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Salvadorian Director Teams With Corman, Students

24 Sep, 2012 By: Angelique Flores

The crime thriller Stealing Las Vegas was quite an interesting collaboration for director Francisco Menéndez, producer Roger Corman and students from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas College of Fine Arts.

In the film, a greedy casino owner (Academy Award nominee Eric Roberts) is pitted against an ex-baseball player (Ethan Landry) and his motley group of friends, who all work at the casino and band together for a heist with a nice surprising twist at the end. In between all the drama are some quirky characters that add some laughs.

The heist film also stars Antonio Fargas, Anabella Casanova and Eloy Méndez.

I saw the film Sept. 5 at the Egyptian Theater, screened with support from the Latino International Film Institute and the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival. But before that, I viewed the film on DVD at home, not having read the press releases or a reviews or anything at all first.

And was I blown away when I learned this indie film was shot in 18 days, on a limited budget, with some first-time actors and with students as part of the crew. The production quality is as good as any other professional indie film out there.

The making of Stealing Las Vegas has an interesting backstory. The movie was part of a film project led by Menéndez, who co-wrote and directed the film. He’s also UNLV’s Department of Film chair. UNLV’s film program pairs students with Hollywood professionals on making movies to give the students first-hand, real-world filmmaking experience. Menéndez created this co-curricular program in 2001, which resulted in the short Medio Tiempo.

Not only do these students get a great learning experience, but Menéndez jokes that working with students also helps him stay within a small budget.

So, how did Roger Corman get involved?

Salvadorian filmmaker Menéndez has been teaching for 22 years and has made a couple of films himself. It was his 2008 co-curricular film Primo that caught the attention of Corman, who screened it at the CineVegas Film Festival.

“He saw what I did on the budget I did it on, and it looked good,” Menéndez said.

So Corman called Menéndez and asked him to write and a direct a working-class Las Vegas heist film.

“It’s a call everybody dreams of,” Menéndez said.

Menéndez recalled trying to get Corman’s attention years prior.

“When I did my first feature, I sent my film to him,” he said, adding that he later learned it went straight into the garbage because Corman and his people simply can’t watch the myriad films they receive.

But this time, Menéndez not only got Corman’s attention, but he got the famed filmmaker’s involvement. Corman helped produce the film.

While Menéndez’ previous work has a decidedly Latino flavor, Stealing Las Vegas is a bit more subtle in its use of Latinos.

“I wanted it more Salvadorian, but Corman wanted to diversify,” he said. “I think it’s exciting to specific about other cultures. So many times we get reduced to gang bangers and pimps.”

But in the end, you still get a good film, with good Latino actors and a good Latino director.

Oh, and another neat thing is that half the profits from the film will fund co-curricular film projects at UNLV.

The film is available on DVD for $22.98 from Anchor Bay Entertainment.


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