“We shot this thing for less $200,000,” said Beau Martin Williams about his new project, Americons, a feature film which is akin to a film such as The Wolf of Wall Street though set in the high-stakes world of real-estate industry swindles which precipitated the 2008 financial catastrophe. “We are talking about the real-estate industry and a story that needs to be told,” he said.
Williams, who starred, co-produced, and wrote the script, had a partner in the project. “I had pitched it to Matt Funke,” said Williams of his co-star and fellow co-producer. “A Boiler Room about real estate” went Williams’ pitch. “When we started working on the script, the script kept evolving. I wrote 4,000 pages to get to a 76-page shooting script.”
An eventual draft of Americons was 108 pages, typical for a feature-length project but for one serious problem: “We didn’t have the money to film 108 pages,” said Williams. “The music carried the gaps and tone for the holes that we did have in the story. There was more information there that we didn’t shoot.”
Williams himself was in the real-estate business but left Washington Mutual two weeks before they laid off their loan consultants nationwide. “I had to reinvent myself,” he stated about this period. “Based on the connections I have, what can I do?”
Some friends of his were working in the Hollywood nightlife scene which gave him an idea. “With the help with my business partner, we started nightlife in the beach communities,” he explained of his rebound which informed Americons’ production philosophy: using his earnings, Williams co-funded the film and used restaurants, clubs and homes with which he was intimately familiar to secure locations for shooting. “Theo Avgerinos [the film’s director] was great at expanding the locations that we had. We have three days where we had location moves. The rest of the time, he pulled out different shots out of different locations. This guy can get a ton out of nothing.”
Of course, where The Wolf of Wall Street had a reported production budget of $100 million, Americons was created under the Screen Actors Guild’s Ultra-Low Budget Agreement. “We had two-to-three takes for some of these scenes,” said Williams. “We shot 12 principal days. Me and Funke looked at each other – we still had 25% to shoot.”
Ultimately, it took the pair a year to film pickup scenes all over the country to make sure they had requisite material for Americons. through that period, everybody on the key filmmaking team was working other jobs. “It was when people’s time is available,” Williams noted of the pickup period. “We all had to pay bills.”
Among Americons’ many high points are a moment where the audience will be sure that Williams’ character, Jason, is being fired from his nascent position with a real-estate interest. “At the table read, Funke did an improvisation and we used it,” Williams remarked. “In the shooting process, we’d workshop something and it would turn out better than the way it was written.”
Using “the best screenwriting advice” he received to “write what you know,” originally, Williams was trying to sell a project about his experience as a college football player, but the negative portrayal of the NCAA scared off the studios. “Why would a studio make a script about the exploitation of a college football player in a $50 billion business?” he later realized. “I’d try to shop it to producers who have produced football movies in the past. I sent it to Frank Yablans, [producer of the football classic North Dallas Forty. Yablans just passed away on Nov. 27, 2014], but a football movie wasn’t going to pull him off of the couch.”
Finally, for Americons, Williams decided on the independent route. “I financed half of the production budget,” he related. “If you want to do something, you got it do it yourself. If you won’t do it, why should someone else?”
In the opening scenes of Americons, Williams’ character is lured from his job with the mysterious prospect of making much more serious dollars, a scene which came from real life. “I was hired from the door at the nightclub by someone who asked me, ‘How would you like to make $400,000-$500,000 a year?’” he recalled. “Most of the script came from real life experiences that I had. Characters were inspired by people, but did it happen exactly that way to those characters? No. I wanted characters to tell the story through. There’s a lot of stuff that’s missing there. We do think it’s a story that does need to be told. Nobody else has done it.”
Explaining the world of high-powered real estate and finance to a layman, Williams pulled no punches. “It’s weighted in favor of people who are at the top,” he said. “That’s the moral of the story. We tried to create a realist piece.”
Americons opened on Jan. 23 in New York City at AMC Theaters in Times Square, in Southern California at AMC Burbank, Universal CityWalk and in Torrance.
Contingent on the film’s performance, it will expand into more theaters in February.