North Shore native Alex Beh knows it’s tough to get any film made, let alone an independently financed movie. After all, it took nine years for “Forrest Gump” to come to the big screen. That’s why the young filmmaker and actor understood he needed patience and persistence to get his film, “Warren,” bankrolled, shot and completed over the past few years.
On Tuesday, “Warren” will open the Midwest Independent Film Festival at Landmark’s Century Centre Cinema. Beh will be at the 7:30 p.m. screening and on hand afterward to discuss the film with the audience.
As for getting “Warren” made, Beh took me through the entire decade-long process in a recent phone chat from his home in Los Angeles.
“In 2003, I flew back home to Chicago from Boston. I had a breakup, and I had a germ of an idea for a film — about a guy trying to get a girl back. … That’s how any movie endeavor begins. I’ve made a number of short films, but all of my films began with a simple notion. For ‘Warren,’ it was of a car driving off.”
Beh spent the next three years writing notes and jotting down ideas and actually coming up with “a failed draft [of a script]. I had 120 pages but no ending!”
Incredibly frustrated, Beh decided to go for a run to clear his head. “While I was running I said, ‘Please God! Give me the outline [for this movie]!’
“I guess that worked,” he said. “Because I came back from the that run, and in the next two and a half hours I whipped off this outline. Two weeks later, I was back in Chicago and it was a very rainy day — a perfect writing day, and I just started writing. I wrote 30 pages on Friday. I woke up on Saturday and wrote 80 pages all day, and so had a full, first-draft of the script. Then it was just a process of going into revisions from there.”
Much of the film comes from experiences in Beh’s own life. His brother died in 2009, his parents went through a divorce, “and all of that became part of ‘Warren,'” Beh explained. “It also was influenced by me growing up in Winnetka and the pressure of family and the idea of success and the perfect family versus the real family.
“It was, for me, a journey movie. Yes, I wrote it over a period of years, but finally it did jell in my head.”
Fortunately a number of key people believed in him and his script. That included his manager and friend Dallas Sonnier, who, after reading the script, said, “John Hughes and Cameron Crowe would be jealous of this idea! You have to make this film!” The same feeling was expressed by producer Mark Hannah, who joined the “Warren” producing team — plus restaurateur Jerrod Melman (plus his siblings RJ and Molly Melman), who knew Beh since his New Trier High School days and provided essential early seed money for the project.
Finally, Beh got his script to the agents for Jean Smart and John Heard, and both veteran actors loved the concept and agreed to sign on. Filming took place on the North Shore and in Chicago in September and October 2012. “We edited and finished the movie in all of 2013 and then we did the film festival circuit in all of 2014, and here we are now,” said Beh, who plays the title role in the film.
In the film, Warren’s family scenario is not so good. He’s a 20-something barista who has yet to find his path in life; his long-estranged parents (Heard and Smart) are, at long last, finalizing their divorce — a process that takes a somewhat nasty turn; and his younger brother has drug problems.
Suddenly, an old girlfriend, Emma (Sarah Habel), comes into the coffee shop where Warren works and re-ignites some feelings — making him think they might be able to get back together. Underlying all of this is Warren’s desire to make it as a standup comedian. (Art imitates life: Beh studied at Second City and iO Theatre, and over the past few years he’s supported himself by directing and acting in TV commercials.)
As for the independent filmmaking process, Beh is clearly in awe of all his good fortune along the way, which helped fuel his never-give-up attitude — something brought home to him by one of his executive producers one day during filming in 2012.
“Donna Lyon came to set on a day when John and Jean were shooting, as were Andrew Santino and myself. She was being very unobtrusive and actually tried to sneak away without saying anything.
“Of course, I rushed over and thanked her for all her help, but she said something that really stuck with me. She said, ‘Alex, thank you for being persistent.’
“You have no idea how cool that was to hear that from someone like that. It meant a great deal, and still does. “