PHX Startup Week

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PHX Startup Week is a week long, Valley-wide celebration of Arizona’s entrepreneur community. This year, the event is expected to attract some 6,000 Arizona investors, entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs. We’ll talk to film director Marcus De Leon about his independent film “There and Back” and this new wave of entrepreneurial moviemaking.

Jose Cardenas: PHX startup week is a week long valley wide celebration of Arizona's entrepreneur community. This year, the event is expected to attract Arizona investors, entrepreneurs, and aspiring entrepreneurs. We'll talk to a film director about this event and a new wave of entrepreneurial moviemaking but first, here is a look at a clip of the making of the film There and Back.

Liana Vittoi: There's such as emotional attachment to the movie because of our real life experiences that we had while on set.

Nicole Gallagher: It has a fantastic story. It has like this big journey that everybody takes but it also takes time to focus on each character individually and to show how they're changing, how they've become different people, and I think that's really cool and really unique.

Clayton McInerney: It was difficult to prepare for, to say the least because of the way it's written, it's very fast paced. Every location brought a different challenge.

Liana Vittoi: It's really scary.

Marcus De Leon: Very nice.

Liana Vittoi: It rained pretty hard. There's lightning really close to us right now. We've been hanging out waiting to put the equipment back. A big black bug bit a big brown bear and the big brown bear bled blue black blood.

Marcus De Leon: Everything else is nuts but that part is always good. And the camera, great. The director-producer's job entails among other things loading the cast and crew suitcases, cast in this case, crew in this case.

Jose Cardenas: Joining me to talk about the film and PHX Startup Week are Marcus De Leon, filmmaker and director of There and Back and Liana Vittoi, lead actress in the film. Thank you both for joining us on "Horizonte." I want to talk about the process of getting the film made, and I want to talk about PHX Startup Week because that was the financing. But Marcus, tell us about the movie itself and what the story, the plotline is.

Marcus De Leon: It's a family road trip drama, a brother, sister and another sister, who have a lot of past conflicts between them come together for their grandfather's funeral, one of them discovers that there is a family heirloom made by the grandfather, who's a sculptor, it's missing, they take off on what they think is going to be a quick two hour round trip to Phoenix and back and when they get to Phoenix, carefree, discover the sculpture is not where they thought it was, they embark on a four day road trip they never saw coming.

Jose Cardenas: In the clip we showed, you're saying first day, it's pretty scary. You weren't talking about movie. You're talking about experience I take it?

Liana Vittoi: Yeah.

Jose Cardenas: Tell us about your perception of the story itself and what appealed to you about it.

Liana Vittoi: So initially, Marcus kept it really secret, the script. He said it was a story about Arizona and all I saw was this one character and her name was Sybil. And she is brooding and emotionally complex and the typical -- the typical woman that you want to see in movies, the independent go-getter but also go vulnerable. That's all I saw from the script early on. And I wanted to be a part of it right away, of course. And then I found out that the story was about Arizona, a place where I grew up and little did I know that I would discover parts of Arizona that I never thought I would.

Jose Cardenas: And Marcus, it really is about Arizona and Arizona runs throughout this movie. Arizona scenery, Arizona actors, you've been back and forth between Arizona and L.A. Why that focus on Arizona?

Marcus De Leon: Arizona is my second home state, I spent so much time there as a kid, we were always going back and forth between California and Arizona. I resolved to make a real movie with all this Arizona talent here, on both sides of the camera. I knew I would have to get 100% funding from Arizona. Hollywood would never fund this kind of movie with all this inexperienced cast and crew. To get that Arizona funding, I heard 2 ½ years of no get out of my office, no way, and then I got involved -- I was invited to pitch the Tucson Desert Angels and we got one person, Robert Hungate interested. And between myself, Bob, and Tim, we basically survived nine months of the financing process and finally got the money together, went into production, four days later and didn't stop for 2 ½ months.

Jose Cardenas: And am I right? My recollection from one of the articles is the story itself was inspired by seeing a young woman walking down an Arizona highway?

Marcus De Leon: I love the deserts. I love dilapidated towns, forgotten towns in the middle of nowhere and the idea originally was a young woman walking down this highway, she's got a backpack and she's seeking. What is she seeking for? Why is she out there? Why is she out there by herself? All those questions and who's looking for her? All those questions led to the creation of the whole three act story.

Jose Cardenas: Now, you've done other work in the film industry but this one was different. How so?

Liana Vittoi: So I graduated from the ASU Theater program so I was given the opportunity to work on multiple film projects there, but this was something of a different magnitude. We were on the road for three months and it was just on a whole other level. It was the experience of a lifetime really, an adventure.

Jose Cardenas: And Marcus, why is that different? You mentioned it; she was just talking about it, going from short film projects of a few days to something that goes on for several weeks?

Marcus De Leon: I interviewed and rehearsed and auditioned over and over, we did screen tests with the cast, the crew, I talked to them over and over and I said do you guys really understand what we're going to do here? We're going to hit the road for about two months or more, and we're going to be filming day after day for eight or 10 weeks. Do you have the rigor, do you have the commitment to a career as an actor or a crewman, artist, to survive that kind of process? I looked for people who had a commitment to becoming a filmmaker, cinematographer, an actor.

Jose Cardenas: So you hear that speech from Marcus and you're probably thinking I can do this, but once you got into it, were there any challenges?

Liana Vittoi: Yeah. I would say there were a lot of challenges along the way. I remember my first day on set, I was really nervous because it was something -- I mean, there were like 12 different crew members just staring at you and you're behind this camera and, you know, you're expected to put on the best performance of your life and it was nerve-wracking but as we connected with everyone and got to know everyone we realized that really it was -- you're working with people that are like minded, that are -- that all have a driving passion for filmmaking. So yeah, there were tons of challenges along the way for me personally, also.

Jose Cardenas: It was a growth experience.

Liana Vittoi: Completely, yeah.

Jose Cardenas: Marcus we're almost out of time. You're going to be telling this story at PHX Startup Week, I think you're scheduled to speak on the 25th but it goes on for several days. What's the lesson learned and what are you going to be telling those people?

Marcus De Leon: PHX Startup Week being a five day festival of entrepreneurship and startups. This movie was funded really as an entrepreneur, as a startup, I had to become an entrepreneur filmmaker, didn't know the term until after the production and read an article in the New York Times about this entrepreneurial filmmaker, meaning the filmmaker interacts directly with his producers. And if the filmmaker is lucky, he goes into production as a creative person. So the filmmaker is both business and creative to achieve a vision and the way that this movie was funded and our being able to make it in Arizona, I had creative freedom I would never get in Los Angeles.

Jose Cardenas: When will we see this movie?

Marcus De Leon: Fall of 2016, There and Back will be at a film festival somewhere and then a Phoenix premeire, and a lot of fun.

Jose Cardenas: Best of luck to both of you and thank you for joining us on "Horizonte" to talk about it. And that's our show for tonight. Thank you for watching. From all of us here at Channel 8, I'm José Cárdenas, enjoy your evening.

Video: "Horizonte" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Arizona PBS, members of your PBS station. Thank you.

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