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 screeningIn 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.
MY BIG BREAK Q&A:
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 http://www.mybigbreakmovie.com/.