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The Zone's Interview With Billy Wirth  and his movie  "MacArthur Park"

MACARTHUR PARK

“Everything was synchronicity and serendipity on this project”

The Zone’s First Film Fest

By Robin Fox

  and 

Laura Alber

The Entertainment Zone selected the 10th Annual St. Louis International Film Festival as our first "fest to attend”.

The diversities and complexities of each film made this quite eventful. According to Chris Clark (film program manager), “by midweek the festival will have matched the attendance of the previous year, and we run until the 18th!”.   This year featured films such as: “Focus”, “Confusion of Genders”, “Fat Girl”, “The Doe Boy”, “Lantana” and “MacArthur Park”, just to name a few.

 

The “Zone” decided to feature “MacArthur Park” and first time feature film director Billy Wirth.

MacArthur Park is a riveting tale of one man’s struggle to overcome the complexities of drug addiction.  Based on a true story of a talented writer Tyrone Atkins. Tyrone had written a 300-page manuscript while still battling his addiction.

  • How did you get this manuscript?

"I met a girl named Alicia; I was filming documentary  footage with a handheld I got as a gift from my parents."  Billy continued, “Alicia said to me, Honey…if you want the real story…read this”.   Some time later, Billy read the manuscript and realized this was a story that had to be told.  Soon he would hook up & begin the talks with Tyrone Atkins.  During some trials & tribulations with Tyrone, Billy managed to get the job done, and helped and aided his new friend on the road to recovery.  Billy told us, that Tyrone was now doing well he has a new job as a telemarketer, and is writing some new scripts.

 

“Everything was synchronicity and serendipity on this project”. Billy Wirth on 'MacArthur Park' the cast the crew and the vibe of the shoot.

  

  • Billy How long did it take to make this film?

"Filming took 20 days and $700,000. We had no rehearsal with any actor until 2 days before filming. We had to sort through 60-70 characters originally and cut it to the few select you see on the screen."

 

  • Can you tell us a little on how you pulled your cast together?

"It was mostly open casting. I selected Robie Reed to pull in the rest of the cast. I asked, Louis B. Real of the Rap Band, Cypress Hill, after seeing him in a coffee house in LA.  Ellen Cleghorne attended acting class with me 6-7 years ago.  I knew Balthazar Getty from living in LA. Besides a casting agent, I called in a few favors, like Lori Petty, who I acted with in a movie 'Relax It’s Just Sex' and Julie Delpy, whom I acted for as a favor in a movie called 'Looking For Jimmy'."

"Brandon Adams was selected to play Cody’s son 1 day before filming. After going through 200 other kids", Billy said, “When Brandon walked in, he owned his space, I knew then, he was the one”.

Billy allowed each actor freedom and improvisation, as long as they kept to the story line.

 

  • Who was your music editor & how did you get the music to flow in perfect harmony with the film.

"Music was edited and discussed daily with Terri Breed and myself, we were making sure each song fit perfect with the script. 70% of the music was from unsigned acts, and the other 30% were well known artists."

  

  • How did you come up with the back-story for the character “Cody”?

Billy said, “At a stoplight one day in my truck, I saw a guy pretending to blow a trumpet, which gave me the answer I needed”.

  

  • Has anyone picked the movie up for distribution?

"I have several offers on the table. One being Showtime, and another is with a NY Theater Company who owns 10-12 small theaters around the country, for a limited release." 
Wirth will be weighing his options carefully, and hopefully soon we will read all about this in our trades.  
Billy said, “We will also be using MacArthur Park for fundraisers and charities in and around LA”.

 

  • Would you like to act or continue to direct?

"I’d like to do both but I really liked directing this film." 

 

  • Since you like directing so well are there any other projects coming in the future?

"I might be doing a screenplay I wrote years ago called 'Street Urchins', which is like a modern day Oliver Twist."

“There’s a few others I’d like to work on as well, and even get back to doing a little acting”.

Billy also mentioned the possibility of working with Fox on a project.

 

  •  EZ wanted to know, would you work with Maricel again?

    "Oh Yes, I love her she's great."


  • What director inspires you the most?

"For one, Martin Scorcese, because he promotes energy and harmony with his casts and makes sure they’re not uptight or afraid. Franc Rodham (from 'War Party' Billy’s first starring role), Abel Ferrara (from 'Bodysnatchers' in which he starred), and the late great Herb Ross, (he had small but important a role in 'Boys On The Side')."

 

  • What was the “vibe” with the cast and crew while shooting such a dark movie?

“Not dark at all! We had a blast! Each person was full of positive energy, the cast & crew were very upbeat, and positive.  We had a blast and acted as a family.  We all went to Sundance together, and shared a condo and camped out on the floors, and loved it!. It was like a dream. Nothing went wrong while shooting, not even a rain day!”  And proceeded to say, “Knock Wood!”

 

  • Since you have been to Sundance before as an actor, how did it feel to take your own baby to “The Dance”?

 “At first I was excited and had an adrenalin rush…until I was on the plane. Then I got this overwhelming feeling of…uh…”I f*&*ng freaked! And, with that came another adrenalin rush!” Billy said with such electricity.  His eyes were absolutely beaming.

  “I felt like I was the quarterback in a Superbowl”!  

  • We heard you say you’d also like to direct an “urban action comedy”, and since this movie had such strong dramatic content The Zone would like to know, Can Billy Wirth be funny?

“Yes”! Billy exclaimed, “I can!”

So from going from a serious topic of drug addiction, Billy stated, “it’s time to ‘hopefully’ be funny”

 

We exchanged kudos, handshakes and since we are women, Hugs, and ended our night with a few jokes and laughs with him.  Billy Wirth is definitely one to watch.  We must say a very enjoyable interview as well.  Keep your eyes on this guy as he makes his climb to the top; this guy is “Star Quality”

 Zone's Eye View

By Robin Fox

 

MacArthur Park

Directed by Billy Wirth

Run Time 86 minutes

Language English

MPAA: This Film Has Not Been Rated

 

Stars Thomas Jefferson Byrd

         Brandon Adams

         Ellen Cleghorne

         Carlton Wilborn

 

MacArthur Park is a well-scripted piece of reality of the homeless plight in most major cities.  Crack addicts, and drunks line the parks streets, and riddle them lifeless, as the homed walk by without a clue.  Billy Wirth director, has definitely found his calling, after years of acting, he honed in on some of the skills of past directors.   Billy told EZ that he admired directors such as Franc Rodham, & Herb Ross, both these directors had the helm in two of his movies in which Billy acted. 

The camera moved you to a degree as you felt you were right there in the park.   Each character was strong and according to Mr. Wirth he allowed them some leeway to ad-lib lines to make the impact the success of this film.

Based on a true story of an incredibly talented writer, Tyrone Atkins, shares his life, his struggles, and his achievements with the world, & I for one am truly grateful.  One could learn from watching, that this person has a definite way to making sure he has your attention, sure you want to look away, and not look back but this reporter walked away with the lesson of life.

Thomas Jefferson Byrd  (Cody) was phenomenal, as the ex- trumpet-playing crack addict who threw it all away for a hopeless addiction and descent into an oblivion most will never recover. His portrayal was so powerful he literally sucks you in, there was no stone left un-turned in his actions as father figure to the park.  He left you wishing you could help him over-come the struggles.

Brandon Adams (Terry) portrays Cody’s son who wishes to have his father back.  He owned his character, his facial expressions so intense, you could easily feel his pain.  I wanted to jump out of my seat & scream Dude hug your son, Brandon’s soulful eyes damn near brought tears to mine as he stood there looking for his dad’s love.

The ensemble cast was entirely believable, each person portrayed the epitome of destitution, characters like St Louis (Carlton Wilborn), helped aid in the absolute need for a little humor just to take some of the edge of the drama that unfolds you.

Ellen Cleghorn (Hoover Blue) leads you into her character as a strong woman in a messed up world, she even becomes a heroine of sorts as she takes the young, Sydney Tamiia Poitier (Linda) soon to be prostitute, addict and sends the child home.

The soundtrack was so well thought of it aided in the telling of the story.  It almost seemed as though each track was written for the scenes in the movie. Billy had said in a Q&A that he and Terri Breed discussed the music on a daily basis. Only one flaw in our opinion, “Did we really need another rendition of “MacArthur Park” the song?”  Macy Gray is wonderful but this song really had nothing to do with this movie.  Thank God the song does not appear until the closing credits.

 

I could go on & on and write about every little thing, but the best way to describe this movie is, YOU MUST GO AND SEE.

Billy’s MacArthur Park made a very powerful statement, but we’ll let you be the judge.

 

The Zone’s rating is a 9.5!  For riveting and intensity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PRINCIPAL CAST:

Thomas Jefferson Byrd, Balthazar Getty, Sydney Tamia Poitier, Sticky Fingaz, Miguel Nunez, Cynda Williams

DIRECTOR: Billy Wirth

EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS:
Beata Rosenbaum, Stephen Drunsic, Robie Reed-Humes

PRODUCERS:
Billy Wirth, Maricel Pagulayan

SCREENWRITERS:
Billy Wirth, Sheri Sussman, Aaron Courseault, Tyrone Atkins

CINEMATOGRAPHER:
Kristian Bernier

EDITOR:
Terri Breed

MUSIC:
Stephen Perkins and SKY

THE STORY:

Surrounding the sun-dappled lake and swaying palm trees of MacArthur Park is a violent and desperate world of pimps, ho's, gangs, and crack addicts. With a palpable sense of realness and tangibility, actor/director Billy Wirth's feature debut, MacArthur Park, is a stirring portrait of a whack homeless park community bonded by crack cocaine addiction.

It is an insider's look at a Los Angeles that is real and rarely seen. In the park's drug-fixated shantytown, Cody is a kind of crackhead father figure who helps his friends when they are in trouble or in desperate need of a "blast." His girlfriend, Alicia, is a romantic who's losing her soul to the drug, and E-Max is a street hustling pimp who is trying to scoop young Linda into his motley legion of harlots. Hoover Blue, earth mother to all the addicts, attempts to pound some knowledge into the starry-eyed Linda while Cody tries to help young P-Air get his hustle on to record a hip hop track and make it big.

But when Cody's real son, Terry, tracks him down to tell him his wife has passed away, Cody doesn't even recognize him at first and then can't help him with postmortem affairs. After five years of crack addiction, Cody wants to get straight and do right by Terry, but the harder he struggles to escape the park, the more it closes in on him.

More than a cautionary tale, MacArthur Park is a humanizing gaze at a lifestyle that is often ridiculed or mythologized. With a superb sense of atmosphere, visual style, a phat hip hop soundtrack, and exceptional performances by an ensemble cast lead by Thom Byrd, Billy Wirth gives us this illuminating insight on addiction and redemption.

Official Movie Site:

www.macarthurparkthemovie.com