"Demoted," "Things Fall Apart" cap off Uptown Film Festival

Michael Vartan, David Cross, and Sean Astin in "Demoted"

Article by Liz Parker
Pictures by Erin Gong

Saturday, March 12 was the second and final day of the Uptown Film Festival in Birmingham, and two major feature films, "Demoted" and "Things Fall Apart," made their Michigan debuts. Movies were shown all day at the Birmingham 8 theater, and panels were held at the Palladium in the morning. "Demoted" was held at 5 P.M. and "Things Fall Apart" at 7:30pm, followed by a VIP "afterglow" party at the Palladium.

Warren Zide, producer of "Demoted"
Warren Zide, one of the producers of "Demoted," was on site for a Q&A after the film. Zide has produced the movies in the "American Pie" franchise and is a Southfield native. "Demoted" was filmed in the metro Detroit area (Novi, Plymouth, and other cities) in 2008, and includes stars Sean Astin and Michael Vartan, among others.

"We shot the whole thing in Michigan and when we brought people from L.A. to Michigan - because at the time it was at the beginning of the incentive program and there weren't that many crews out there - everyone hemmed and hawed, but by the time they left, everyone wanted to come back," he said.

In the film, Vartan and Astin play tire salesman who constantly make fun of one of their coworkers, played by David Cross. When their boss dies and Cross's character is promoted, he demotes Vartan and Astin's characters to secretaries, and they must learn to now get along with women whom they previously looked down upon.

More than a third of the movie was improv, and David Cross helped to push actors Vartan and Astin so that they would get the best possible take.

"David Cross is so amazing," Zide said. "He would purposely set the actors up, and force them to improvise. So they're saying the lines in the script, and he would take them in a completely different direction."

Zide remarked that even if the film incentives are reduced, as they seem to be headed towards, he would still shoot films in Michigan. He said that after experiencing Michigan firsthand, the cast and crew of "Demoted" were in agreement that "this place is not what they show you on TV. This is actually a great place."

One of the producers of "Things Fall Apart," Randall Emmett, was also at the Palladium for his movie premiere. "Things Fall Apart" follows a promising young college athlete, played by 50 Cent, who will soon enter the NFL draft; instead, however, he finds out he has cancer, and is unable to finish the season. 50 Cent lost about fifty-one pounds for the role.

I talk with Randall Emmett, producer
of "Things Fall Apart"
"He really muscled up for the football stuff [about the first half of the movie], and then we took about a 5 1/2 week break from filming. He went to liquids only, no food, and at his last weigh-in he was down fifty-one pounds," said Emmett.

The movie was filmed in Grand Rapids, and Emmett talked a bit about the choice to film there rather than Detroit or the suburbs.

"It's very easy to move around in Grand Rapids. In Detroit, you're competing with maybe fifteen other movies, and you're also competing with traffic ... Grand Rapids allowed us to go from one side of the city to the other in about four minutes."

50 Cent financed the film himself, and in playing the lead role he "took on a movie that no one in Hollywood would usually give him - usually he gets guns, and action, and blowing things up, and that's what he's used to doing. He turned to me and said 'I want to make a movie in which people might see me in a different light,'" said Emmett.

The film premiered at Sundance this year and was picked up internationally. The U.S. deal is "currently in negotiation," and will probably be announced by mid-April. Emmett hopes that the film will be released in a limited theatrical capacity sometime in the fall.

This was the inaugural year for the Uptown Film Festival, but it will return next year with three days of films instead of two, including more feature-length films.

For more information about the festival, visit its website at www.uptownfilmfestival.com.

Jeff Spilman and Randall Emmett introducing "Things Fall Apart"
Randall Emmett, producer of "Things Fall Apart"
Producer of the Year award for Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson,
for "Things Fall Apart"

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