Johnette Duff Knows About The Ups And Downs Of The Film Business

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Screenwriter/producer Johnette Duff has been dreaming about the premiere of her new film Up & Down -- literally.

"I dreamt that nobody woke me up in time for the premiere and so I got there late," she laughingly tells Hair Balls. "Then there were all these scenes in the movie that I had never seen, and actors that I didn't recognize. You couldn't hear the sound because the air conditioner was too loud. Then they had a Q&A at the end, but nobody would ever ask me a question. It was a nightmare."

Hopefully tonight's River Oaks Theatre premiere of Up & Down, which follows a hotel worker over the course of a year including his many trips on the elevator, will go a little smoother. Duff describes the movie by saying, "It's about a struggling actor who's about to turn 30. This is his day job, as an assistant to the event coordinator in a luxury hotel. It goes from one New Year's Eve to the next New Year's Eve and essentially everything that happens to a person in their life happens to him that year in the elevator."

Duff, who is also a practicing lawyer left law to go back to film school in the mid-`90s. Since then she's made a few short films, written several screenplays and been pitching an idea for a film based on the life of Jiles Perry Richardson, Jr., better known as The Big Bopper. (Richardson was killed in a plane crash in 1959 along with Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens.)

Raising the money for the Big Bopper project proved more daunting than she expected, in part because she had never done a feature-length film. It occurred to Duff that she could make a low-budget indie film as a sort of audition. She was at the American Film Market when someone suggested that she film in one location as a way to keep costs down.

Duff initially balked at the suggestion, but five minutes later she found herself in an overcrowded elevator. Between floors, several other filmmakers began hawking their projects and handing out cards. The buzz of conversation died as soon as the elevator doors opened and everyone went their own way.

"I stood there and I was stunned. I thought, 'A movie in an elevator.' I know that sounds like it would be hard to pull off, but I have a director [Jonathan Carbonaro], who's a god. I don't how he did it. You care about the characters and the people that are coming in and out. There's a lot of comic relief from the people who are attending all the different conventions.

"My idea was to do a romantic comedy that wasn't really a romantic comedy, but a comedy with some romance. I wanted it to be the kind of movie that if you're a guy and your girlfriend drags you to it, you won't hate it."

The project came together very quickly for Duff. From the time she got the idea to the time she finished principle photography it was just 11 months. She notes the average movie takes seven years from idea to screen.

Thanks to a savvy and supportive sales agent, Up & Down is on it's way to Cannes and the next American Film Market.

"Obviously we'd like to get a theatrical release," says Duff. "And DVD and on demand, of course. Please God, just let me please not have to do divorces anymore."

Up and Down screens today with the actors, director and producer in attendance. 7 p.m. River Oaks Theatre, 2009 West Gray. For information, call 713-866-8881 or visit www.landmarktheatres.com. $20.

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