It’s a good thing Neil McGowan and Keith Stevenson didn’t keep to themselves.
The two West Virginia University alumni, who had moved independently to Los Angeles after graduating in the mid-90s from the School of Theatre and Dance in the College of Creative Arts, reconnected and turned their mutual interest in comedy into a partnership that has produced several award-winning plays.
Their latest collaboration is the independent film “Loners,” which began production late last month.
“These days it seems like every time there is a mass shooting in this country, the media people reporting on it use the same sound-bitten clich� – ‘He always kept to himself’ – to scapegoat loners for society’s ills and to shame them for being themselves,” said McGowan, from Finleyville, Pennsylvania, who received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in acting in 1995.
“In our comedy, we pursue this even further. We follow a group of eccentric loners who are forced to endure government-mandated group therapy. Led by a less-than-competent therapist, they are thrust into a conspiracy created by politicians to justify a failing government program and, in the end, they are forced to do what terrifies them the most – to stand up for their right to be alone – together!”
The movie started out as a play called “Lone-Anon,” written by McGowan and named one of the 10 best plays in Los Angeles for 2013 by LA Weekly. He wrote it for a festival at the Pacific Residence Theatre, and it premiered at the award-winning Rogue Machine Theatre.
Around the same time, Los Angeles producer David Welborn asked fellow producer and actor Tyson Turrou if he had any material that would make a good film. Since Tyson was acting in “Lone-Anon” at the time, he suggested an adaptation of the play. Turrou also brought in his University of Southern California film school friend, director Eryc Tramonn, and Tramonn’s producing partner Rob Miller.
Stevenson, a Keyser native who received his BFA in acting a year after McGowan, said, “Neil and I have worked together on several film and theater projects over the last 15 years. I’m very excited that a large audience will finally get to see the work of one of my favorite writers – Neil McGowan.”
McGowan, who wrote the screenplay, describes “Loners” as: “The Breakfast Club” meets “Dr. Strangelove.”
After a year and a half of rewrites, tweaks and table reads with the cast, production was scheduled to begin last month.
McGowan and Stevenson are both starring in the film and have put a lot of their own money into the project. They also raised enough funds through the crowdfunding source Indeigogo to cover the basic costs of production.
McGowan has been particularly successful as a writer. His screenplay, “Numbered,” won the 2008 Slamdance Screenplay Contest, and was a finalist in the 2007 Final Draft Big Break Screenplay Contest and the 2007 Austin Film Festival Screenplay Contest. His play “Tracks in the Snow” won the 2008 Mildred and Albert Panowski Playwriting Award and was produced in 2008 at Northern Michigan University.
Stevenson has acted in, produced, directed and written numerous plays, films and short films, and also became well-known for the comedy “Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Road,” produced at Pacific Resident Theatre in 2012. The real Fried Meat Ridge Road is located in Stevenson’s hometown of Keyser.
In the play, Mitchell answers an ad for a roommate and finds himself in a West Virginia countryside motel with JD, an affable hillbilly of mysterious origins. Soon JD’s neighbors—curmudgeonly Flip, meth-head Marlene, and her hot-headed boyfriend, Tommy—have all but taken over the tiny room and Mitchell finds himself in a hopeless situation, until he discovers the power of dance.
“Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Road” immediately became a cult-hit among fans and ran for six months. Stevenson has since written two more Fried Meat plays and received an Ovation Award nomination for “Best Playwriting for an Original Play” for the Fried Meat comedy series.
Stevenson and McGowan starred in the “Fried Meat” plays together and both are both members of Pacific Resident Theatre. One of the founding members of the theater is Joe Olivieri, who led WVU’s acting program when they were students.
They previously co-founded the production company Wee Small Films and together they have created several festival shorts, including “In the A.M. of Dec. 26th at the Corner of Kogosak and Cunningham in Barrow” and “All That Glitters,” as well as “Like Old Times” and “Trip and Sloan,” both of which were nominated for Best Short Film at the Austin Film Festival.
Shooting for “Loners” will take about two weeks and then will go through the editing process. When it is finished, they hope to get it on video-on-demand services, including Netflix and Amazon. They would also love to get it distributed through a studio and shown at a major film festival.
For more information about “Loners,” or to contribute to the production, see the website: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/loners.
CONTACT: Charlene Lattea, College of Creative Arts
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