April 30, 2007

Trio Trust

Why Three Stark Alumni Love Mandy Lane

By James Tella

(Left to right) Keith Calder, Joe Neurauter, and Felipe Marino outside their Los Angeles offices.
For Keith Calder, Felipe Marino, and Joe Neurauter—three 2004 graduates of the Peter Stark Producing Program—attending the School of Cinematic Arts not only gave the trio an opportunity to discover all aspects of an industry they love, but it also resulted in the creation of one of the industry’s hottest new production companies.

Today, following the sale of their teen horror film All The Boys Love Mandy Lane to the Weinstein Co. during its debut at the 2006 Toronto Film Festival, the principals of Occupant Films are out to prove that their success is more than just beginner’s luck.

“All of us have similar entrepreneurial spirits,” Marino said when asked to describe his partners. “We’re united by the fact that we want everything to be the best it can be, and we’re constantly pushing ourselves to do better.”

“If you’re by yourself in the industry, it’s easy to convince yourself you’re doing well. Having partners allows you to get an objective view,” offered Calder, who described his time at Stark as intense only “if you aren’t already used to working hard.” 

“We gravitate toward things that we find interesting, and the idea was to make a different kind of horror film,” said Neurauter, mentioning the team’s approach to Mandy Lane. “Don’t second-guess what you’re looking for, but find what you respond to. We’re excited by every one of our projects.”

Discovering the Mandy script through a contact in the school’s writing division the very first week of Occupant’s formation, Marino said the project “had the potential to be more than what was on the page. Its core idea and especially the twist, was the intriguing and exciting part.”

Since their business plan was built around low-budget genre movies that had theatrical potential, all three admit they weren’t surprised by the film’s success. They were, however, caught off guard by the immediacy of a deal following Mandy’s midnight screening debut.

“We were able to provide a sense of discovery and enthusiasm to the distributors,” Calder said, while Marino added that their rigorous approach to casting “really allowed the buyers to get excited about discovering a new star.”

“That all this happened with our first film is a great coincidence,” said Neurauter, explaining that by the time Mandy Lane hits the screen, the trio will have already completed several more films.

"That all this happened with our first film is a great coincidence," said Neurauter.

Since Mandy has yet to open at the box office, Calder, who will once again teach a new generation of “Starkies” in the SCA course, “The Negotiation Game,” added that “there’s not a sense of having to prove ourselves.”

And while Neurauter says that his partners are ideal because all three never felt suited to the apprentice route, and “each of us are the type to embrace an idea and jump head first into cold water,” Marino is grateful because “it’s hard to be good at everything in this multifaceted business.”

Perhaps, though, Calder sums it up best.

“Face it. We had to combine forces,” he laughed. “We’d all make pretty bad assistants.”