PERSON OF THE WEEK: For many real estate finance professionals, there is no need to pay to see a horror movie – the state of the housing market is scarier than most Hollywood screamfests. And, depending on your sense of humor, the housing market could also be seen as something of a dark comedy.
For actor and writer Gabriel Diani, the housing market has served as the inspiration for the award-winning independent comedy-horror film ‘The Selling.’ Diani wrote the film's screenplay and stars as a too-honest real estate agent who acquires a house that he plans to renovate and flip for a profit. Unfortunately, the house is already occupied: by the ghosts of a serial killer and his tormented victims. MortgageOrb spoke with Diani about his adventures at the intersection of cinema and real estate.
Q: What was the inspiration behind the creation of ‘The Selling’?
Diani: A friend of mine from college got in touch with me and said, ‘I want to direct a movie, and I want you to write and star in it.’ Listed among our assets was an empty house she had access to – so, of course, my first thought was to do a comedy about a real estate agent trying to sell a haunted house.
I loved the real estate scenes in ‘American Beauty’ and thought of combining something like that with a supernatural element. I have always been a big fan of ghost stories like ‘The Shining,’ and I grew up loving horror comedies like ‘Ghostbusters,’ Don Knotts' ‘The Ghost and Mr. Chicken’ and all of the Abbott and Costello scare comedies.
Comedy and horror have a lot in common: both are dependent upon tension and release. The jump we make during a scare in a horror film is often followed by laughter – and comedy, at its core, is a defense mechanism against our fear of mortality.
Chaplin's Little Tramp is a destitute homeless man who never knows where his next meal is coming from. Likewise, a real estate agent who's not the best salesman in the world and is trying to sell the unsellable house to make his living seemed to have a lot of comedic and dramatic promise.
Q: Many people do not normally think of real estate as a gold mine for comedy material. How were you able to plumb the subject in order to find the film's biggest laughs?
Diani: The idea of my playing a real estate agent appealed to me because I know I'd be terrible at it. It is a real gift to be able to sell something to someone and not have it feel like you're actually selling them something.
I was out to dinner the other night and the waitress was so genuine and personable that she was able to up sell us on higher priced items. I knew she was up-selling me, and yet I felt like she was helping me have a fantastic meal. That's a gift that I don't have. So the idea of me trying to sell a house seemed ridiculous enough – even before adding in bleeding walls, portals to the spirit realm in the bedroom closet and ghosts that appear in the bathroom mirror.
Q: Where is that spooky old house in the film? And does it have a unique history of its own?
Diani: The house is located in West Adams district of Los Angeles, on a quiet street with lots of craftsman homes. If memory serves, it was built in 1906 and, like in the movie, it has five bedrooms and four bathrooms and a sun porch. No ghosts, though. It was also used in the film ‘The House Bunny’ with Anna Faris.
Q: What are your plans for releasing ‘The Selling’? And when and where can people see it?
Diani: We're currently raising funds on a website called Kickstarter for a limited number of theatrical screenings to coincide with our digital and DVD releases. Being able to say that ‘The Selling’ had a theatrical release helps the film's trailer get a better placement on the DVD and video-on-demand platforms. It is easy to get lost in the sea of films that are available, and it is very difficult for a small film like ours without big name stars or a big studio's marketing budget to get a foothold with audiences.
Q: What advice could you give to real estate professionals that may be interested in making their own movies?
Diani: Manage your expectations. There were over 5,000 films submitted to Sundance last year. It has never been cheaper to make movies – but, at the same time, it has never been harder to recoup your investment on them.
Consumers are increasingly expecting their entertainment for free, and many people will wait until a film comes out on instant streaming via Netflix. As an aside, filmmakers only get a flat yearly license fee from Netflix, and it is not a lot.
Also, set your goals. What do you want to do? Make a good movie? Make money? Build a fan base that will follow you throughout your career? The answer is, of course, all of these – but you can't necessarily do them all.
And, have an exit strategy. What are you going to do when the movie's finished?
I could go on and on, but if people who are interested could start by reading ‘Thinking Outside the Box Office’ by Jon Reiss, Chris Gore's ‘The Ultimate Filmmaker's Festival Guide’ and ‘Save the Cat’ by Blake Snyder.
The good news is that real estate professionals already have marketing and sales experience, which is a huge part of the filmmaking process!