'Milwaukee' Redefining What It Means To Be Indie In Hollywood

Nathan Francis

Milwaukee is proof that good movies being made in Hollywood don't necessarily have to be from Hollywood.

The movie, which made its debut at the Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose, is the first project from The Milwaukee Collective, a group of writers, directors, producers and actors in Los Angeles. The group came together during a rare break in their otherwise busy schedules and decided to make a movie, one that was constructed entirely outside the traditional Hollywood framework.

The group is bursting with young talent. It includes Brandon Jay McLaren (Graceland), Martha MacIsaac (Superbad), Jodi Balfour (Bomb Girls), Jordan Hayes (Helix), Max Topplin (Suits) and Alex Ashbaugh (Super Fast!).

Their movie follows a group of friends who meet at a vacation house and, after a few drinks, decide to cast aside the traditional societal norms for a night and do whatever they want with whoever they want ("Lord of the Flies night for yuppies," one puts it).

The results, at least at first, are what you might expect. Broken free of the constraints of their relationships and lubricated by alcohol, the group tests their ideas of monogamy in some clumsy encounters.

Not all are fully engaged with the idea of a one-night hall pass. The straight-laced and faithful Sam (Ashbaugh), whose fiancé Beans (Balfour) was one of the most enthusiastic to try the experiment, is the last of the group to agree to the night without rules. While the others celebrate their new-found freedom, Sam slinks back to his room to play with action figures.

But as the night grinds on, their revelry leads to discoveries about themselves and their relationships. While the project started as freedom to break whatever societal rules they wanted, the group found that crossing the imaginary line really gave them freedom to be honest with each other and themselves.

Director Torre Catalano, making his feature film debut, said this honesty came from the actors themselves.

"Each scene and each line was workshopped directly with the actor to pull out the most real and honest performance," he told the film blog Popcorn and Vodka. "The actors pulled a lot from their own lives and they were incredibly brave in doing that. Because we had the flexibility of being an indie film, we were able to re-shoot and re-work any scenes that didn't feel 100 percent honest. We tackle some pretty hard topics about sex and monogamy, and come at them full-speed without apology."

As a result Milwaukee is honest --- sometimes brutally so --- in a way the traditional movies churned out by Hollywood movies are seldom able to be.

The movie's plot is largely a reflection of the Milwaukee Collective itself. Catalano noted that the idea for the movie was born during a dinner party where wine was flowing and ideas tossed around.

But unlike most plans hatched over drinks, this one actually came to pass. The group came up with the story together, Catalano wrote the script, and the actors booked everything else --- right down to the food and props.

The approach flies in the face of Hollywood, where making a movie is anything but a linear process. From the moment they came up with the idea for the movie, the Milwaukee Collective had just a few weeks before many would be returning to their television projects. They were determined, though, to make it work.

"We decided that we didn't need to wait for permission from a studio or agency, because sitting at that table we had everything you need to make a film --- actors, a director, a writer, a producer, and talented people who would support it," Catalano said. "We decided to set a deadline and move forward before we could think of a reason to back out."

Though it came together in a tight window, Milwaukee looks anything but rushed. The dialogue is sharp and the story pacing matched perfectly with the cinematography, with the movie reaching its resolution just as the sun begins to peek from behind the mountains.

The result has been very well received so far. Milwaukee had two sold-out screenings at the Cinequest Film Festival, with a final screening Wednesday at 5 p.m. at the California Theatre in San Jose.

After a whirlwind filmmaking process, the Milwaukee Collective is soaking it all in.

"In all honesty, we are enjoying the moment," he told ConciergeQ. "Will it continue? Maybe. Right now though we are most proud of the deep honesty that is expressed in our film."