It’s normal human nature for people to feel gracious when their accomplishments are recognized and rewarded by the people in their lives who have come to understand and relate to their emotions and motivations. But it’s also disappointingly far too commonplace when people are betrayed by those who are supposedly close to them, as it turns out they only thrive on their failures. Actor and producer Sean Nateghi powerfully showcased both relatable situations in his new independent romantic comedy-drama, ‘Me You and Five Bucks,’ which is was written and directed by, and also stars, his real-life friend, Jaime Zevallos. The movie, which is scheduled to have a one-week theatrical run at Arena Cinema in Hollywood starting this Friday, September 25, before it becomes available on iTunes, Amazon, On Demand and Playstation/X-Box on Tuesday, October 13, showcases how Nateghi is happy for his friend’s continued film success. But the producer’s prosperous character becomes increasingly apprehensive and threatened when the scribe-helmer’s character, who’s his best friend, starts to find his own achievements.
‘Me You and Five Bucks’ follows Charlie Castillo (Zevallos), who’s struggling to come to terms with his recent brutal break up. To help himself move on from the relationship, Charlie writes a self-help book, titled ‘The 7 Steps of Healing the Male Broken Heart.’ But his plan doesn’t doesn’t work, as he instead finds himself hanging out with his womanizing friends, including fellow writer Louie (Nateghi). Charlie is also forced to start looking for a roommate for his New York apartment, as he becomes low on cash. After placing an ad, he agrees to take the next person who responds. But to his surprise, the next person to answer is Pam (Angela Sarafyan), his ex and the love of his life, who’s also the inspiration for his book.
Nateghi generously took the time recently to talk about starring in, and producing, ‘Me You and Five Bucks’ during an exclusive phone interview. Among other things, the actor and producer discussed how it was fun playing Louie, as there were darker emotions and motivations that he was contending with as he resentfully watched his best friend begin to garner professional success with his book, and potentially rekindle his romance with Pam; how he, Zevallos and the rest of the cast didn’t have much time to rehearse together as actors during pre-production, as their producer and director duties required most of their attention, but they would talk to each other in character before they began filming; and how it was gratifying that the romantic comedy-drama played, and won awards, at so many festivals across the U.S., as the process proved that audiences are understanding and embracing the story’s messages.
ShockYa (SY): You play Louie, the best friend of Jaime Zevallos’ character, Charlie Castillo, in the romantic comedy-drama, ‘Me You and Five Bucks.’ What was it about the character, as well as the film’s script, that convinced you to take on the role?
Sean Nateghi (SN): Playing Louie was pretty fun, because you have a guy on the surface who’s very superficial. He has money and a great job, and it looks like he should be pretty happy. But I also liked playing the character because there was a lot more going on underneath. As the story unfolds, you start to realize that he’s really not happy, and he’s looking for something more.
SY: With Louie being very competitive, he becomes increasingly jealous when Charlie begins to reconcile with his ex-girlfriend, Pam, who’s played by Angela Sarafyan. Why do you feel Louie began to feel so threatened by his friend’s rekindled romantic relationship?
SN: I think there were two sides to that aspect of Louie. In my personal life when I was younger, I actually had a friend who was very much like Louie. It was the type of friendship where as long as you’re underneath me, we’re buddies and we can hang out and have fun. But the second you are doing better than, or equal to, me, than you’re going to see the jealousy come out.
So I think because Louie and Charlie are both writers, when Louie starts to notice that Charlie is going to sell his book, and things are starting to look good for him, that’s where Louie’s jealousy starts to pick up. Than with Pam, you don’t really know all the details about her relationships with Charlie and Louie, because of where the movie picks up. But when I started to look into the character, I decided to play it as though Louie was interested in Pam when they were younger, before the movie begins. But Charlie won her, so Louie decided he didn’t like Pam, because he couldn’t have her.
SY: Since Louie and Charlie are best friends, what was your working relationship like with Jaime as you were filming the comedy-drama, especially since you previously co-starred together in the 2012 drama, ‘Heartlines?’ Were you able to have any rehearsal time with him before, or while, you were shooting, in order to build your characters’ connection?
SN: It was actually difficult, because Jaime was directing, and acting in, the movie. Besides starring in the film, I was also producing it. So during pre-production, which happened very quickly, we had to fly to New York and get our locations.
So we really didn’t have time to work on our characters. So when we flew to New York and started looking at locations, which happened just days before we began shooting, we would basically talk as the characters. It was fun for me, because I got to talk a lot of crap to him, but I was talking as Louie. So I would say things to Jaime to be competitive, and put down things he was saying and doing. Instead of focusing on the lines, we were able to focus on the characters’ relationship. I feel like that process helped us a lot in the short amount of time we had to prepare together.
SY: After getting your start in the entertainment industry, you started your own business, ZOOR Films, which served as one of the production companies on ‘Me You and Five Bucks.’ Through the company, you served as one of the movie’s executive producers, like you mentioned. What initially interested you in starting ZOOR Films? How did you become involved in producing the comedy-drama?
SN: Well, while I was on different sets and watching how different things work, I became really curious about the production aspect of filmmaking. I had an experience on one feature film where I lost a role, and it had nothing to do with me. There were some issues with the star and someone else, and the next thing I know, I was off the set, and I had nothing to do with the issue.
I was very naive and thought, wow, that can happen. You hear stories about things like that happening, and there was nothing you could have done to avoid it. So that experience made me want to make my own film. That way, I couldn’t complain about someone else’s project.
So I then met up with Jaime through Daniel Chaffin, who’s the actor who plays Rick in the film. That’s how the whole project actually came together. So in real life, all three of us are friends, which worked very well for the film.
The process was really fun, because Jaime’s a great director. When you’re a producer, you have to have a very different energy and focus-you have to be detached and not too emotional. You have to be a problem solver, and you have too many responsibilities beyond yourself. If you’re too emotional, you get too affected by the process. There could be a fight, and you have to clean things up, or someone could quit, and you suddenly lose hours of the shoot. But when you’re an actor, it’s expected for you to be reactive, and they expect to see you get emotional. So it’s two completely different modes of working.
Jaime was great to work with on the film. It was funny-there were a few times when I arrived on the set, and he would say, “This is producer Sean; I need actor Sean.” I’d ask, “What’s the difference?” He’d say, “There’s a twinkle in your eye,” and I’d tell him, “I have no idea what you mean.” So he’d tell me to be more playful.
So it was a fun balancing act of being present and emotional as you let things hit you. But then when there were problems, you couldn’t let them hit you. I enjoyed that process.
SY: Besides playing Charlie in the film, Jaime also wrote and directed ‘Me You and Five Bucks,’ like you mentioned. What was your experience of working with him as not only co-stars, but also as the scribe and helmer? As an actor and producer, do you prefer working with directors who also penned the script?
SN: It’s funny-we were just starting to become friends right before we started making the film. But we started to really develop a sense of respect for each other, because we have the same kind of work ethic. So we’d do our shoots, and then the two of us would be the only ones who would still be up until four or five in the morning, even though we knew we had to be up again at seven. But we were talking about our shoots and what happened on the set that day, and what we wanted to do the next day. At the end of the day, he always had my back, and I always had his. So I love working with him, as he’s very driven and focused. We really worked side-by-side as a team.
SY: What was the process of shooting the comedy-drama independently on a short shooting schedule, as both an actor and producer? How did that process influence the creative experience on the set?
SN: It was an interesting process. I think Angela Sarafyan had just finished filming the last ‘Twilight’ movie (2012’s ‘The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2’), and has been on some other big sets throughout her career. But she told us while we were filming this movie, and actually told us again recently, that this was the funnest experience that she has ever had on a set.
We shot an entire feature film in 14 days, which is insane. We filmed it in New York, where it’s always busy. But the environment that created was similiar to theater. Theater is a live environment where you always have to be on, because you’re in front of a live audience, and you don’t get a second take.
Since we shot the in 14 days, we always had to be on. Every actor and person on the team had to bring their A game, because we knew that if we messed up, we might not have too many more takes. So I think everyone was super focused.
With the awards we received at the festivals, it seems like the acting resonates with a lot of people. The acting was natural and honest, and I feel like that was a result of all of us being honest and present. We also improvised a lot while we were filming.
SY: Speaking of improvising on the set, how much did Jaime encourage you and the rest of the cast to improv while you were filming? Did you feel the process helped with the overall filmmaking process?
SN: I think it most definitely helped. Like I mentioned earlier, we spoke in character while we were in pre-production, and that was our rehearsal process. Instead of focusing on the lines, we concentrated more on the relationships and the content of what the scenes were about. I believe that as an actor, the scenes can go any way, and the lines can change. But if you hone in on the relationships and content, you’ll never get lost, because you know what the story’s about.
SY: As both an actor and producer, what was the experience of shooting the comedy-drama on location in New York City, like you mentioned?
SN: I loved the process, as it was exciting. New York has a certain magic to it, especially in the wintertime. It’s funny that there’s a scene in the movie where I’m wearing a T-shirt, but what you don’t know is that it’s about 20 degrees. I was freezing and shivering, but I had to hold it together so that we could get our shots.
But overall, the shoot in New York was fun, and we were always eating pizza and bagels. We would walk around and meet new people, and make new friends constantly. The people of New York are kind, and don’t really mess with the process-they just do their own thing. It’s a cliche, but there’s no place like New York.
SY: Like you mentioned earlier, ‘Me You and Five Bucks’ has earned several awards on the film festival circuit, including IFQ Film Festival (Best Feature and the Audience Award), L.A. Arthouse Film Festival (Best Feature), Best Actors Film Festival (Best Director), Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival (Official Selection) and Columbus International Film Festival (Honorable Mention, Feature). What was your experience of bringing the comedy-drama on the festival circuit? What does it mean to you that it’s continuously being recognized at the festivals?
SN: It was really gratifying. When you’re making a film, it’s a very vulnerable and personal process. You’re putting your heart into something, and you’re capturing that process on film. But you have no idea how people are going to react. They might hate you and the film’s concept, but you have no clue how they’ll react while you’re filming. But it’s a business of risk-taking.
We didn’t expect that we would be accepted into so many festivals, so that process got us really excited. Then we felt honored to receive so many awards. At IFQ, not only did we win Best Feature, but we also won the Audience Award. On one end, it’s amazing to win at a festival, but it’s more personal when you know the audience members voted for your film. It’s like they’re saying, “I get you, and understand what you did.” It’s a personal acceptance that feels really good.
SY: The film will next be playing at Arena Cinema in Hollywood between (this) Friday, September 25 to Thursday, October 1, and will also be available on iTunes, Amazon, On Demand and Playstation/X-Box on Tuesday, October 13. Are you personally a fan of watching movies on VOD? Why do you think the platform is beneficial for independent films like this one?
SN: I think the VOD platform is extremely important. The way studios are releasing films now is changing, and they’ll now distribute projects day-and-date (meaning they’ll release their projects in theaters and On Demand at the same time). There’s such technology and devices as Amazon Fire and Apple TV, which are made so that consumers can receive content in a more convenient way. So I think it has become the perfect platform for people to watch more content, especially films that they wouldn’t otherwise have had the time to watch if they were only playing in theaters.
SY: You mentioned the theater component to making ‘Me You and Five Bucks,’ and you started your career in the entertainment industry by performing in various theater productions. What initially drew you to acting in theater, and how did that experience influence your performances in films?
SN: It’s interesting because you’re taught that what you do in theater is different than what you do in film. When you’re in theater, you have to use more of your voice and physicality, because you have to imagine the person who’s all the way in the back of the theater, and can’t really see your face. They can only really see your gestures, so things are a little larger.
But when you translate your work to film, you have a tiny focus point, which is right on your face. So any little gesture, including the wrinkle of your eyebrow, and if your face gets red and sweaty, gets captured by the camera. So you have the opportunity to be a lot more subtle in your performance.
But what I love about theater is that because it’s a live platform and you don’t have the chance at a second take, the audience is a live charge. As you’re performing, you can feel the energy of the room, and it can change your performance. There’s something about that that’s scary, but also invigorating, which I think makes theater fun.
AY: Besides acting and producing, are you interested in also trying directing?
SN: There is a short film that I directed (in 2012), called ‘Bobby.’ It’s a comedy about a hopeless football team that’s trying to get itself together. It was a lot of fun, and really interesting, to make. I feel like because I’m an actor, when I was working with the cast on the short, I was able to speak the same language as they did. Since I know their process, I think I was able to get good performances out of the actors.
While being a director was a lot of fun, I would say that it’s also a lot of work. There’s not just the work before you shoot; there’s also the work during the shoot itself, as well as during post (production). There’s the editing process, as well as finding the right music, that needs to be done during post. But the overall process is fun, and I think I would be interested in directing more projects.
SY: In addition to ‘Me You and Five Bucks,’ do you have any other projects lined up that you can discuss? Are you interested in working on television, in addition to starring in films?
SN: I’m actually interested in both mediums. I have a script that I’m finishing right now, and it’s a project I’m really excited to be a part of next. But there aren’t many details that I can share about it just yet.
Written by: Karen Benardello