Michigan has been drawing talent from all over the country, as well as the world. It has been doing this for years. One of the reasons offered for coming to Michigan to create a film has to do with costs. It cost less to make a movie here in Michigan than it does elsewhere. Also, Michigan still has some top-notch talent, both in front of the camera and behind it despite the mad exodus when Michigan’s Governor pulled the plug on Michigan’s film incentives.
When film director Nick Felice started to look for a film school that would fit his budget, it did not take long for him to realize that Michigan offered instruction for less than elsewhere in the country. So, Nick moved from St. Joseph, Missouri to Michigan to attend school at the Motion Picture Institute, Troy, MI in 2007 and 2008.
After finishing film school, he returned to Missouri. In 2013, Nick started casting talent from the Michigan area for his first feature film “Getting Out.” This film starred Kevin Hartzman, Michael J. Renda, Ashley-Rene’ Everest, George Avgoustis , Jerry Hayes , Denise Emilia Sandulescu, among others.
“Getting Out” won Best Producer and Best Actor for Kevin Hartzman at the Universal Film Festival in Kansas City in 2014, plus Best Director – Nevada International Film Festival Best Screenplay – Las Vegas Galaxy Film Awards It also screened at North Hollywood Film Festival and Motor City Nightmares and in 2015, to name a few
In the summer of 2016, having returned to Missouri, Nick filmed his next movie, “Desperate Cowboys,” a film that he had written for Kevin Hartzman and George Avgoustis. Joining him from Michigan were actors Carter Burch and Donna Barbera. The balance of this cast and crew were from Missouri.
“Desperate Cowboys” was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for Kevin Hartzman at the Utah Film Awards in 2017 It won Best Picture at Freedom Film Fest It also screened at the Royal Starr Film Festival and the Trinity Detroit International Film Festival in 2017
Now Nick has returned to Michigan to film his next film, “Bet on Ben.”
Nick Felice consented to this interview during the work on his “Bet on Ben,” a story of an ex-con who returns home to reconcile with his lost love, only to become involved in another deal that could cost him his life.
I spoke with one of your leads a couple weeks ago and she said you were in the Michigan area. Is this still the case?
Yeah, I moved up here last spring to make “Bet On Ben.” I’m in the Sterling Heights area>
Cool! How have you liked the Michigan area so far?
I’ve lived here before when I went to film school and made,” Getting Out.” Just been a few years since I lived here last.
Where are you from originally, and where did you attend school? When?
From St. Joseph, Missouri. Went to MPI (Motion Picture Institute) in Troy in 2007 and graduated in 2008.
What brought you up here in the first place?
Film school. After spending years trying to find a film school I could afford I found MPI (Motion Pictures Institute). So, that’s when I first moved to Michigan.
So, prior to your first feature, “Getting Out,” you had made several short films. What was your inspiration for “Getting Out” and how long did it take you to write the script for this?
I wrote it in about 6 months and started casting immediately up in Michigan while I was in Missouri. I was shooting the movie about 4 months after I finished the script. The movies “The Pope of Greenwich Village” and “Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead” were big inspirations.
You had filmed “Getting Out” in Bloomfield Hills. Is this correct? And had several heavy hitters (Michigan actors) in this movie. How long did it take you to film things and how long after did you see the results of your efforts?
We filmed in Sterling Heights, Detroit and Washington MI actually We shot it in about 15 days spread out over 2 months We shot in the fall and saw a rough cut around the following April.
I had a small cast and crew. All of the actors were great and eager to make the movie. They were all professional and turned out a solid indie movie. It was stressful but fun. The crew was very professional and great to work with too.
This was your first experience working with members of this cast, but I see that a number of them would appear in your next film, “Desperate Cowboys.” This was a movie that followed a couple of years later. Talk about how everything for this movie came together. I see that “Desperate Cowboys” was filmed in Missouri.
Yeah, I wrote a role for Kevin Hartzman and George Avgoustis for “Desperate Cowboys” after working with them on “Getting Out.” Yeah, we shot in Kansas City in the summer of 2016. The crew and the rest of the cast were out of Kansas City, except for actors Carter Burch and Donna Barbera who also came in from out of state The movies “The Counselor” and “No Country For Old Men” were my big inspirations. I wrote the script over two years It was released on VOD in 2018.
And I see that a number of members of the cast of “Desperate Cowboys” appear in your newest, “Bet On Ben”. Who are they? And how do you feel about working with familiar faces?
I like that I’ve met certain actors I feel comfortable working with more than once. Directors like Tarantino and Scorsese do it as well. With “Bet On Ben” actors Carter Burch, Donna Barbera, and Justino Serino are returning from “Desperate Cowboys” Michael Renda is returning from “Getting Out.” The rest of the cast/crew are all new to me.
Yes, this is quite common in the film industry. In fact, before the end of the studio system, actors would work exclusively with a studio. There are advantages. Now tell us about your newest film, “Bet on Ben.” What was your inspiration for this movie?
“True Romance” was probably the biggest inspiration. Other movies that influenced me in writing the script were “Carlito’s Way,”” The Departed” and “Reservoir Dogs.” I’d say it’s also my most personal movie. I started writing the script right after shooting wrapped on Desperate Cowboys and finished it last winter. We shot the movie last summer.
Without issuing spoilers, can you give us some idea regarding the story-line.
An ex-con, Ben returns home to reconcile with Heidi, his lost love, and seek closure from a former friend who made him take the fall on an arms deal which is what made him get sent to prison. All while this is happening, Ben and Heidi get caught up in another arms deal which puts both their lives at risk.
Wow, I like this story-line. I understand that although a rough-cut of the film now exists, you don’t see a release date until 2021. I cannot wait.
I’ll have it released by the end of 2020 and looking to have a premiere in March-April
Please keep me posted.
Absolutely. I remembered you seemed to like my movie “Getting Out.” “Bet On Ben” blows that movie away. I feel it’s my best work.