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BWW Interview: Playwright/Director Michael Leoni on FAMOUS THE FILM

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Adapted from his original staged production at the 11:11 Experience

BWW Interview: Playwright/Director Michael Leoni on FAMOUS THE FILM

Michael Leoni, a writer, bi-coastal director, and founder of the production company An 11:11 Experience, has created productions both on stage and in film which have brilliantly focused attention on the pitfalls of modern society, especially in the entertainment industry and on homeless street kids. Since it's been over a year since I have spoken to him, I decided to reach out about the recent opening of his film Famous as well as what has been going on in his artistic world this past year.

Hello Michael. It's great to catch up with you again! No doubt, 2021 has been a monumental year for you.

BWW Interview: Playwright/Director Michael Leoni on FAMOUS THE FILM

Yes, it's been pretty crazy releasing three films in the last year and a half. The most important thing that stands out for me this year, and always, is a feeling of gratitude. I'm beyond grateful for all the support my work has received. We partnered with Oscar-nominated, and BAFTA award winning, producer Howard Barish (13th, Skin in the Game), executive producer Mark Burley (Orange is The New Black, Glow), and Kandoo Films who distributed American Street Kid, When Today Ends, and Famous. As a writer/director, I am passionate about using The Arts to create social impact. I feel like it's one of the few ways that people from all backgrounds can be brought together to create positive change. I am honored to be directing/writing films that create important conversations around critical topics and are able to be the voice for so many that have been silenced.


Tell me more about those three films and the impact they have made during the past year.

BWW Interview: Playwright/Director Michael Leoni on FAMOUS THE FILM

After an award-winning festival run, American Street Kid was released on streaming platforms in 2020. The film centers around the true stories of several teens who through tragic circumstances end up homeless on the streets of Los Angeles. We made this film because the level of misconception surrounding homeless youth in our country is unfathomable and we felt compelled to do our part. The response we've received to date, from audience members and critics, has been tremendous, but the most gratifying part for me, is hearing from people who were emotionally moved by the film or who, after watching it, felt compelled to get involved. With the help of the kids, and our amazing, national and regional non-profit partners, we are continually using the film as a tool to help raise awareness in cities across America. Readers can keep with the film on Instagram @AmericaStreetKid and learn more about it at https://www.americanstreetkid.com/

BWW Interview: Playwright/Director Michael Leoni on FAMOUS THE FILM

When Today Ends was released in May 2021 and the film is still holding steady at 100% from critics and audiences on Rotten Tomatoes! We just made the list of Film Festival Today's Top 10 Movies of the Year (2021). When Today Ends is about four teens who share their personal stories online and reveal the most intimate parts of their trauma to the world. Our biggest hope with this film is that teenagers, and all people, will take that extra time or take that extra step, to prioritize their mental health. If you or anyone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255. Keep up with the film on Instagram @WhenTodayEndsMovie, and watch the trailer on You Tube: https://youtu.be/uXIkDxNAfzw

I have watched both those films and, as a former high school teacher myself, I certainly learned more about the hopelessness which exists for so many teens today. And I recently watched Famous, especially since I was such a fan of your play when it was produced at The 11:11 in WeHo. As you know, I attended several times and brought many friends with me to see it, most of whom have worked in the entertainment industry and have their own "me too" moments. So I am especially thrilled to invite the world to experience the play now on film.

BWW Interview: Playwright/Director Michael Leoni on FAMOUS THE FILM

Thank you for coming to support the play! It was definitely inspiring to talk to so many people afterwards and hear their personal stories. I'm grateful to say, the response we received from the stage play has also been mirrored by the film. We released Famous on December 10th and are thrilled that we're getting a positive response from the press. What I feel is the most important thing, however, is hearing from the activists and sexual assault survivors who have been reaching out to us expressing how much the film has resonated with them. It's really important to me that my work reaches people and starts important conversations and thanks to my amazing team, Famous is doing just that. One of our Executive Producers, Dawn Dunning, was one of the women responsible for indicting Harvey Weinstein. Dawn was quoted as saying "Speaking out about the abuse of power in the entertainment industry is something that I strongly believe in. We don't often talk about the abuse of young men, but it's time that we do."

BWW Interview: Playwright/Director Michael Leoni on FAMOUS THE FILM

Famous takes a behind-the-scenes look at Young Hollywood in 1994 before we knew what was really going on. It ran on stage for nine months and as a play was designed to feel cinematic, like you were watching a film on stage. So, when I decided to film it (on stage), I knew it had to be done in a unique way that would make an audience feel like they were watching a melding of both mediums. You can also check out what viewers have been saying about the film on Instagram @FamousTheFilm

Tell me more about the process of creating the film based on your original play. Was it filmed on the 11:11 stage or recreated on a studio soundstage?

BWW Interview: Playwright/Director Michael Leoni on FAMOUS THE FILM

We filmed Famous on the stage at The 11:11 both with an audience and without. Being that the stage show had such a cinematic feel, I felt that I could create something really cool on film by combining aspects of both mediums. People often said after leaving the play that they felt like they had just watched a film, and now with the film people are saying that they keep forgetting that they're watching a play.

Where and how can Famous be seen now, either in theaters or online?

Famous had a theatrical run in December 2020 and now you can see it on Amazon, GooglePlay, iTunes, Cable on Demand, Vimeo, YouTube, and others.

BWW Interview: Playwright/Director Michael Leoni on FAMOUS THE FILM

Is the 11:11 still open in WeHo and are you still connected to it?

No, we closed down in the early part of the pandemic and have decided to keep the focus of our production company, An 11:11 Experience, on making films.... for now.

What are your upcoming projects in 2022?

The first project we're releasing is called Elevator - The Live Experience. Like Famous, Elevator also began as a stage show and now it's being transformed into a blend of documentary, live theater, and film.

How exciting! Elevator was the first of your plays I saw in person. It's what led me to follow your work ever since.

We also have two other feature films, The Boulevard and The Sun The Moon and Everything in Between, that are scheduled to begin production in 2022.

The struggle to keep the Arts alive continues to push through despite the new surge of Covid threatening to close down live productions yet again. What keeps your hopes up for the future?

BWW Interview: Playwright/Director Michael Leoni on FAMOUS THE FILM

Artists and creativity keep my hopes up. The work that comes out of even the darkest of times, is often the most profound. I think it's really important that we continue to have faith in The Arts and support live theater, indie film, visual arts, dance, etc. The arts have the capacity to break boundaries and create connections with others and with ourselves, and we need that, as humans, now more than ever.

I wrote a book for artists called Dare to Be Bad that helps with removing obstacles and allowing the creativity to flow. I've always felt that if the book helps even one person get through their blocks and move forward to creating their art, then I've done my work. So, to say I'm grateful for all of the positive responses I've received from it, is an understatement. Check out the book on Amazon.

Stay in touch with Michael and his work on Instragam:

https://www.instagram.com/michaelleoni1111/

https://www.instagram.com/1111exp/

https://www.instagram.com/famousthefilm

https://www.instagram.com/americanstreetkid/

https://www.instagram.com/elevatortheliveexperience

Photos of cast members from FAMOUS the Film provided by Michael Leoni


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