by Sean Pamphilon

Internet history was made on Wednesday May 5th, when the first full-length feature film had its world premiere broadcast over the web. IFILM.net debuted first-time filmmaker writer/director Edward Vilga's, Dead Broke, starring such notables as Paul Sorvino, John Glover, Tony Roberts, Jill Hennessy (Law and Order), and Justin Theroux. The movie was simulcast from the Tribeca Film Center at 2pm

"There's a new outlet now," Vilga said, while sitting outside The Coffee Shop, ignoring his salad. "We're in new territory. We're the first people ever to try this. We didn't know what was going to happen with it."

 

While expressing his uncertainty about the future of his movie Vilga was enthusiastic about the reasons he chose to go this route, as well as the benefits to this point"

It's become clearer and clearer it's the right choice. Being the first to do this has provided me with access that I wouldn't have had otherwise. I didn't really have the time or the money to spend a year on the festival circuit, waiting for it to get picked up. The reason why this was attractive to me was simple. I wanted people to see my movie. This is just about getting it out there. It will get people to watch it."

Dead Broke takes place in a collection agency, filled with disgruntled employees who are held for questioning after a body is found outside of their not so friendly confines. The "whodunit" conjures up images of "The Usual Suspects" with an intricately devised script that is no dead giveaway. Vilga offers that this film has an "Agatha Christie feel with a hipper edge to it."

"Everybody at the agency has a secret or two or three," Vilga explains with a coy grin as he politely asks me not to give the plot away.

 

The dramatic tension from "The Usual Suspects" is replaced by angst-ridden money grubbing dead-beat bounty hunters who have heard ad nauseam every sob story known to man and quickly cut to the chase with witty one-liners that have the same common denominator. Pay Me! This is an experience that Edward Vilga share's with many undiscovered filmmakers.

"I've definitely been the down and out grad student who's had the bills and had to deal with debt collectors. Plus, I did plenty of research and found out about the processes. I was fascinated by the idea of people, who can just call you up and have a major impact on your life by saying, 'you owe something!'

 

It was also an interesting way to look from another perspective of other obligations people have. For me it was about a rich minefield of issues with plenty of opportunities for comedy. The feeling of being powerless and not being able to get out...most people can relate to that on some level. What's the Thoreau line about people living lives of quiet desperation."

It's rare that a first-time director will land the kind of talent that is assembled in Dead Broke. Despite initial anxiety, Vilga was quickly reassured by the approach taken by his cast.

"Paul Sorvino was the height of generosity and quite frankly I didn't think I'd be lucky enough to get someone like Jill Hennessy who's on the rise. At the time I had been watching Law & Order every night. I was an addict and I always thought she was great. I just didn't expect her to do it. The energy was just there.

 

It felt like a community and that type of atmosphere was inculcated in those actors playing their parts. This group of actors brought so much. Working with someone like John Glover who just won a Tony that year...Tony Roberts, who'd made all those great Woody Allen movies and is a fantastic actor, respectfully consulted me when he wanted to drop a line. I was impressed by the lack of ego and complete team spirit."

The quality cast is upstaged by a breakthrough performance by long-time theater actress Patricia Scanlon, whose part was written specifically for her by Vilga.

"There were a few theater actors whose work I had loved and I thought they hadn't gotten that break and I really wanted them in the movie. Patricia Scanlon," Vilga gushed, "It's an extraordinary performance. She's an extraordinary actress. She did everything I wanted and more."

 

Scanlon plays "Frankie", the resident badass in the crew. Your tales of woe fall on deaf ears with this woman. An acerbic wit, combined with a built-in bullshit detector, comprise her make-up. She's heard any possible explanation you can come up with because she's been there. A self-described "compulsive debtor" she embodies every quality in a woman you would wish on your worst enemy, yet somehow cons you into seeing her point of view--or at least the root of her madness--before the screen hits black

Dead Broke was filmed a year ago during a twenty-day shoot in Greenpoint Brooklyn. It was made for just over $800,000 and is being broadcast--at least initially--for free. This is a treat for audiences who are fed up with having to shell out nearly ten bucks for quality entertainment, which aptly describes this film. Is this the new form of altruism? How do you make money by giving something away for free? Vilga has recently had discussions with HBO about acquiring dead presidents for Dead Broke, but is choosing to keep his options open.

 

"They've talked to me and I am certainly open to further discussion, but until anything's on paper, it's just talk," Vilga explained.

Because this is a first of it's kind, there is no yardstick to measure the potential success of this venture. Will it help get a distribution deal? Or perhaps a cable buyout? Or will it carry a stigma attached as used goods?

"Its' interesting though...there isn't a clear answer to that," Vilga said. " My producer, Genevieve Lohman, has been talking to some of the prime cable people and to distributors and they're both excited and confused. It's hard to say what the implications will be, because to this point, it hasn't been an option. It's just like an opening of a new market, like when video started to boom, so we're just trying to figure out where it's going to go and how it's going to work. Another thing about it is it's a great thing to be a pioneer of this technology.

 

One big impact this could have on the future is people who cut back on movies as a way of saving an entertainment dollar, there now will be a free--at least initially--alternative. And what about a shift in content? This could have long-range implications that could completely galvanize a new spirit of underground filmmaking. Will the Internet be subject to the same rating standards as movies in theatrical release? Doubt it.

"The Internet is not going away," Edward Vilga offered at the conclusion of our interview. "Its just going to get bigger and bigger and I think some of the early pioneers will get some attention. I'm sure in a year or two it won't be an original thing to do but at the moment it's fresh."

With the infiltration of digital video into the mainstream market with hits like "The Celebration," many would-be moviemakers will have their dreams within the reach of a couple of credit cards. In addition there will be a new avenue just south of straight-to-video.

 

"I think that the way it's going...digital video. I shot my movie in 35mm," Vilga explained, "but I was prepared to shoot video if the financing didn't come through. The quality is only going to increase, more and more people will be putting things out on the web that way. It seems like everyone has a web site. I just wonder how long before everyone has a short film on the web?

As for Vilga, the Yale grad and USC Film School dropout is currently working on two scripts, but is directing his focus toward getting everything with Dead Broke completed and out there. This Wednesday he may not be the King of the World, but at least he'll be Pioneer of the Day, and perhaps on his way, as a result of this latest innovation.

"People will appreciate the movie. I'm banking on that. " Vilga said confidently as the waiter took away his barely eaten salad.

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