It’s probably safe to say that Todd Berger figured out his calling in life pretty early. He started making movies with his friends while still in high school in his native New Orleans, creating Johnny Voodoo Productions. That company is still in business in Los Angeles, where Berger recently debuted his latest film, “It’s a Disaster,” at the LA Film Festival.
In this doomsday comedy, which Berger wrote and directed, four couples you’d never want to meet gather for a Sunday brunch, as is their tradition. On this particular Sunday, however, they find themselves stranded in a house as the world is seemingly about to come to an end.
“You never know when a disaster is going to strike,” Berger said during an interview with ON AND BEYOND on the eve of the festival. “You could be in your office, your car on a freeway, or at 7-Eleven getting a Slurpee. We all think we know when ‘ITS’ going to hit. It’s always interested me about disaster movies that people are usually trapped in one place. Everyone seems to get together in a crisis, and I thought it would be cool to shoot it as a comedy.”
Berger has a history of successful independent films. “The Scenesters,” which he premiered at the Slamdance Film Festival inPark City,Utah in 2009 (and where he and I first met), won critical acclaim and has played in art house theaters across the country. Together with longtime friends Kevin Brennan, Jeff Grace and Blaise Miller, he created a comedic film group called The Vacationeers. Each of those three actors, as well as Berger himself, has a role in “It’s a Disaster.”
Berger attracted a bevy of name stars for the film as well: Julia Stiles (SAVE THE LAST DANCE), David Cross (“Arrested Development”), Erinn Hayes (“Children’s Hospital”), America Ferrera (“Ugly Betty”) and Rachel Boston (“In Plain Sight”). (READ MY INTERVIEW WITH ERINN HAYES NEXT MONDAY AT “ON AND BEYOND”).
“America suggested David, and he really liked the script,” Berger said. “Because we had made ‘The Scenesters,’ he knew we had feature film experience. And because he plays a normal guy in this film, he loved the part.”
Berger met Stiles through a friend, “and she came on board as soon as she was finished with a Broadway production. I think she liked it because it was a very different part for her—a neurotic person—someone kind of out of her wheelhouse.” Hayes and Boston were familiar with Berger’s work in “The Scenesters” as well, and joined the cast for a very intense 14-day shoot in one location, in a house inLos Angeles last September “during one of the hottest stretches of days on record in L.A.” Berger said.
“Part of the fun of this movie is that it shows how wildly unprepared we really are if something like this happens,” Berger said. “Your cell phones, TV, Internet all off—people would be freaking out.”
Each of the characters that Berger wrote is based on one of the stages of grief, and each responds in a different way. “If we all found out we were going to die—what would we do? We’d probably want to get some stuff out of the way, off our minds. No final meals in restaurants,” he said.
“It’s a Disaster” is being shopped to a number of distributors, and may also be available on iTunes. Critics loved the movie at its Los Angeles premiere. It will also be part of Comic Con in San Diego later this month. Berger is currently working on a couple of other projects, including a “Where’s Waldo” movie concept for MGM, and “The Happytime Murders” with actress Katherine Heigl. He feels the reason so many name actors and actresses are attracted to indies like “It’s a Disaster” is really relative simple.
“It lets them act. A lot of movies have them running from CG dinosaurs. Indies give all of us a chance to stretch, whether as an actor or a director.”
You can follow “It’s a Disaster” on imdb.com, or on Facebook. Images are courtesy of strategypr.