Steppin Out 

A Family Act

There's just something about a good, organized-crime film that puts people in touch with their inner gangster, has them uttering "Fuggedaboutit" or "I'll make you an offer you can't refuse" in poor Italian accents for hours, days, years after the credits have rolled. At least, that's been the experience of local actor/writer/producer Forrest Pruett and his pals from Red West's Actor's Studio in Bartlett.

Pruett and a group of guys in his acting class spent so much time spouting their favorite gangster phrases over after-class beers, they decided to make a movie about guys pretending to be mobsters. They'll be screening Almost Made for the first time at the Stage Stop in Raleigh on Sunday, June 27th.

"You watch these [mobster] films and you just get so pumped up," explains Joe Smith, who plays Joey Girth, the leader of the wannabe mobster family. "It's like back when people would go see Rocky, and they'd come out of the movie theater wanting to go kick someone's ass. With mobster films, you'll see these normal people, like truck drivers, pretending to be Tony Soprano. It fascinates me."

In Almost Made, five guys who have seen far too many movies form a "family" of their own, only to end up in over their heads. When the guys get a little rough with a customer at their regular bar, a police officer witnesses the entire incident.

"They get a real quick dose of reality when they get in the first bit of trouble," says Pruett. "They realize they're not mobsters."

Writing the film was a first for Pruett and fellow actor Stan Prachniak. They toyed around with ideas at T.J. Mulligan's one night and decided that the first thing they'd need were gangster names.

Pruett became Mickey Two Times, since he's in the habit of always ordering two Michelob Lights. Smith was dubbed Joey Girth, which was a reference to both his body size and the size of, um, other things. Classmate Freddy Mitchell was known for his muscular stature, and he became known as Freddy Gunns. The guys were always poking fun at Tim Sherrod because of his high-pitched voice. He was named Timmy Hi Tone. Prachniak, the ladies' man of the group, chose the name Stanley Pick-Ups.

"Stan would just go up to women and say things like, 'Is that a keg in your pocket? Because I'd like to tap that ass.' Or, 'Are you from Tennessee? Because you're the only 10 I see,'" says Pruett.

Almost Made features the group's acting coach Red West, who was once a bodyguard for Elvis. West plays Red Rogers, the bartender at the family hangout, appropriately called Red's Bar. According to Pruett, they presented their script to West in class, and when he allowed the class to act out the scenes, he was "rolling on the floor laughing." He told Pruett if they decided to film it, he'd act in it. And Pruett says West ended up becoming a major asset on the set.

"After the initial impact of, wow, this was Elvis' bodyguard and he was in Roadhouse, he becomes a regular guy. He helped all the actors on the set by making quiet suggestions. Red really helped things move along quickly," says Pruett.

The film was directed by West's son, John Boyd West, who acted in Deep Cover and 21 Grams. West told his son about the script and after attending a class where the guys acted it out, the younger West agreed to direct it.

Most of the actors came from West's acting class, although some were people Pruett had met when working on another local film, Dog Me: Potluck.

Almost Made was shot almost entirely at the Stage Stop. Smith says it was the natural choice since the bar was his and Pruett's favorite haunt back in their "long-haired '80s metal days." Customers were allowed to come in and drink during filming so long as they remained fairly quiet.

Shooting began in September of last year and finished in February. They were only allowed to shoot one day a week at the bar, and they had to take a month off in December due to an overwhelming amount of Christmas decorations. It was too much work to take the decor down once a week for shooting time.

"Continuity was almost impossible, especially when Christmas rolled around," says Pruett. "That place went from looking like a rock bar to the Enchanted Forest."

Now that filming and production are wrapped up, Pruett says his company, Backwards Cap Productions, plans on entering Almost Made in this year's upcoming film festivals, such as Indie Memphis and the Media Co-op's Digital Film Fest. n

Almost Made will be shown in free, public screenings at the Stage Stop (2951 Cela Lane) on Sunday, June 27th, at 4 and 6 p.m. For more information, go to AlmostMade.2ya.com.

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