A movie is being made about Jack Durant, the founder of Durant’s, the iconic Phoenix restaurant. We’ll show you how Durant’s colorful character is the highlight of the film being shot here in Phoenix.
TED SIMONS: The man behind an iconic Phoenix restaurant is now the subject of a full-length feature film. Christina Estes takes us behind the scenes to show us how and why the movie was made.
TRAVIS MILLS: I keep passing this restaurant and I've heard all these rumblings about it. So I thought, okay, I'll dig a little deeper. And then I found out about Jack.
CHRISTINA ESTES: More than 50 years after Jack Durant tried to make it in the movies, a movie is being made about him.
TRAVIS MILLS: He's a legend. He was never quite good and never quite bad.
CHRISTINA ESTES: And His life story has never quite been clear, not even to Travis Mills, he wrote and directed the film "Durant's Never Closes," it's based largely on Arizona author Mabel Leo's book, "The Saga of Jack Durant."
TRAVIS MILLS: He came here from Tennessee and he spent some time in Miami Arizona where he supposedly helped run a brothel. He worked in the mines and helped run a brothel and then he also spent some time in Vegas where supposedly he knew Bugsy Segal, the famous mobster. Then he came to Arizona and opened Durant's in 1950.
CHRISTINA ESTES: According to Leo's book, Durant landed a small part in a western, but his movie career never quite took off. Still, Durant's became the place for Hollywood stars to visit Phoenix. Celebrity citing's, dim lighting and a questionable owner attracted the locals.
BJ THOMPSON: The right people starting coming here and they would tell a friend and a friend and became you know, the elite of Phoenix.
CHRISTINA ESTES: For 15 years B.J. Thompson served as the maÃ®tre d'. She knew who to seat and when. They often served 300 lunches in a single day. Thompson's laps around the restaurant were always made wearing high heels.
BJ THOMPSON: Mr. Durant required his girls to wear dresses or skirts, no slacks.
CHRISTINA ESTES: Before people used the term politically incorrect they probably could have used Jack Durant. He was known for using foul language, calling women broads and hitting on female customers. But Thompson said he always treated his workers well.
BJ THOMPSON: He would come in and go to the bar and stay there a while, and maybe on his way out he would come by and take my hand and say, here, buy you a cool one on the way home. It could be anywhere from a 20 to a 100 dollar bill, it didn't matter. He would just reach in his pocket and whatever came out that's what you got.
TRAVIS MILLS: I heard a story about getting mad at a customer and him running to the kitchen to grab a meat cleaver. And everyone in the restaurant had to stop him from killing the customer.
CHRISTINA ESTES: Those contradictions became a key focus during filming. Tom Sizemore plays Jack Durant. It's the first time Mills has worked with Hollywood Talent.
TRAVIS MILLS: I felt like he had a great understanding. He said something to me like, there's everything in this character that you'd ever want. Sadness, happiness, you know, danger, loneliness, everything is right here in this guy. And when I saw that I thought yep he can do it.
CHRISTINA ESTES: Michelle Stafford plays Suzie, Durant's third, fourth or maybe fifth wife, no one knows for sure.
MICHELLE STAFFORD: I love a film environment. I love a bunch of creative people getting together wanting to make something great to entertain others. I really dig that. So any group that wants to do that, I want to be a part of that group.
CHRISTINA ESTES: The film takes place in the 70s and includes a scene about the murder of "The Arizona Republic" reporter Don Bowles. A source had promised Bowles information about land fraud involving organized crime but never showed for the meeting. As Bowles left a bomb ripped his car apart and eleven days later he died.
TRAVIS MILLS: Supposedly Bowles' murder was planned inside Durant's. That's what he claimed and what was said for years. We don't make any grand statements in the movie about his involvement with the Bowles thing. It's definitely a representation of is Durant a good guy or a bad guy or walking some kind of moral gray line? Which is what the film is really all about.
CHRISTINA ESTES: Mills' team transformed a sound stage into a replica of the restaurant. Going Hollywood on a Phoenix budget requires patience and practicality. Mills has both.
TRAVIS MILLS: Most people would make this movie for three, $5 million. We're making it for $5,000.
CHRISTINA ESTES: That means spending less cash wherever he can. Buying these carpet tiles at thrift store saved Mills 700 bucks.
TRAVIS MILLS: Now 700 dollars doesn't sound like a lot, but it does matter if we save 500, 700 dollars on every single purchase. So that's creative producing to me.
TRAVIS MILLS: My hope is that this movie really puts Phoenix and Arizona on the map in terms of making it a film-making town.
MICHELLE SAFFORD: I don't think it's too local, because it's a human story. And well told, people will be just interested in seeing it.
CHRISTINA ESTES: While Jack Durant struggled with his people skills, he aced his rapport with animals.
BJ THOMPSON: He loved his dogs, they were probably number one before any of us.
CHRISTINA ESTES: His final pet was humble, the English bulldog.
TRAVIS MILLS: The name humble comes from his slogan; in my humble opinion Durant's is the finest eating and drinking establishment in the world. Which he won second place and a national competition for like, best slogans.
CHRISTINA ESTES: When Durant died in 1987, he left humble his house and a $50,000 allowance. Humble plays a special role in the film's final moments but mills won't reveal details. The restaurant is now run by the family of Durant's former partner, Sweet McGilroy. But the namesake is never out of sight. Photos line the walls of the restaurant that Durant never wanted to close.
TED SIMONS: Investors and donors will be invited to a private screening next month and the filmmaker plans to submit Durant's never closes to film festivals in Toronto and Venice.