One of the best things about the Tallgrass Film Festival, which started Thursday with an opening night gala, is that filmmakers will travel to Wichita to talk about their projects.
Sunday's closing film, "The Deal," will feature a Q&A afterward with cast member Jason Ritter and Valley Center native Arthur Allen, one of the film's producers.
And if that isn't enough behind-the-scenes perspective, the film itself is about making a film.
The comedy/satire stars William H. Macy as Charlie, a down-and-out film producer who suddenly gets a knock on his door. It's his nephew, Lionel (played by Ritter), who has come to Hollywood with his first script and asks his uncle to help him get it made.
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It's just what Charlie needs to reignite the fire in his belly. But Charlie, it turns out, isn't such a trustworthy or likable guy.
He manipulates a studio executive (Meg Ryan) into getting the film greenlighted -- and then things go wildly wrong.
Lionel's once charming period piece is turned into a gaudy, run-of-the-mill action flick. Budgets escalate with exotic locales. The lead actress can't convincingly throw a grenade. Finally, the big-name macho star (LL Cool J) is kidnapped by terrorists.
And Charlie can't seem to win the affections of the studio exec, though he refuses to give up. From there, havoc, romance and even actual filmmaking ensue.
Ritter said "The Deal" is a commentary on the Hollywood studio system.
"My character sort of represents the person coming in with the pure idea," he said in a phone call from New York earlier this week, "and watching with horror as the machine that is Hollywood takes a good idea and makes it into something obvious and bland."
Ritter, 28, is no stranger to Hollywood -- he's the son of actors Nancy Morgan and the late John Ritter, but he's building quite a resume on his own merits. Besides "The Deal," he stars in another Tallgrass selection, "Good Dick," alongside girlfriend Marianna Palka, who also wrote and directed the film, an unconventional look at relationships and romance. Ritter also appears in Oliver Stone's "W."
Working on "The Deal" was like being in a studio film with an independent bent, Ritter said. And that made it fun.
"It was, like, a 33-day shoot," in Cape Town, South Africa, he said. "And I only had to work for 16 or 17 of those. Everyone was really nice, and it was all very laid-back. Bill (Macy) would be on the stairs of his trailer playing his ukulele. It was funny."
Production on "The Deal" began sometime around 2006. And much like the film within the film, there were setbacks.
Allen said the film started production in Bucharest, then was halted. Then-star Lisa Kudrow had to back out after scheduling conflicts. Ryan came on board.
But Allen said he was committed to making the film from the beginning, partly because of his longtime friendship with Macy (they both have ties to the Atlantic Theatre Company in New York in the early '90s), but also because of his admiration for Macy's talent (he wrote the screenplay for "The Deal" and also is a producer).
Allen, 50, said producing the film gave him a chance to get to know more about filmmaking, something he longed to do.
"It was film school by immersion," he said. "I never had so much fun."
Allen, who's based in New York but returns to Wichita often, even appeared in the film as an extra, but said he prefers to be behind the camera.
"I really have a pretty good eye for truth and assessing the situation," he said. "I can see myself involved in this for a long time."
If you go
What: Closing night gala for the Tallgrass Film Festival
When: 6:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: CAC Theater at Wichita State University
How much: $15. The event, which includes an after-party at the Ulrich Museum with food, open bar and entertainment, is free for WSU students, faculty and staff.