party scenes. Such high production values and Colin Firth don’t save it. And the music… ugh.

The Last Days of Emma Blank (Alex van Warmerdam, Netherlands)
So dreary a subject nothing could get me to stay through it.

The Hole (Joe Dante, USA)
3-D is made for showing holes with no ends, but I ended this one early.

Eccentricities of a Blond Hair Girl (Manoel di Oliveira, Portugal/Spain/France)
Though the director is now 102 years old, he manages to tell a short story of a young man who cannot escape one unfortunate predicament after another in trying to do good and marry his dream girl.

White Material (Claire Denis, France)
What happened to clarity, Claire? Enough hand held, out of focus pans to make anyone ill. And no one I spoke to had any idea of who was who! But as an atmosphere piece, OK. Now I know what it is like to be a white coffee plantation owner with an insane son and a couple husbands who feels she must continue and risks everyone’s safety from the marauders who are freeing the country from colonialism or something.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Over 200 enthusiastic filmgoers enjoyed Violet Mendoza and Jake Willing's locally-produced feature NO BOUNDARIES at BMFI's screening on Tuesday, September 15. The filmmakers introduced the powerful romantic drama and joined cast and crew for a lively Q&A after the film.

Co-Director/DP Jake Willing and Writer/Co-Director Violet Mendoza

Shot in twenty-two locations throughout the Philadelphia area, as well as in the South American countryside, NO BOUNDARIES stars a talented local cast that includes Mark McGraw (Tug McGraw's son) and introduces newcomer Dani Garza. When a shy South American immigrant, Isabel Moreno (Garza), comes to Philadelphia to work and raise money for her family back home, she doesn’t expect to fall in love with an American immigration officer (McGraw). Danger threatens them both, and Isabel is forced to choose between her new love and her new life in America.

Cast and crew reunited at BMFI (from left to right): John D'Alonzo, producer Joyce Koh, Dexter Wuest, Victor Velez, Tatiana St. Phard, directors Violet Mendoza and Jake Willing, Tyrone Holt, Christopher J. Cabott, Esq., Dani Garza, and Garrett Ching.

Writer/co-director Violet Mendoza began to write NO BOUNDARIES in the summer of 2006. After working in television for over a decade, Mendoza spent the next five years managing video and film projects domestically and internationally. She now devotes her attentions to her own production company, Violet Pictures.

Jake Willing, NO BOUNDARIES' co-director and director of photography, is the president of EyeLight Pictures. He has worked behind the camera in both television and film, and has won national acclaim for his lensing of A&E’s Intervention, the Discovery Channel’s The Shadows of War and BET’s number one series premiere, American Gangster.

The husband-wife filmmaking team is looking forward to their next television and film creations, which they promise will always be filmed in the Philadelphia area to take advantage of all of the local talent!

For more information about NO BOUNDARIES, visit or become a fan of the film on Facebook.

If you liked NO BOUNDARIES, stay tuned for other filmmaker appearances at BMFI. On September 23 at 7:30pm, watch Tony Zierra's searing documentary MY BIG BREAK, which captures on film how four actor roommates cope when three become the toasts of Hollywood. Zierra, producer Elizabeth Yoffe, and profiled actor Chad Lindberg (October Sky, The Fast and the Furious) will introduce and discuss BMFI's screening.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Bryn Mawr Film Institute kicked off its Fall Cinematheque series of weeknight screenings this Tuesday, September 8 with a special showing of Alexander Olch's new documentary THE WINDMILL MOVIE, about his mentor and film professor Richard P. Rogers. Olch, a fashion designer known for his high-end line of men's accessories, came down from New York to discuss his first feature film, which premiered at the New York Film Festival.

For twenty years independent filmmaker Richard P. Rogers tried to make a documentary about his own life and the privileged community in the Hamptons where he spent his summers as a youth. When he died from brain cancer in 2001, he left behind boxes and boxes of raw footage. The footage remained untouched until Roger’s widow, acclaimed photographer Susan Meiselas, asked his friend and former pupil Alexander Olch to complete her husband’s project. Rogers had been a mentor to Olch since they met at Harvard, where Olch was a student and Rogers a senior lecturer.

In THE WINDMILL MOVIE, Olch seamlessly blends reality and fiction to finish the film that Rogers could never quite pin down. The finished film combines together more than 300 hours of Rogers’ footage and information culled from his private journals with scripted narration by Olch and recreated scenes featuring professional actors. The finished work conveys both a filmmaker’s struggle to document his life and Roger’s thoughts on the greater meaning of privilege and the WASP culture into which he was born. Rogers’ friends and colleagues—including actors Wallace Shawn and Bob Balaban—also appear in the very personal film.

Highlights from the Q&A


Olch was in the process of making a documentary with Rogers when Rogers got ill, and all plans were put on hold. After Rogers passed away, Susan, Rogers' widow, asked Olch to come by and fix the Avid editor in their apartment. The project turned into an afternoon of looking at the footage still loaded in the machine, and Susan asked him to try and put together something from Rogers' tapes.

"Originally it was just me cutting together footage for their friends, but after a couple of weeks it seemed like there was more to the project than that. It took five years to find out what that was... As his student, I saw it as his last assignment."


"Robert Benton, the screenwriter of BONNIE AND CLYDE and a resident of Rogers' town in the Hamptons, gave me two pieces of advice. He said, 'Look, the most important film to make is the one about Dickie [Rogers], not Georgica [his summer home].' The second thing he said was: 'Sometimes the most important end of the pencil is the eraser.' That thought helped when cutting down 300 hours of footage to the essential story."


"As a student, I knew him [Rogers] to be the most charming and funny man I'd ever met. I took this project on faith that it would be easy to make a movie about this funny, charming man. But he didn't want his movie to be funny, and when people filming him captured that side of him, he would tell them to turn the camera off. So I was stuck with 300 hours of footage and my star is only in two hours of it and he's not that funny. I asked myself who his funniest friend was and brought in Wally [actor Wallace Shawn] to lighten the film up. We shot 40 hours of footage of him. But ultimately I realized that he [Rogers] was still so engaging it wasn't necessary."


"Working in his loft on his equipment, in a way I kind of became [Rogers], personally, kind of assumed the aura about him. When Noni's [Rogers' girlfriend] is talking to me and the camera, she's talking to me like she would have talked to him."


"I've known him longer through the footage than I did as a man alive and it's hard to tell what's invented and what is real. But that is part of the adventure."

If you missed THE WINDMILL MOVIE at BMFI, catch the broadcast premiere on HBO on Wednesday, October 28 at 8pm.

Keep an eye out for our other fabulous filmmaker appearances this fall! Next up we have NO BOUNDARIES, a locally-produced drama, which will be discussed by husband-wife filmmaking team Violet Mendoza and Jake Willing as well as members of the cast and crew on Tuesday, September 15 at 7:30pm.

Then catch Tony Zierra's fascinating documentary on the cost of making it in Hollywood, MY BIG BREAK, on Wednesday, September 23 at 7:30 pm, discussed by Zierra, producer Elizabeth Yoffe, and actor Chad Lindberg.