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In the Company of Men

Born October 6, 1973, Mark Archer is best known for producing 1997's feature In the Company of Men for $25,000.

From MarkArcherEntertainmnt.com: In the early Spring of 1996, a playwright, a cinematographer, a would-be line producer and a commercial/industrial video producer/director all convened for a meeting at the Acme Bar & Grill in Fort Wayne, Indiana, for a meeting that would set into motion a series of events that would rock the world of independent films. The renegade crew set out to make a little-known play into a feature film with a grand total budget of $25 thousand dollars. The film’s title: In the Company of Men.

In the ensuing months the crew assembled what would be a stellar cast of unknown actors, made a schedule, and eventually shot the entire film in 11 days. In January of 1997, the film became the biggest hit of the Sundance Film Festival, as it won the Filmmakers Trophy, and was purchased by Alliance Independent Films and Sony Pictures Classics. The film was released in the United States in August of 1997 to wide critical acclaim, and went on to become one of the most talked about and controversial films of not only the year, but of the decade.

Yahoo.com writes: In writer-director Neil LaBute's debut feature film, a pair of thirtysomething white-collar businessmen, embittered by their shallow lives and bad experiences with women, target and romance a beautiful deaf secretary (Stacy Edwards) solely for the purpose of dumping her and thus gaining revenge on her sex. While one of the junior execs, Chad (Aaron Eckhart), is relentlessly cold-blooded and cruel, his partner, Howard (Matt Malloy), proves to be a spineless tagalong. When their manipulative game ends, one of them is in for a shocking surprise.

Touted as "the most controversial film of the year" upon its release in 1997, this articulate black comedy sparked a roiling storm of praise and loathing from critics and audiences alike. Eckhart, a college friend of LaBute's, became the primary lightning rod for these passionate, widely varying responses, winning an Independent Spirit Award for his performance while also fending off occasional verbal abuse from angry women mistaking him for the reptilian character he plays. The film unapologetically depicts appalling behavior but never condones Chad and Howard's actions, making it one of the most intriguing and memorable movies of the late 1990s.

From the official Sony website, an interview with director Neil LaBlute: IN THE COMPANY OF MEN has been praised for its novel treatment of the classic love triangle. What were the origins of the screenplay?

Neil: "Let's hurt somebody." That line of dialogue was the first idea in my mind. I was attracted to the notion of premeditated agony conflicted on someone. I believe that you can kill characters only once, but you can hurt them every day. My model for the screenplay was restoration comedy. The script has a five-act structure and is centered around wealthy, blasé characters who do unspeakable things just because they feel like it. It's a simple story: boys meet girl, boys crush girl, boys giggle.

Q: It's difficult to classify IN THE COMPANY OF MEN into a traditional genre. How do you feel about referring to the film as a black comedy?

Neil: The film does have a lot of laughs. Then the situation turns vicious. I love the idea of pulling people in and then turning on them. For instance, seducing them into thinking that the character of Chad is amusing and even charming, only to leave them shocked when they discover later just how much of a viper he really is.

Luke: I spoke by phone with producer Mark Archer March 1, 2002. He speaks slowly in a Midwest drawl.

Luke: "At what point in your life, did you figure out you wanted to devote yourself to entertainment?"

Mark: "Well, I was first exposed to it in church. I've spent most of my life where I am now - Fort Wayne, Indiana. I went to a small private school all my life. And that school happens to be affiliated with a large Baptist church that has a television studio. They broadcast their services. My family attended that church. When I was 14, I was interested in learning about broadcasting. I knew the church studio had a lot of cool gear that I wanted to learn how to play with. Part of my impetus for becoming part of the [broadcasting] crew was that I didn't want to go to Sunday school. I discovered quickly that I enjoyed it and people started telling me that I had a knack for it. I did it all through high school. By age 17, I'd decided I wanted to do it as a career.

"I'd been accepted into Purdue's engineering school. My family was proud. And then I decided one day that I didn't want to be an engineer. I wanted to make movies. Living in Fort Wayne, Indiana, is about as far from Hollywood as you can get. And it was difficult to get people to understand. My family has always been supportive of me but mostly because they had no clue what it [making movies] was and how to help me with it.

"I was valedictorian of my high school graduating class. I went to Indiana University for two years and dropped out. I began freelancing as a camera operator. I decided that I want to start my own production company and I started one when I was 19. I sold my school books so I could buy supplies.

"The turning point for me came after attending a two day crash course seminar in Chicago called The Hollywood Film Institute [Hollywoodu.com] taught by a guy named Dov Simns. It was all that I needed. I had a background in production but there were all these things about the movie industry that were black magic to me."

Luke: "When did you take this seminar?"

Mark: "Let me look. I've got the diploma on my office wall. November, 1994.

"In September of 1995, I shot a PSA against domestic violence for the group Stop the Madness. And the group I'd been tossed into working with were working on a no-budget film In the Company of Men. I took everything I'd learned from this $6500 PSA and applied it to a $20,000 film. We spent from January 1996 to June in sold pre-production. We had plans for every contingency. I'd learned that if you don't have any money, the best way to defend yourself is to have a plan for everything.

"So, for $20,000, we shot In the Company of Men on 35mm in eleven days in June.

"I remember doing a live call-in to an NPR station in Philadelphia. They had this group of completely non-qualified people sitting around discussing our film. A lawyer that I used in Philadelphia heard it. He called in and said, 'My client is the producer of this film. Would you like to have him on?' And the question that was put to me was, 'What inspired you to take this film on? Did you believe in the story?'

"And I said then, and I'll say it now: 'It had so little to do with believing in the script.' I thought it was an ok script. I'd never been into art films. My favorite films are Terminator and Star Wars. It was the challenge of producing this film for $20,000. That's all I had into it. 'I'm going to prove that I can do this and hold the production together. And if it gets seen, maybe I can get another film out of it.'

"We edited the film in July, August and September. We had no money to complete it so we did a video rough-cut and sent it off to Sundance. We didn't hear anything for five weeks. All of us had gone back to our day jobs. The week of Thanksgiving, I was completely broke from doing the film. I had incurred debt to finish the film. I was on the brink of bankruptcy. I was holding all of the debt load for the film.

"We had a little money left over. I called the director, Neil LaBlute. 'I have huge bills. I need to get some of this paid for.' He said, 'Well, OK, we can take care of some of your bills. But I need to take some of the money and buy some snow boots.' I remember wanting to reach through the phone line and strangle him. I thought, 'Do you have any idea that I am dodging phone calls from creditors right now because I am about to go broke?' I said to him, 'Why is that?' And he said, 'Because we're going to Sundance.' I will never forget that feeling because at that point, the universe turned upside down.

"At Sundance, we sold international rights to Alliance, and within two months, we sold the North American release to Sony Classics. Sony released the film in August of 1997."

Luke: "Why haven't you worked with Neil since?"

Mark: "Neil and I were just going in different directions. I had read his script for what became Your Friends and Neighbors, and I didn't want to do it. It was too much like In the Company of Men.

"In the Spring of 1997, I was introduced by a financier friend of men to some producers who had a script called American Reel, with David Carradine and Ally Sheedy attached. And I wanted to be a director. And I was typecast as a producer. I directed the film in November of 1997 and it is only now coming out on DVD. Ally Sheedy flaked on us and we replaced her with Mariel Hemingway. I have mixed feelings about the film. We didn't have time to properly pre-produce the film. The money ($400,000) was given to us on the condition that we shoot it by a specific date. We had a lot of problems with David Carradine. It was too much too fast.

"When you're known as a first-time director, everybody treats you as though you don't know your ass from a hole in the ground.

"American Reel was a film that did not fit. It was an independent film with a mainstream story. It was too mainstream for festivals and not mainstream enough for most distributors.

"We're now working on a sitcom series that we're doing on spec. If we don't get a network deal, we can get a syndication deal if we already have product."

Luke: "How come you've never moved to LA?"

Mark: "I've decided several times to move to LA. I spent two-and-a-half years trying to produce this script In the Pursuit of Happiness. I'd made a promise to the writer after we'd finished American Reel that I would not do another feature until we'd made Happiness. Even if it killed me. And it almost did. As poorly as American Reel did, I had six offers to direct other movies but I turned them down because of my promise. Happiness fell apart unexpectedly and I decided to stay in Fort Wayne, and create my own studio.

"Here the talent is hungry. Why should I try to fix something that's not broken? Fort Wayne's worked for all these other projects. They could not have happened in LA, NY or Chicago. The reason In the Company of Men looked so good was that we didn't have to pay for anything. I got a 23-story office building, an airport and a jet from USA Air for nothing. Where else can you do that?

"Do I want to move to LA and try to be a director for hire? Try to live that rock star lifestyle in a place that costs you ten times as much to be poor. Or do you really want to make films. Think like a business person, not like a celebrity wannabe. It got to the point where I didn't care about celebrity anymore."