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Trio filmmakers 'Focus' on festival circuit (w/video)

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
April 4, 2014 at 11:01 p.m.
Updated April 4, 2014 at 11:05 p.m.

Joe Friar, KVIC 104.7 FM producer and festival juror, moderates a discussion with filmmakers Christopher Young, left, Josh Blacker, center, and Dr. Robert Tarzwell, right,  after the screening of their  movie "Focus" at  Victoria TX Indie Film Fest. The movie was shown at Leo J. Welder Center for the Performing Arts on Friday night.

When the director of photography announced "rolling" on the set of "Focus" more than a year ago, director Christopher Young stood confused on the set - wondering why no one was beginning the scene.

Josh Blacker, the film's co-writer and lead actor, approached the novice director and whispered in his ear.

"They're waiting for you to say 'action,'" Blacker urged.

After a good laugh, Young shouted "action," and the first day of filming commenced.

"This was my first time ever directing a movie like this before. ... I was just learning the beats of how a movie gets up and running," said Young, 29, of Toronto.

"Focus" was selected to screen at the 2014 Victoria TX Indie Film Fest and screened Friday at the Leo J. Welder Center for the Performing Arts.

It's the second festival entry for the film, which screened last month in Austin at the RxSM Self Medicated Film Expo.

"It was received really well at RxSM, and a friend of mine suggested we give it to Anthony (Pedone) for the Victoria Film Fest," Blacker, 41, said.

The "Focus" co-writers and the film's chief financier, psychiatrist Dr. Rob Tarzwell, arrived in Victoria this week energized to participate in the week's festivities.

The trio said they initially weren't certain they could attend VTXIFF because the festival was two weeks after returning to Canada, and their indie film budget was low.

But they were encouraged to come back to Texas, enticed by a free trip.

"They said, 'We just love your film, and if you can make it, we'll fly you down'" and take care of the hotel, Blacker said.

"Focus" tells the story of Blacker's character (Troy), who has one day to convince a corrupted focus group to green-light a product to market or risk losing his job. He's up against wildly incompetent co-workers and a nemesis employee of the company, Ryan Beil (Conley) who's vying for his job.

Young and Blacker said they set out to write the low-budget indie in the key of John Hughes to the tune of "The Breakfast Club" and other two-location dramedies, reminiscent of workplace favorites such as "Working Girl" and "Office Space."

Young said they accomplished a great feat in filmmaking, shooting, editing and completing the project in entirety in about two months.

"So many people told me I couldn't do it," Young said. "They said you can't do it in this amount of time with this amount of money."

"It was helpful having the director also be in the movie because there were not a lot of wasted shots," Blacker added, mentioning that Young knew how he wanted to edit the film while shooting, so it was easy for him to direct the crew on scenes necessary for the film.

Both Young and Blacker hope audiences at the festival will enjoy the humor of the characters and download the film when it's made available on video on demand.

The film will also enter another round of international film festivals, and they hope it's met with success for the rest of the year.

But the writing duo is also eager to start other projects and translate their stories and ideas on screen.

"We just want to tell stories," Blacker said.

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