Writer-director Wolfgang Muchow’s favorite new small-screen program is House of Cards, the Netflix-distributed political drama starring Kevin Spacey that must be streamed into homes to be viewed. “There’s nothing else like it on television,” says Muchow, whose own screenplay, Too Small to Save, has been optioned for possible production by a company with an unconventional business model. “It’s great. Everything is done right.”
Muchow considers the series on par with critically acclaimed, cable-broadcast productions Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead, but it’s also an unprecedented success in terms of its distribution method, and symptomatic of things to come in a rapidly evolving film and television industry. The UNLV and NYU film schools alumnus and current UNLV adjunct instructor hopes JuntoBox Films, which uses a social media platform to discover new talent and projects, has the potential to bring Too Small to Save to a wide audience.
“I love these stories where you have a character who has a noble goal, but they’re going about achieving that goal with questionable actions,” says Muchow, citing Walter White (in Breaking Bad) and Tony Soprano as favorites. He’s sitting for an interview inside Panera Bread at The District in Green Valley, where he says he wrote Too Small to Save near the end of 2009 in four intense 12-hour sessions. His protagonist, a Czech immigrant named Tomas, tries to keep his family afloat by cleaning and fixing up vacant, foreclosed-upon homes when desperation leads him to take questionable actions himself.
“He’s a father trying to provide for his family,” says Muchow, whose wife belongs to Las Vegas’ close-knit community of Czechoslovakian expatriates. “He’s just a guy trying to get his piece of the American Dream, so there’s that similarity, but he doesn’t go as far as Walter White. He makes one bum choice … well, a few bum choices. But they’re the kind of choices a lot of people were making at that time.”
Muchow did ride-alongs with a worker who cleaned up the destruction left behind by evicted ex-tenants and wrathful mortgage-holders who walked away from their homes. His observations of feces-smeared walls and cement-filled toilets inspired Tomas’ experiences. “I wrote the first draft and took it to two of my friends who are also filmmakers, Chuck Akin and Wes Hirni [of Vegas-based Ooogoog Productions],” says Muchow. “Wes and I got together and we kind of etched out the story in two weeks, and then I took that treatment that we put together, and I wrote the script as it exists in four days.”
Too Small to Save became a semifinalist in Final Draft’s 2010 Big Break Screenwriting contest, and a quarterfinalist in the Oscars-affiliated Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting contest in 2011 (the same year Muchow’s Saturday Night Samurai won the Nevada Film Office Screenwriting Competition). Meanwhile, the film industry was bracing for the kind of revolutionary, unpredictable tech-influenced changes to development and distribution that turned the music industry upside down a decade ago. Netflix made a successful jump into presenting an original series, while producer-director Philippe Caland envisioned an Internet-based model for discovering new talent and nurturing their projects. With actor Forest Whitaker lending his gravitas and credibility to the project, Juntobox began attracting independent filmmakers such as Muchow.
His script had to navigate JuntoBox’s “Five Levels,” beginning with a pitch statement and synopsis, which he used to create buzz until JuntoBox determined Too Small to Save was worthy of being promoted to Level 2. Storyboards helped him get to Level 3, and Muchow’s script continued to ascend until January, when it became one of four screenplays optioned — or exclusively contracted — for possible production. Whitaker will choose one of the screenplays for JuntoBox to greenlight.
Whether the chosen story makes it to the big screen, Sundance or small stream remains to be seen. JuntoBox boldly stated it would greenlight five films for 2012, and in November announced it already had four screenplays slated for production. The reception on the festival circuit to JuntoBox’s first finished film will likely affect its production schedule, as well as the perception of social media platforms as launching pads for productions.
Meanwhile, Muchow comes closer to the reality of seeing his feature-length screenplay realized, and possibly directing it. “I feel lucky to have written it, and I feel it needs to be told because it’s socially conscious, because it’s for the middle class — people that we don’t really see movies about that much. And it was important for me to take that anger that the middle class has and try to put that up on the screen in a way to say, ‘I’m with you. We’re all hurting together.’”