Adman Crowley’s first feature gets off to big start

Producer Ned Crowley and star Jim O”Heir

The feature getting rave reviews as it makes the festival rounds is a notable first for both writer / director Ned Crowley, more famously known as McGarryBowen’s US chief creative director, and Cutters’ senior partner/editor Chris Claeys.

Crowley’s dark, “violent comedy,” “Middle Man,” is about Lenny Freeman, a hapless accountant and unfunny wanna-be comedian, who drives to Las Vegas to audition for a show and picks up mysterious hitchhiker “Hitch” along the way. En route, Larry becomes trapped in an accidental killing spree that also has an unexpected consequence — it improves his comedy.

“Middle Man” made its debut at June’s Seattle International Film Festival, when its two screenings were SRO and it won the Grand Prize for New American Cinema.

Last week it played at the Portland Film Festival and thereafter will screen at five festivals this year including the 52nd Chicago International Film Festival in October and then ride the festival circuit until spring 2017, Crowley says.

Jim O’Heir (“Parks and Recreation”), a Chicago native, stars as Lenny and Hitch is played by Indiana native Andrew J. West (“The Walking Dead”).

Chris Claeys, Cutters senior partner/editor Longtime Cutters’ client and good friend Crowley approached Claeys in fall 2014 with his “Middle Man” screenplay, telling him, “I have this script and if I can get it made, will you edit it?” Claeys recalls. Claeys read it, thinking it was “a very good film” and immediately jumped aboard the project.

To focus on the feature, Claeys took a four-month break from commercials, while Crowley went on an agency sabbatical to complete his passion project, after deciding now was time, already, to go out and shoot it. Production took place in LA and the arid Nevada desert in May and June of 2015, with an LA-based crew which included award-winning DP Dick Buckley and was entirely post-produced at Cutters.

But before cameras rolled, Claeys spent 40 hours cutting an animatic from the 1,500 stick-figure like rudimentary pictures Crowley had drawn as a storyboard. “By the time Dick Buckley’s footage started arriving here, I knew exactly where they needed to go in the film’s structure,” Claeys says.

Editing completed in September, Brian Higgins of Flavor handled visual effects and color grading and Another Country’s Drew Weir sound designed and mixed the surround sound track.

Executive producers were LA-based Roger Petrusson, EP of RMP Media and William Fortney, production director, global content and production at the Walt Disney Company. Initial production financing was supplied via a successful Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign last March.

Claeys lead assistant was Cutters’ Emily Tolan. Also assisting were Patrick Wong and Jake Schwartz. Claeys previous feature-length film was WTTW’s documentary,“We Believe,” re-released in 2014 at “Chicago Cubs, The Heart and Soul of Chicago” and available as an Amazon DVD.