Screen: Wednesday, April 27, 2005
‘Fragile’ guys: Matthew Tompkins, Maurice Ripke, Julio Cedillo, Francisco Rojero, and Matt Moore
Men in the Black

Two local film mavens are caught in a whirlwind of possibilities, thanks to some native Texas star power.


There once was a movie called Death Race 2000, produced by Roger Corman, that sat in the can for two years, until its release in 1976. Why was the film kept under wraps so long? Well, the star was a then-unknown named Sylvester Stallone, star and screenwriter of a little film called Rocky, which won a Best Picture Oscar and made loads of loot on its release ... in 1976. Not long after Sly shone in the boxing ring, Death Race 2000 hit theaters, generating a relatively good sum of cash during a short lifespan.
There’s a similar game involving a recent Oscar winner that could be played right here in our back yard, with a film being produced by and starring Fort Worth’s Julio Cedillo and Matt Tompkins. Cedillo and Tompkins have been working in the film industry for 15 years. In November, they headed south of the Rio Grande to direct and star in the arty suspense thriller The Fragility of Seconds, based loosely on the Ciudad Juarez killings.
They walked right into a true-to-life cliché, a lawless bordertown with “wicked dust storms, packs of wild dogs, crooked police, and violent drug dealers spoiling for a fight.”
The two had decided to make their own movie after becoming fed up with being “hired guns in so many different people’s stuff.” Tompkins said. “It was time we jumped in and did it ourselves.”
Even though filming is only about two-thirds finished, the pair have a pretty good handle on its essence. It’s one of those noir dramas, somewhere between Orson Welles’ A Touch of Evil and any one of Walter Hill’s action flicks (The Warriors, Trespass) in which the natives are restless, and the heroes are totally boxed in. After a second trip to Mexico earlier this spring, Cedillo and Tompkins have inched a little closer to finishing the film. More footage is still needed and, as always, more money.
“These projects can take so much time,” Tompkins said. “There’s still a local shoot we have to cast and get financing for. We all agreed that we were going to do this [properly], not to end up with some schlocky, dumbass, B-movie thing that anyone around here can do with their digital cameras.”
And that’s where Oscar winner Tommy Lee Jones comes in. The Texas native has cast himself, Dwight Yoakam, Barry Pepper, and — in a starring role, Cedillo — in The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, Jones’ directorial debut for theatrical release and one of the few American entries granted admission into next month’s Cannes Film Festival. You never know — if Three Burials takes off, Fragility could find itself in some smooth sailing.
“Tommy Lee Jones has got fans from The Fugitive,” said Cedillo. “He’s got fans from Lonesome Dove. He’s got fans from Men in Black. But what do we have here? The Latin market, and he’s about to wrap it around his finger.”
Until then, the two men will continue doing what they’ve been doing to get by — Tompkins still draws residuals from acting work in commercials and in episodes of Walker, Texas Ranger and is currently co-producing and starring in Killing Down, a relatively standard Steven Seagal-ish revenge thriller directed by Arlington native Blake Calhoun. Killing Down also stars Cedillo and Blazing Saddles’ very own Burton Gilliam. Slated to finish production this week, the movie still needs a distribution deal.
No matter what happens, neither Cedillo nor Tompkins plans on pulling up stakes anytime soon.
“There comes a point when you go to L.A. or New York and try to become a famous schmuck and end up doing stupid shit,” Tompkins said. “Nothing’s stopping us from creating a cottage industry here, making movies [for] under a million dollars, selling them on the open market, and making money every single time. And if you’re making money, investors will kill themselves to work with you — no matter how crazy you are.”

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