Two desperate guys battle wits with a big name Hollywood producer in a pitch meeting gone wrong. The new film of Fred Shahadi is called Two Out of Work Actors. Fred Shahadi is a Lebanese American filmmaker, playwright, television writer, and author living in Los Angeles CA. His play BOX, had two successful Off Broadway runs in 2003 and 2011 and he was the head writer for three seasons for the Emmy nominated Recipe Rehab on CBS. Fred won consecutive Heck-Rabi Dramatic Awards for his plays Plastic Man and Supertrain, as well as a Parents Choice Award for his work on Recipe Rehab in 2014. Fred is also the author of the cult sci-fi novel Shoot the Moon which Mat Johnson author of Pym, Incognegro, and Loving Day, called “a brilliant fever dream of a novel--wildly creative, relentlessly funny, and wholly unique. Fred Shahadi has an utterly original literary voice that you're going to want to sit down and listen too."
It was our pleasure to interview Fred Shahadi regarding his new film for L.A. Indies.
What was the inspiration behind the making of Two Out of Work Actors?
The inspiration for the idea itself came from two places. The first being so many people would pitch me ideas that began with the line “It’s about two out-of-work actors”…who get in some sort of adventure. I realized most people in Los Angeles saw themselves as the heroes of their own stories. With so many out of work actors (myself included), they simply wrote themselves a better life and career. The second came from the first meeting I had with my co-producers and stars of the short, RJ Lucci and Jason Maxim. They approached me to work on something together and asked me to direct. They initially wanted to do something serious, cop drama-serial killer type thing, but after meeting with them and seeing how they interacted with each other I went home and wrote Two Out-of-Work Actors. Jason Maxim couldn’t stop calling me “bro” the whole meeting and RJ Lucci kept kicking him under the table. I found them both utterly charming. They had a fire and ice quality that was hilarious. Once I saw who they really were, I just wrote these two real-life out-of-work actors into what ended up becoming our short.
What were some of the challenges of making the film?
Finding the right people who support your vision is the only way anything gets done. Money aside, hiring the best people isn’t as important as hiring the right people. Lucky for me I had both in Joel Polis. Joel Polis, famous for John Carpenter’s The Thing, Cheers, and the infamous “jerk store” episode of Seinfeld, read the script for me as a favor. I was hoping he could offer some insight but he did me one better, “When do we shoot?” He not only liked it, he offered to play our lead villain Frank Madar. Once Joel was in place everyone else stepped up their game. Having a guy who acted with Meryl Streep at Yale, starred alongside Kurt Russel in one of the most iconic horror films ever, and was directed by Clint Eastwood, really helped set the tone on set. Both RJ, Jason, and I owe a lot to Joel for his amazing work and for ultimately making the whole process so much easier.
When did you realize that you wanted to make films and what was the first film project that you created?
I can’t think of a time I didn’t want to make movies. My father died when I was twelve and I dealt with the deep loss by watching as many movies as I could. I rented everything my local video store had for years, sometimes up to three a day. I’m proud to say Two Out-of Work Actors is my first venture into film, although I’ve been a writer for twenty years. I’ve written for television on CBS, as well as had one of my stage plays, BOX, produced Off-Broadway on two separate occasions. I also published my first novel Shoot the Moon, a JFK conspiracy with Apollo astronauts back in 2017.
Which directors have been influential in your work?
In comedy, I love what Nicholas Stoller and Jason Segel did on Forgetting Sarah Marshall. As funny as that movie was, it is at its heart a love story. I lived and died with the choices Segel makes in that film, and of course, marveled at the incredible supporting cast. To me that’s a film that completely supports Jason Segel’s deeply personal vision. I think some of that same hilarious, yet heartfelt, sensitivity can be found with Judd Apatow’s and Paul Feig's films as well. My current favorite comedy director is Daniel Levy who deserves every possible accolade for his work on Schitt's Creek. In each case, they were able to elicit beautiful drama from the side-splitting comedy. All three directors inspire the hell out of me.
What genre of filmmaking do you like to work on?
I love working on comedy but I adore drama as well. The funniest things come out of the darkest moments. Some of the biggest laughs I ever got as an actor onstage came during grim Shakespeare plays. Audiences need comedic release, not only from the tension of dark moments but from the sympathy one has with the character. The greatest comedic performances must have some element of drama or else you’d never care about the characters. Comedy and drama come from how deeply we are connected with the character. I also think laughing and crying come from the same place inherently. I’d also love to direct a fun horror film which, if done right, hits the full range of human emotion.
What is the most challenging aspect of making an independent film?
I guess the easiest answer is time and money, but I also think that’s what makes independent films so good. Having an endless budget is nice, but knowing you’re about to hit overtime, losing the light, or whatever else can and WILL happen….creates awesome things. Necessity is the mother of invention. I guess we just have to hope the invention works!
What is your plan for the further distribution of your film?
Right now we’ve been enjoying a fun ride on the festival circuit. Two Out-of-Work Actors won Best Comedy Short for LA Sun Film Fest and recently got accepted into the Venice Film Awards in Italy. Starting with The Art of Brooklyn Film Festival, Dumbo Film Festival, Burbank International Film Festival, Cyrus International Festival of Toronto, and also Venice Shorts here in California, we’ve been very pleased with the reception we’ve been getting. Our only regret is Covid has prevented us from seeing our film screened with a crowd. The feedback we’ve received so far has been nothing short of amazing. I hope Two Out-of-Work Actors continues to be seen throughout not only the festival circuit but hopefully on a screen or TV, near you.
How can cinema change the world and have an impact on society?
I can’t speak for the world but the cinema changed me. My whole world was lost when my father died and the cinema got me out of bed again. Cinema got me to talk to people again. Cinema sparked ideas in me, sparked curiosity, got me to think about more than just feeling lost. Cinema got me to smile again. What can it do for society? Well, I know from personal experience it can make it better. It can start by making it laugh, and boy do we need that these days.
What is your next film project?
Right now I’m developing another short I made into a TV series. I was approached by a couple of producers who were amazed I was able to make them laugh in something that was only a little over three minutes long. I’m working on the show bible right now and delivered the pilot. I’ve also recently gotten interested in a horror film I wrote several years ago, and I am currently in the process of putting together a dramatic short I shot in Cleveland right before COVID hit.
Why do you make films and what is your cinematic goal in life?
Some of the greatest moments I’ve had in life were with film, watching it, sharing it, laughing, crying, finding my breath again. Since film has provided me so many of those moments I want to give back. I want to be part of future moments that will stay with people forever. I remember back in my graduate acting program at Wayne State University in Detroit one of my professors told me, “Never be ashamed to tell people you are an artist. We’re as important as doctors, we heal people too.” If I can be a person who delivers those moments to someone as a filmmaker I’d be the happiest man in the world. My professor was right, art heals, at least it did for me.