Sean Anders would like you to know this movie thing isn't as easy as it looks.
When he and a friend, Chuck LeVinus, decided to give filmmaking a go three years ago this June, the idea was to put together something loosely resembling a script, harass friends into becoming on-screen guinea pigs, shoot something completely unwatchable, learn from it, and then make a real movie.
"We never thought it would work on the first try," Anders says. "It just happened."
Interview with Sean Anders
Working with a collection of novices every step of the way, Anders, 35 and until recently a Mesa-based graphic designer, co-wrote, directed and stars in the mockumentary-style comedy Never Been Thawed. On the eve of its April 15 debut at the Harkins Valley Art Theatre in Tempe, Anders finds himself living in Hollywood, promoting a project that in three years' time has transformed from learning experience to potential meal ticket.
Anders is affable, witty, and possessed of a cynic's heart, and it's readily apparent that he doesn't take himself all that seriously. It is also a fact that the guy has a grade-A bullshit detector. Anders swears he isn't interested in sending messages through his work. He's much more interested in the art of humor, and the more irreverent the better.
"NBT's humor is pretty harsh, but we just went with what was funny to us," Anders says, the hint of a Midwestern accent suggesting his childhood in Wisconsin. "There are enough people out there to teach us deep and meaningful lessons."
A self-described "pessimist by nature," Anders seems genuinely surprised at where circumstances have brought him. Then again, perhaps he shouldn't be. After all, his sister Andrea is an accomplished actress and a regular on the Friends spin-off series Joey.
Even so, filmmaking simply wasn't on the short list when Anders and the other members of his band, Stone Bogart, ditched Wisconsin for Arizona in 1996. The idea was simple: Get the hell out of the Midwest in winter and go to a place closer to the music industry in L.A.
Anders settled in Tempe, and wasted no time scoring gigs for his band at local, now-defunct clubs like Long Wong's and Nita's Hideaway. Through the bands that shared those stages with his, Anders would come to meet many of those who would become important players in the making of a movie still years away. Among them were Chuck LeVinus, manager of the Stumbles, and John Morris of Dryspell.
In 2000, Stone Bogart moved to Hollywood. There, Anders unknowingly laid the groundwork for what would eventually become Never Been Thawed.
"I had written fictional bios for the band's Web site, including one about our guitarist being a frozen food entree collector living in an apartment full of freezers," Anders says. "For some reason, that bio got a lot of positive response via e-mail. Years later it became a main story line for the movie."
Anders also tried his hand at a five-minute gag movie for the site, and found himself so inspired that for the first time, an idea that had previously resided in the back of his mind -- that of making a film -- began to take center stage.
By June of 2002, Anders had returned to the Valley and hung up his rock 'n' roll spurs for good. Settling in Mesa and not content to buy into the concept of 9-to-5 living quite yet, he and old friend LeVinus, a solidly built Phoenix firefighter, began discussing a possible foray into film.
"Chuck and I had talked about making a movie," Anders says. "In the beginning, we would just get together, bullshit about whatever we thought was funny, and wait for pearls to show up."
Convinced they were on to something, Anders and LeVinus brought in John Morris, an old friend living in Reno, to work on the script. The three decided that no ideas were too far out of bounds, and used their contacts throughout the Valley to begin molding and shaping the film.
"The main thing that made the movie work was the people," Anders explains. "If we had made it anywhere else but Arizona, it would not be the same movie."
From the very opening credits, which roll to a backing track of the Piersons classic "Pink Dress," NBT has a distinctly Arizona feel. From the Ibiza Cafe and Wine Bar in Scottsdale to the area in and around Squaw Peak to Anders' own Mesa home, some 50 locations were used in all. Mysteriously, some still can't be revealed to this day.
"The location of some places, like the No Choice Cafe [the movie's anti-abortion-themed restaurant], can't be revealed because the owners were leery of the subject matter," Anders says, laughing. "All of the location owners were all very helpful, but some thought it would be better to remain anonymous."
Anders has already sold his Mesa home and is renting an apartment in the Silverlake area of L.A. With a reputable talent agency (Beverly Hills-based Broder, Webb, Chervin, Silbermann) behind him and co-writer Morris, and a new script making the rounds (he's not ready to reveal the subject matter), he's getting a firsthand look at Hollywood. Not surprisingly, given his outgoing personality and cynic's worldview, Anders sees the glass as both half full and half empty.
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"I tend to have low expectations, but I've been impressed by how nice and cool everyone I've met in Hollywood has been so far. On the downside, I've learned why there are so many unbelievably shitty movies. These companies don't want to confuse or offend anyone. Every decision these people make will either keep them their job or lose them their job, so they're terrified of making a decision."
Which might explain why Anders is hoping to film his next movie, a screwball comedy with NBT's unapologetic brand of humor, right here in Arizona. It also explains why he is committed in his own provocative and witty way to finding laughs in the hypocrisy he sees as part of the human condition.
"For me, hypocrisy is certainly a theme I'll always enjoy poking fun at," he says. "NBT is more about how we all get caught up in silly shit -- be it collecting, religious guidelines, band scenes, corporate culture, etc. We all get caught up in subcultures and attach dogma to them. There's nothing wrong with that . . . it's human nature. But I think the movie says it's important to step back and see the absurdity in these things.
"Also, it's about a bunch of dipshits who collect frozen entrees."