Screen: Wednesday, January 25, 2006
The characters in local filmmaker Monty Griffin’s second full-length feature, a buddy travel story, are up against a wall.
Cheap Shots

J-Town is a win-win situation for local filmmaker Monty Griffin — if it doesn’t sell, he won’t be losing any money.


Sometimes on the indie film circuit, the best film school is the school of hard knocks.

Take, for example, local filmmaker Monty Griffin. About five years ago, the 29-year-old local comic co-starred in, wrote, and directed his first feature-length film. Triplesat, a farce about a college burn-out who works in the service industry, has been collecting dust since then, even though Griffin tried to get it noticed at festivals and sent multiple copies to indie distributors. And while Griffin did land a distribution deal in September with Frontier Media, there’s still a good chance that Triplesat could remain under wraps.

“I was just sick of it,” Griffin said. “Frontier’s going to take it to markets to possibly sell it, but I basically told them, ‘You can do what you want with it.’”

Despite the $8,000 he owes his investors and the 85 minutes of life he owes everyone who sat through Triplesat, Griffin considers making the film one helluva learning experience. He says he discovered his true instincts as a comedy filmmaker (gross-out), and, when he began making his second full-length feature, he already knew where and how to cut costs. J-Town is not only light years better than Triplesat in terms of comedic value, but the new film was made for practically nothing.

A dumbed-down (yes, that’s possible) send-up of 1980s-era hornball romps like Joysticks, Screwballs, and Porky’s, J-Town is about four lads on the town near the Juarez-El Paso border who get into all sorts of trouble. The awful and occasionally awfully funny one-liners come fast and furious. One of the guys asks a female bar patron if she’s familiar with the age-old saying, “Once you go black, you never go back” — to which she replies, “My daddy says, ‘Once you go black, you’re out of the will.’”

Woody Allen or the Coen Brothers, J-Town isn’t, but the movie can win you over. That it was so cheaply made lends the film a certain admirable, how-in-the-hell-did-they-get-away-with-that quality. Shot on the weekends between July and November 2003, with retakes last February, J-Town consists almost entirely of footage of downtown Fort Worth. (The Black Dog Tavern, The Library, and The Red Goose Saloon all donated space.) The only actual footage of Juarez was taken from some gonzo High-8 handheld videos he shot back in 2003 while attending a funeral service for a family member. Somehow, the movie kinda looks as if it had been shot on location in Mexico.

“The entire cast worked on deferments,” Griffin said, meaning that his helpers will get a slice of the pie if and when J-Town hits video stores’ shelves. “The camera guy had his own camera. The lighting was borrowed from Dallas Community TV.”

There were some expenses, like the grand Griffin shelled out to feed his cast and crew and having to break the news to the non-credited young woman who filmed “the porn scene” at The Library that J-Town wasn’t XXX. “She got mad because she found out we weren’t shooting real porn,” Griffin said. “She really wanted someone to do her. ... That was the most uncomfortable part of filming for me.”

To pay the bills, Griffin bounces at The Library. At night, when he’s not working on film stuff, he hits as many open mics as he can and takes on as many paying stand-up gigs as possible. He also occasionally opens for star Ben Creed whenever he’s in town at Hyena’s Comedy Night Club. Griffin’s mentor and co-producer of J-Town, Gary Hood, is frankly amazed at what Griffin was able to do on such a minuscule budget. “You gotta remember, he made something from nothing,” Hood said. “I think he’s way better than a lot of the guys out there — he just doesn’t have any money. If he had $30,000, he’d look like John Landis.”

For now, Griffin is pushing to get J-Town into video stores. “If you go to the video store, you see there’s a market out there for mindless fare,” Griffin said. “I saw Gold Diggers, and it was horrible. There’re no laughs. I’m not saying J-Town is great, but I can get some laughs. It can’t be any worse than Grandma’s Boy.”

A test-screening for J-Town is being held Sun., Feb. 12, at 7 p.m. at the Saffire Lounge.

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