Green’s indie feature starts
self-distribution route in Chicago

John Mahoney and Ian Gomez star in Terry Green’s “Almost Salinas.”

May 5 was a big night for writer/producer Terry Green. His feature, “Almost Salinas,” premiered at AMC River East 21 theatre as a prelude to self-distribution in four Chicago theatres May 9.

What made it even bigger was the appearance of his actors who came to Chicago from L.A. and New York especially to give the film a boost.

Chicago is the first of 12 cities lined up for self-distribution. Milwaukee and Minneapolis are up next, followed by Dallas, where Green has investors, and Nashville where Curb Entertainment, the movie’s overseas distributor, is located.

Luckily, “Salinas” production came in at $1.7 million, leaving $200,000 in the budget for self-distribution — a not uncommon route for filmmakers to take (think Jeff Daniels) when a standard distribution deal momentarily eludes them.

Filling seats over the May 9-11 weekend will determine whether or not the 94-minute feature will be held over for a regular week’s run. If so, Green’s Strata Productions can begin to recoup its costs, and have the legs to attract a mainstream distributor and a success story to roll into his next picture.

Virginia Madsen is the waitress at the only diner in town in Terry Green’s “Almost Salinas.”

“Almost Salinas” stars Chicagoans John Mahoney, Virginia Madsen and Nathan Davis (director Andrew Davis’ dad), Lindsay Crouse (former wife of David Mamet, to give her a Chicago connection), Linda Emons, just named outstanding actress by the Outer Circle Critics for her role in “Lifetimes III” now on Broadway, Tom Groenwald, and Ian Gomez, character actor and Second City alum better known as the husband of Nia (“Greek Wedding”) Vardalos.

(When the stars assembled for a Q and A after the film, actor Stan Adams in the audience called out, “You should have called it ‘Almost Chicago!’” Casting directors were former Chicagoans Richard Kordos and Nan Charbonneau.)

The story, set in the tiny town of Cholame (pronounced Sholam) in the central California foothills, unravels a dark secret that diner owner Max Harris (Mahoney) has kept hidden for 40 years.

Executive producer was Green’s partner, Anna Marie Crovetti, and L.A. producer Wade Danielson “found all the great crew and DPs,” Green said, which included DP David Garden, editor Jennifer Krouse and music director/composer David Reynolds.

Green is an actor and screenwriter. “I lived in L.A. for seven years,” he said. “I made contacts there and learned to do what we’re doing now.”

He was inspired to write “Salinas” in 1988 when he drove from L.A. to San Jose to deliver a screenplay to an independent producer. “About three hours north of L.A., I stopped at a remote roadside diner where I noticed a memorial in the parking lot – a memorial to James Dean, who had crashed his Porsche a few yards up the highway in 1955,” he said.

Years later, Green had written the screenplay and “got very lucky” in landing Mahoney as the star. Through an actor friend, he got the script to Mahoney while the actor was appearing at Steppenwolf in “The Man Who Came to Dinner.”

“John liked the script, but couldn’t commit to doing it at the time because of a conflicting schedule,” Green said. “We had about a third of the budget raised at the time. By working around John’s schedule, we had a chance to raise the rest of the money. We hired an L.A. attorney to prepare the private placement money and with that we were able to raise the seed money.”

Mahoney was so enthusiastic about “Salinas” that he worked for scale and helped interest Texas investors by appearing at a fundraising event in Dallas.

Strata is presently working on a second feature, “Heaven’s Fall,” with a $4.2 million budget. It’s based on the infamous 1931-34 trial of the nine black Scottsboro Boys accused of raping two white women in Jackson County, Alabama. “We’ll shoot in Alabama in September and cast in L.A. and Chicago this summer,” said Green.

“I hope to work with as many Chicagoans as I can and see how that pans out. If I found a good Chicago project, we’d shoot here,” he stated.

“My feeling always has been that until Chicago can show it supports indie films, we’ll only be considered a location stop. In terms of local financing, only two came from Chicago. All the others were in Texas and California. We went to where we knew we’d find the money.”

Green plans to keep his Evanston office and staff of eight. “Nobody’s driving a Jaguar or living in a fancy house in the hills,” he commented. “We are very frugal. Our goal is to see how much value we can get on the screen. You gotta know how to make $2 million look like six.”