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How two Charlotteans turned a grueling film shoot into film festival glory

By Dan Cava

September 27, 2016

Charlotte filmmakers Thomas Torrey and Justin Moretto are on a roll. Literally. 

Their new feature film Fare was filmed over three grueling days in Charlotte and Fort Mill locations, all from within a moving vehicle and with Torrey playing triple duty as the movie’s star, writer, and director. Fare is the very first offering from their newly formed film production company Bad Theology, and has already received critical acclaim and a coveted evening premiere at the Newport Beach Film Festival last April. On Thursday, September 29, the film will hold its East Coast premiere at the Charlotte Film Festival. (CLTure reviewed the film earlier this year.) Both Torrey and producer Moretto left stable, promising careers to pursue what they feel is an enterprising business model in the independent feature film market.

With the duo busily preparing their second feature, I sat down with the Bad Theology partners to discuss their ambitious debut and their plans for the future.

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Thomas Torry, J.R Adduci and Justin Moretto

Dan Cava: Where did the initial idea of the movie come from?

Thomas Torrey: I was reading Ed Burns’ book Independent Ed, and had one of those bursts of motivation to just make something as quickly and as cheaply as I could. Just to go create. That was on a Thursday. By the following Monday I had the first draft of the script written. Five weeks later we were shooting.

Justin Moretto: Thomas sent me a cryptic text that Thursday that said, “I’ve got a really crazy idea that might change the next few months for us. I’ll tell you about it when I get back on Monday.” I spent the whole weekend trying to figure it out, but the best I could come up with was a bank heist. Luckily, it wasn’t that crazy, and when he sent me his first draft that Monday, I was hooked on the idea of shooting something high concept yet attainable.  

DC: Talk about the decision to shoot this in the way you did: over three intensive days.

TT: First, we had very little money in the bank to spend. And second, we were in the middle of a sizeable capital campaign for our film company Bad Theology, which included the production of other films. Fare was only going to work if making it didn’t get in the way of all that. Plus, shooting in a weekend would enable me to ask some favors of really talented people and get them to work well below their quotes. We came up with a three-day schedule, which we successfully completed.

JM: On the financial side, I knew that it was the right call, but only if we could produce something compelling and fresh. Otherwise it would have been a waste of everyone’s time. The schedule was aggressive, and we definitely learned hard lessons which we’ll apply in the future, but in the end I’m glad I trusted Thomas’ instincts and made this great film.

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DC: Charlotte has a pretty vibrant production community. How did local support play a role in getting Fare done.

TT: The only way Fare got made is because of the unbelievable support of the local film community. Thankfully, I had accumulated the goodwill of many actors and crew in town over the years, mostly from my previous job producing and directing PSA spots for a TV network. Everyone dove in with great enthusiasm, from my three other actors and my production crew. These are people who just want to make good movies and trusted me enough to lend their time and talents when they could have been making real money elsewhere.

JM: The dedication of the cast and crew, working on a shoestring budget, was greater than a lot of what I experienced managing large well funded projects in the corporate world. These people really love what they do, and it shows.

DC: Was the original title of this movie Collateral? (I’m kidding. I love that movie and I’m looking for any excuse to talk about it)

TT: Hah! Collateral is a great film and was certainly one of the films we looked at for visual references. Locke, Drive, and Nightcrawler were other films we referenced with our DP R.C. Walker, when we were figuring out how to approach the film visually. We shot it with three Canon 5Ds, each one suction-mounted to some part of the car, both on the interior and exterior. Shooting with three cameras at a time allowed us to blow through pages and not waste time with camera setups. We lit the car with about $100 worth of battery-powered LED lights we got from Home Depot and Amazon.

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DC: Was it challenge to be on all sides of the camera? Directing yourself in your own script?

TT: Hell yes, it was a challenge. In fact, when we wrapped I swore I would never again star in something I was also directing. But I did it primarily for cost and efficiency– if nothing else I knew my lead actor would show up on time and work for free! Doing the mental transitions from that type of acting to then preparing for shots to then also addressing unpredicted issues drained me in every way. Don’t get me wrong– it was thrilling and exciting and I had a blast making every minute of this movie. But it was hard as shit.

DC: What does it mean to be featured at the Charlotte Film Festival?

TT: It was always our hope that we could have a good, public screening here in Charlotte. We live here. We work here. And we filmed Fare all around the city and in Fort Mill. So to be able to screen at Arysley Cinemas as part of the Charlotte Film Festival is the best outcome we could have hoped for. In fact, this screening will be our East Cost Premiere. Knowing that the local community will get to see the film on the big screen— and that cast and crew can be there to witness it— is sort of what you hold out for with any film. So this is awesome.

DC: Fare has secured a distribution deal, right? What does that mean for the film and for Bad Theology?

TT: Correct. Fare was acquired by Random Media this past summer and will be released by The Orchard and Sony Pictures in early 2017. It won’t get a theatrical release— The Orchard will handle the release on digital platforms, and Sony on home video, with Random handling marketing for both— but since theatrical can be so expensive to promote, focusing on digital/video is actually the most economical path for a small film like Fare. Landing distribution is exciting, and was a crucial part of our plan to position Fare as a prototype project for our company. But it was never a guarantee. So to be able to get a company like Random to believe in the film is everything. That was a good day. And as far as what it does for our company, being able to say to investors that companies like The Orchard and Sony are in our corner, well that can make all the difference as we raise new capital.

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DC: I understand you two have taken a big leap. Leaving some great 9-to-5 jobs to start a film company. Tell us about that decision.

TT: I had been working for a TV network producing short films and PSAs, like I mentioned, and it was an incredibly fulfilling job, both creatively and financially. But I always saw it as a stepping-stone for me. My dream has always been to make my own films– feature films– and ones whose audience was a mature art-house indie crowd. But I just felt it was time to take the dive and go on my own and see if I could get some feature films produced, however much of a personal and financial risk that might be. That’s when I reached out to Justin and said, “Do you want to start a film company with me?”

JM: My background is in neuroscience and engineering, which eventually led to project management at an $85 billion biotech firm. Despite the never-ending river of work, I wanted a new challenge. Like Thomas mentioned, he and I wrote a neuroscience thriller screenplay a few years ago, so the idea of a film-adjacent career had already floated through my head, but when he texted me I knew the time was right.

DC: What about Bad Theology’s business model makes it different from any other indie film company?

TT: I knew to avoid the idea of just trying to get some personal passion project financed. I thought that vision was too small and risky, and, frankly, I had failed at it already. I wanted something bigger, and something more properly risk-mitigated within a business model that would produce a slate of films, as opposed to a single film.

JM: Any single film has a large probability of failing to break even, but if you look at any two, three or four films that number goes down significantly. Think of us as a small cap mutual fund, but for film: we’re working hard to make them all succeed, but we only need one to really land with viewers to make the whole venture profitable.  We’re also committed to being a company known for its ethical and inclusive business practices. That means fair compensation for creatives, diversity in our storytelling, and just generally doing right by the people we work with.

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DC: What’s next for Bad Theology?

TT: We’re still in the middle of our slate capital campaign, so connecting with investors takes a lot of focus. We’re on track to begin production on Bad Theology’s second feature, our sci-fi thriller, called Premise, sometime this summer. In addition, we’re developing projects with outside filmmakers, including some pretty exciting projects that we hope to announce soon.

JM: We’ve just hit the one-and-a-half year anniversary for starting the company. I’m blown away by what we’ve achieved in the last year and I can’t wait to see how much of our plans we’ll accomplish in the next.

Fare is a dramatic thriller about a ride-share cab driver who finds himself transporting the man who is secretly sleeping with his wife. Blurring the lines of tone and genre, the film explores love, betrayal and the fight for a committed relationship.

Fare’s East Coast premiere is Sept 29 at the Charlotte Film Festival. For tickets visit: http://www.charlottefilmfestival.org/.

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