‘Shangri-LA’: Q & A with Wisco filmmakers

Josh Hadley

josh hadley | the shadows of pop culture | feb. 2019

Drew Rosas and Nick Sommer are local guys that have made films that you may not be aware of and we should change that.

Starting with the slasher film “Blood Junkie" in 2010 and moving into the underrated 2013 film “Billy Club," Rosas and Sommer make films in Wisconsin with Wisconsin sensibilities. Their newest project, “Shangri-LA," may not be Wisconsin-based (it obviously takes place in Los Angeles hence the LA in the title) but it is brimming with local talent. Besides Rosas and Sommer (co-directors and co-writers with Sommer also starring) Wisconsin legend Mark Borchardt is also on board and Green Bay's own Hank Carlson did the gore effects for a weird fantasy freakout scene in one segment of the film. Well, it's not a film, as “Shangri-LA" is a web series but at the premiere in Milwaukee last month all of the segments were edited together into a film so that is how I saw it. You will see it in 10-minute episodes.

“Shangri-LA" is a funny and pretty biting satire on the nature of "fame," on the dream of going to Los Angles to get famous and how cruel the reality actually is. The performances are fantastic, the production value is amazing for this budget and Rosas and Sommer make this look better on a visual level than most DTV movies these days.

When “Shangri-LA" does come out (soon) I think readers of Frankly Green Bay would not only end up enjoying the series but also what it was positing as to the arrogant importance we place on being "someone."

I spoke to Rosas and Sommer after the premiere about “Shangri-LA."

First off, where did this series come from? It is obviously a satire on fame and stardom but what promoted you to create it?

This project is very self-reflective for us. Being a couple of starving artists ourselves, we wanted to create a cast of characters struggling to make it in Hollywood while surviving the streets of L.A. The term Shangri-la comes from the novel 'Lost Horizon,' by James Hilton, about a mythical paradise. In the context of Los Angeles, 'Shangri-LA' follows a cast of characters that are in search of their own paradise, the 'Hollywood Dream' ... but does it really exist?

Any difficulty shooting around LA? Any good stories?

There are too many happy accidents in independent filmmaking to even list. Things don't always go as planned and you learn to adapt. We like to say we write bronze, shoot silver and edit gold.

Shooting in L.A. can be tricky to gain access to certain locations … We tried to create a story that was easier for us to make and could sort of fly under the radar. Small cast and crew as well as shooting with minimal gear made it a lot easier to get around obstacles of the city. Our central character lives in a shack he built himself with scraps he found around the city. The interior scenes in the shack were shot in Drew's backyard but for the exteriors we needed to get the shack onto a hill overlooking the iconic 6th Street Bridge and skyline of downtown L.A. So we disassembled our shack into manageable pieces and dropped it off under the guise of night. Then we returned early in the morning to shoot our character assembling the shack along with our other scenes. We had many curious onlookers and our shack did get destroyed the second night, but we managed to rebuild and get all the shots we needed. It is a nice parallel because our show is partially about characters reclaiming public spaces in L.A. and we had a similar approach with our crew when shooting the show.

The series looks great; it looks far more expensive than its budget and that is your ability as director, how did you get it to look better than most DTV movies these says with less of a budget?

For starters we really do everything ourselves with the help of a few very talented close friends. We write, shoot, build, act, edit, produce, compose music and much more. Running a small cast and crew helps keep the budget low since we don't pay ourselves.

Second, the quality of cameras these days has put the indie filmmaker at a slighter, more level platform to bigger productions.

(Drew shot the entire series on the Sony A7S DSLR camera, framing beautiful urban landscapes of underground L.A. while Nick worked on making all the props and sets look as interesting as possible.)

The performances are roundly great, any cast issues or problems?

"No. Not at all. Everyone in the cast is one of our friends who we catered the roll to. They are all super interesting individuals who are extremely talented. We always find that when shooting indie projects with your friends it is best to write a character for them that is halfway authentic to who they are in real life. This lets them kind of just be themselves on camera and produces a more natural performance than strictly reading lines off the script. The hardest part was trying to coordinate our shoots since everyone's schedule was different and we didn't have money to lock people into multiple shoot days in a row. We had to work around everyone's busy schedules and make it all fit together.

With this being a satire on Hollywood how do you think the general audience will take it once it comes out?

It is a satire at some levels but it also tells a deeper story with a lot of heart. We feel like this series is relatable to a broad audience by offering a universal story of following your ambitions in the face of hardship. It's not just about Hollywood but a deeper look into the individual human struggles many people face. Almost everyone has at one point in their life tried to follow their dreams while having to overcome varying obstacles. We hope viewers will be able to relate to the struggle of our characters and find the humor in the ridiculous antics they create to try to climb their way to the top.

When will the series come out officially?

We are still working hard on the online release of our show but we are hoping for late spring. You can follow us on Facebook (ShangriLAshow) Instagram (@ShangriLAshow) or our website (Shangri-LAshow.com) for updates. We were just awarded a fiscal sponsorship grant to help us raise money for the release and promotion costs. Basically we can now accept donations for the project and they are fully deductible as a gift to a non-profit. More info on this is available on our website. There are also talks of a mini theatrical tour to coincide with the online release, and we are aiming to get a premiere screening in Green Bay or around the Fox Valley in the mix.

Shangri-LA was great to see at the premiere (I was with Hank Carlson) and I honestly think that this is a great example of how to do a web series properly and something other aspiring storytellers can look at for years to come.

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