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On Location: Runaway production is the star of this movie

March 10, 2010 |  9:15 am
Kehoe In a North Hollywood studio, actor Jack McGee is stripped down to his boxers, his legs duct-taped to a chair in a room draped in plastic sheets. He's not playing his best-known role of Chief Jerry Reilly in the TV series "Rescue Me" but the unlucky owner of a nightclub, sweating profusely as a mobster and his goons threaten to cut off his legs with a chain saw.

His crime: luring the mobster's younger brother to perform in drag because the kid couldn't get other work in California.

The short film, "Ordinary, Average Guys," a cross between "Goodfellas" and the "Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert," doesn't have a distributor. The cast and crew are working free, and it's being shot over just three days. And its not-so-comic subtext -- that jobs are scarce in California -- isn't likely to warm up studio executives.

That doesn't faze industry veteran Mike Kehoe, the film's director and co-producer. Kehoe and his colleagues hope to use the film to promote awareness about the economic consequences of so-called runaway production and build support for stronger incentives to keep filmmaking centered in Southern California.

"If we can get everybody involved and really wake people up to do something, then there's a big chance we can help," said Kehoe, a longtime craft service coordinator. "We have to make a statement to the politicians."

Of course, where there's a film, there are aspirations for a film festival to go along with it.

Kehoe and his colleagues hope the 20-minute movie will be featured in a festival they're planning that would showcase short films that are shot in California and public-service announcements highlighting production flight.

The festival would dovetail with a campaign by a coalition of industry, labor and city officials to market the region's film industry, which has seen a steady loss in production to other states and countries.

Kehoe said he was motivated to make the film after spending three months away from his family last summer, missing his twin sons' birthday, while working on "Battle: Los Angeles," a Sony Pictures movie about aliens invading L.A. that was shot in Louisiana.

"I want to make movies here because I want to be near my family, just like so many other skilled professionals," he said.

Kehoe had no trouble finding volunteers, recruiting about 100 actors and crew members, many of them friends he's worked with over the years, like McGee.

Cinematographer Ed Gutentag provided his services and enlisted help through a website called Shoot Movies in California (www.shootmoviesincalifornia.com).

The site evolved out of a Facebook group and claims 14,000 users, many of them below-the-line crew members hard hit by the exodus of production.

"We're using films to get our message out," said Gutentag, a camera operator on such films as "War of the Worlds" and "Collateral." "And what better way to hone our craft."

Vendors donated camera and lighting equipment, and the studio space was provided courtesy of an actors training center in North Hollywood.

Some high-level players pitched in, including sound mixer Jeff Wexler, whose credits include "Valentine's Day," and Tommy Harper, a unit production manager on "Alice in Wonderland," who is a co-producer on Kehoe's project.

"A project like this shows that we need to come together and formulate a plan of how to keep stuff in L.A. It stirs up the conversation," Harper said.
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