Heading west to find fame and fortune is just what you do, darling. It worked for Mark Twain and it worked for the gold miners and it worked for Axl Rose, if the “Welcome to the Jungle” video is to be believed.
However, Charlotte Barrett and Sean Fallon turned around and headed east on a whim.
Boxed in by Los Angeles’ high cost of living and cramped spaces, the husband and wife filmmakers fled from Southern California in October 2008 to our sea of whatever-passes-for-tranquility around here. “I remember driving to our house like, ‘What are we doing?’ When we were getting off the 215, it was like, ‘Waitaminute, what did we just decide to do?’” Fallon muses.
“It just kind of worked,” Barrett intercedes. “We were living in Los Angeles in a four-plex with no A/C. I didn’t want to go back. I didn’t want to live there anymore. Vegas opened up. It was close enough where we could go back and forth, and it wouldn’t effect what we wanted to do with our lives.”
What they wanted to do, what they’d been doing, was write and make movies–something that’s increasingly freed from a New York/L.A. polarity by changing technology.
Writing collaborators at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts—where they were studying film and then spending all their nights in L.A. working on their scripts—Barrett and Fallon found success in a competition called Script Pipeline.
Fast-forward to the middle of ’09, when Barrett and Fallon found their theme: widespread economic calamity.
“We did move here in the midst of the foreclosure disaster. Every neighborhood has foreclosures. The way we kind of like dealing with a sad subject or a troubling subject is through humor,” Fallon says. “We just started thinking of that, and a character least capable of dealing with that situation. We kind of came up with Alexander.”
They started working on Virgin Alexander, a film that plays like a dreamy, neurotic Risky Business, wherein the titular virgin has his home foreclosed, and does what any reasonable person would do in that situation: Turn the place into a brothel in order to pay off the bank, then fall in love with one of the prostitutes.
The film’s plot may have been born of the withering economy, but it was another moment of Vegas serendipity that landed them their star.
Offered free tickets to Jersey Boys one day while wandering around the Fashion Show mall, the couple was instantly convinced the show’s main character, Rick Faugno, had to appear in their movie.
“I immediately tried to discount it, like I am 80 feet away, he’s a musical theater actor, he’s probably over-the-top. I don’t know how he comes across on camera. It’s totally different acting styles,” Fallon says. “In the [Jersey Boys] show, when the Four Seasons start getting big, they go on American Bandstand and they bring down these Jumbotrons and 1960s TV cameras. When [Faugno] hits the high note in ‘Sherry’, it cuts to a close-up and we both said out loud, ‘That’s Alexander.’ It’s like, ‘Oh, crap! You’re thinking it, too.’”
“We spent the whole intermission just pacing,” Barrett admits.
It took some time for Faugno to negotiate time off from the show—to the point where Barrett and Fallon had to keep telling co-stars Bronson Pinchot (Perfect Strangers) and Paige Howard (Adventureland) “we’re working on it” when they kept asking who would play Alexander.
“They had seen me in Jersey Boys and they sent a script and said they wanted me to look at the material,” Faugno recalls. “They basically wanted me to be in the movie without auditioning. I was like, ‘Oh wow, this is great.’ Anytime I can get out of auditioning, it’s a job for me. I read the script and immediately fell in love with it. I told my agent, ‘Yes, I want to do it. I don’t care if I’m losing money; I want to be a part of it.’”
Around the time Fallon and Barrett had entered Script Pipeline with another project, Denny Delivers, the duo started work on Alexander, they sent an early draft to Austin, Texas-based producer Houston Hill. He read it in January and liked it enough to put together a business plan to pitch potential investors.
By courting a large group who each contributed small amounts of money, Barrett and Fallon maintained creative control over the film for their production company with Hill, Mandrake Springs.
Fallon, a native of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., picked his hometown as a location because the film commission there doesn’t require permits or charge for access. Faugno and the rest of the cast and crew spent June 21-July 10 shooting there, 12 hours a day.
Nine months later, Virgin Alexander captured the Grand Jury Award and Audience Award for Best in Feature at the DC Independent Film Festival in March. Up in South Dakota, it took Best Feature at the Black Hills Film Festival. For July, it was the Las Vegas Film Festival’s Best Feature Film. Just recently on a homecoming tour, Alexander sold out two nights in nearby Albany, N.Y.
Now the trick is figuring out how to push the film to a wider audience, be it via a theatrical run or perhaps outlets such as Netflix Streaming or Hulu.
In the broader context, though, it’s an important victory for Vegas-based filmmakers, whether homegrown or expats from the traditional breeding grounds of New York and L.A. “You can literally make a movie anywhere,” Fallon says. “All the equipment is accessible to anyone. We edited film on our computer at home. … Basically the cost of living was so much cheaper than Los Angeles, We were like, ‘All right, we’ve got some breathing room for the time being.’ Virgin Alexander started to happen right when that would’ve been an issue.”
“Then finding all these actors here, Vegas is good to us,” Barrett says. “We’re so happy to be here.”