TOMMY LEE THOMAS: A NEW TEXAS TORNADO

Your first feature was not released. Your second film was released outside of the U.S. but not domestically. Your third feature was a straight-to-video title. What have been the major obstacles in getting your films seen in America, and how do you hope to overcome that with your next film?
The major obstacle is getting the movie made to start with. When trying to raise money, it seems you have to go through so many no’s before you get to a qualified yes. I say qualified, because even after someone might say yes to invest in your movie, they might change their minds, or just not really mean yes and therefore not come through for you. So it it very difficult to get money for your projects and then once you have raised that money, it is difficult to get the movie together, in terms of getting the right director, actors, crew who know how to make low budget movies effectively. I am still very much in the early stages of learning how to get my movies distributed beyond video and into theatres. I think it can be done, but I am still trying to figure out the dynamics of how to do it and not get taken to the cleaners by distributors. It is not easy, but I am learning a lot. I feel that it is more important to have a movie that makes money than one that is seen by everyone but does not make money because it all goes to the distributor.

“Proverbial Justice” and Con Games are action-driven films. From a filmmaking perspective, what are the challenges of creating and crafting films with intense action-driven plots? And do you feel such films are more difficult to create than a character-driven film such as “More Than Meets the Eye”?
I actually feel that it is easier for me to create an action film than a dramatic movie. The reason is that with an action movie I come up with a general idea of what to make in terms of story and then I simply plug in a lot of action elements, such as explosions, gun fire, helicopters, etc and then I have my movie. But with dramatic movies I have to work a lot harder to come up with a compelling story that makes people feel real emotion, not easy to do, but I like doing dramatic stories very much. It seems that on the low budget side of making movies, it is more marketable to make action or some genre driven films, like horror for example, one can’t imagine losing money on a halfway well produced low budget horror film. But it might not be considered art by some people.

It is somewhat difficult not to appreciate the uncommonly good shape you were in for “Con Games.” What kind of physical training did you undergo to look so good — and did you high-tail it over to McDonald’s once the film was wrapped?
Thank you for the kind words regarding my shape in “Con Games.” I trained for about seven months prior to shooting “Con Games” to get in good shape for the film. Matter of fact I was trained by Lou Ferrigno on several occasions prior to shooting the film. Your observations of me in your initial review were stunningly accurate. I have studied many muscle magazines, matter of fact I have appeared three times, for all three films, in Muscle Mag International. I even have competed in three bodybuilding competitions when I was younger, so bodybuilding and fitness have been a huge part of my life. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sly Stallone, the Von Erichs (a famous Texas wrestling family) and Lou Ferrigno were great influences on me in my youth, in terms of getting in shape and building muscles.

Yes, you are right, I did go and “pig out” after the shoot was finished, yes.

Eric Roberts is always a lot of fun to watch. What was it like working with him on “Con Games”?
I never had more fun on a movie set than when I got to work with Eric Roberts. Interestingly enough, when I was 18 years old I met Eric for the first time in Dallas, where I lived at the time, and where he had come to make a movie called “Fugitive Among Us.” I had been hired for a bit part and he was so nice to me and so kind. Then when I got to make a movie co-starring with Eric Roberts, who is so talented and so creative, it was amazing! A dream come true! I look forward to the time when I can make another movie with Eric.

And who came up with the idea of having Eric Roberts sing the closing credits?
Well, that was sort of by accident, almost. Eric’s relative, an up and coming singer, Keaton Simonds was originally going to sing the song for us, but then he felt it was not so much his style after all. So Eric wanted to make sure we were not left without someone to sing the song. He was very kind and generous to step up and do the song for our little movie.

You directed your first film, but not your subsequent films. Why did you decide not to direct after the first film?
I just felt that other people who had more experience with directing should direct for me. I found it too much, in terms of wearing one too many hats to direct, act and produce. Though directing is a lot of fun.

What is your new film going to be about and what is the production schedule for it?
Well, we are still in development right now on several projects. I have spent a lot of time, effort and money to try and put together the next project. I have to make sure, to the best of my ability, that it is made at a budget level that will ensure the recoupment of the money invested and then some. I have to make sure that I tell a good story and I have to make sure that people who watch my next movie are entertained to the best of my ability.

Where do you see your career heading?
Good question. I see myself as a storyteller. I like to entertain people. I like to inspire people and I like to also inform people. As long as I can continue to tell good stories then I see myself being very happy and content. The success with making movies is not entirely in my control as I have learned through the school of hard knocks, but I love telling stories and I hope and intend to be telling them for a long time to come.




Posted on November 3, 2004 in Interviews by

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