John Burgess had a big year in 2007. He graduated with his master’s degree in fine art from the University of Southern California, won the $10,000 grand prize in the Haydenfilms 2.0 Online Film Festival and came across a certain script that he’s especially celebrating today.
One Small Hitch is a romantic comedy, directed by Burgess, that has been successful overseas and on the festival circuit winning a slew of awards spanning Best Picture Comedy at the California Independent Film Festival to Outstanding Achievement in Filmmaking at the Williamsburg International Film Festival. But on February 6, 2015, the film was released theatrically day-and-date with VOD. The film is available on satellite, cable and internet VOD platforms: DirecTV, Dish Network, Time Warner, Comcast, Cox, Vubiquity, AT&T, U-verse, Verizon FiOS, Amazon Instant Video, Blockbuster On Demand, Vudu, YouTube, Sony Playstation, Xbox and iTunes. It will also show in theaters across the country, spanning California to Massachusetts.
But there’s still more to Burgess’ perfect storm. Lead actress in the film, Aubrey Dollar, was just cast on one of the most anticipated shows on television, CBS’s Battle Creek. The series, developed by the masterminds behind Breaking Bad (Vince Gilligan) and House (David Shore) premieres on March 1.
“I’m pumped, I’m excited and it’s somewhat of a relief, too,” Burgess says. “I finished it (One Small Hitch) such a long time ago and now it’s played overseas and on the festival circuit for two years, won numerous awards – but no one outside of the festival circuit in the U.S. knew it existed.”
Burgess is hoping the theatrical exposure, many outlets for release and hopeful success of the new show featuring Dollar will lead to some recognition of the film he’s been working on since 2007.
“Exposure is huge,” he explains. “It already did really well overseas and won 38 awards. Audiences loved it on the circuit. I’m hoping (the exposure) will create new opportunities for me, the actors and the others who worked on the film.”
For Burgess, film has always had a natural pull on his heart and mind. As a child, he looked up to filmmakers like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg thinking, “If these people can do it for a living – why can’t I?”
He studied communication, public relations, marketing, business, mass communication, philosophy and cinema at Illinois State (majoring and minoring in a combination of those), graduating in 1998. But before he left school – he landed the dream internship that steered his life onto its current course. He was one of five picked out of thousands to intern at Skywalker Ranch for a summer.
“It’s a utopia up there,” he describes. “It’s up in the mountains and George Lucas’s main building is full of memorabilia from all the movies.”
His timing was also perfect. He held the internship just before the first Star Wars movie in 20 years was released, Star Wars Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999), and the position also found him crossing paths with the dean of USC Cinema School. That provoked him to pursue his passion.
“My love for film came from early childhood,” Burgess says. “But the realization that I could do it came in college.”
At the completion of his master’s degree, his graduate thesis project, The Powderpuff Principle, was the short film to win the Haydenfilms Online Film Festival and the boost helped him connect with the writer of One Small Hitch. Years later, it’s all coming full-circle.
“The film is 16 Candles meets My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” he says. “It’s about friends faking a wedding engagement to make a dying family member happy and the funny chaos of Irish and Jewish families mixing. Everyone can relate to the movie and to the characters. Over the years, studios have wrecked romantic comedies. We don’t watch them 15 times and memorize every line like we used to. But it (OSM) reminds me of a modern day It Happened One Night. It’s really centered around family and it’s not specific to one gender or age group. It’s for everyone.”
Burgess will start work on a new film this summer called They Might Be Kennedys, another comedy that he says combines Wedding Crashers, Caddyshack and Animal House.
“Every time your finish a job, you’re out of work,” he says. “You’ve got to line it up. I hope One Small Hitch finds its audience. It could help future projects by leading to more financing for the next projects. That’s what we’re really hoping for. Your film is your calling card.”
For more about the film:
For people who would like to see One Small Hitch on the big screen, here is a list of the cities / theaters that the film will be screening at from 2/6/15 – 2/12/15:
ARIZONA (Phoenix / Mesa area):
Harkins Theatres – Superstition Springs 25
6950 East Superstition Springs Boulevard
Mesa, AZ 85209
CALIFORNIA (Los Angeles / Redondo Beach area):
AMC Rolling Hills 20
2591 Airport Drive
Torrance, CA 90505
COLORADO (Denver / Aurora area):
Harkins Northfield 18
8300 E. Northfield Blvd.
Denver, CO 80238
ILLINOIS (Chicago / Evanston area):
AMC Showplace – Village Crossing 18
Village Crossing Shopping Center
7000 Carpenter Road
Skokie, IL 60077
MASSACHUSETTS (Boston / Salem area):
Hollywood Hits Theatre
7 Hutchinson Drive
Danvers, MA 01923
OHIO (Cleveland / Mentor area):
Atlas Cinemas – Great Lakes Stadium 16
7860 Mentor Avenue
Mentor, OH 44060?
MICHIGAN (Detroit / Ann Arbor area):
Goodrich Quality Theaters – Quality 16
3686 Jackson Road
Ann Arbor, MI 48103
MINNESOTA (Minneapolis / St. Paul area):
3951 Central Avenue Northeast
Columbia Heights, MN 55421
PENNSYLVANIA (Philadelphia / Lansdale area):
Frank Theatres – Montgomeryville 12
Water Tower Square Shopping Center
750 Montgomery Glen Drive
Lansdale, PA 19446
TEXAS (Dallas / Fort Worth area):
StudioMovie Grill – Spring Valley 16
13933 North Central Expressway
Dallas, TX 75243
Reviews of the film so far:
SCREEN RELISH (Review), MOVIE MAVEN (Review)
ONE SMALL HITCH
By Amy Menell
February 5, 2015
Those of you who have read my reviews before may realize that, to put it simply, I am not a romantic-comedy kind of girl. Rather I am compelled by films which my ex-husband and others have characterized as “relentless agony.” I wouldn’t go quite that far…but tormented psyches and ethical conflicts are my lifeblood. I’m always game for big guns too and I don’t just mean the kind on Ron Burgundy. That preamble aside, I was surprised and delighted by ONE SMALL HITCH. Just goes to show you – never give up hope. While it is not without a certain degree of predictability, it is genuinely funny, quirky but at the same time totally accessible to pretty much one anyone of either gender. There’s a little of both Josh and Molly in each of us.
ONE SMALL HITCH establishes a brief history for each of its leads efficiently and amusingly. Molly, played by Aubrey Dollar, is the pretty girl who is humble and slightly goofy. You want her as your BFF. Josh (Shane McRae) is adorable, pretty damn hot and a player – but somehow you don’t hate him. He is too endearing to be a slime-ball. Rather, he is just…experienced. Molly and Josh go way back as childhood friends and they are both traveling to Molly’s mother’s wedding back home in Chicago. The festivities are conveniently being held at Josh’s parents’ home. Both of them swiftly terminate their current squeezes, metaphorically speaking (although bloodshed could have been cool here), right before leaving for the wedding. Due to life altering events and a key phone conversation, Josh informs his mother that he and Molly are in fact…engaged, which they most certainly are not. Josh’s lie springs from a place of love and massive, massive Jewish guilt.
All families engage in their own brand of guilt to a greater or lesser degree. But – and I can get away with saying this because I had a Jewish grandmother – Jews have elevated familial guilt to an art. It’s a bit like a grenade; you don’t even see it coming until your head has been blown off. As the narrative unfolds between Josh and Molly there is surprisingly real emotion demonstrated by Dollar. We can see the conflict in her, the poignant struggle as she copes with the fake happiness she wishes were real. It feels horrible. And so do we. The dialogue is rational yet clever, and the screenplay is well written all around by Dode B. Levenson. Lines such as, “my parents are like Jewish parakeets,” and, “...like Orcs from Jewish Middle Earth,” I have to admit cracked me up. Simultaneously Levenson is able to hold present the discomfort and enormously destructive potential of the lie. On top of it all McRae and Dollar have chemistry. It may not necessarily be romantic but you sense a genuine connection between them on some level and that is critically important.
The film’s supporting cast are integral to the success of the story. Molly’s sister-in-law, played by Rebecca Spence, is the beacon of rational truth in the lot and balances fun and new motherhood perfectly. Josh’s parents, Janet Ulrich Brooks and Daniel J. Travanti (the iconic Capt. Frank Furillo of HILL STREET BLUES) play the Jewish parakeets with great realism and potency but they never go over the edge to become overblown clichés.
ONE SMALL HITCH is director John Burgess’ first feature-length film. He shows a nuanced hand, good pacing, and incorporates unpredictable elements wisely and judiciously.This first film shows great promise for his next effort. There are no epiphanies in ONE SMALL HITCH, but its fundamental truth is a good one. Lying is bad. But…acting ‘as if’ may just show you something you couldn’t see before.
ONE SMALL HITCH
By Jeri Jaquin
February 5, 2015
Coming to theatres from director John Burgess and Principle Entertainment comes a different kind of love with ONE SMALL HITCH.
This film tells the story of Josh Shiffman (Shane McRae), a man on his way home to a family wedding. Also in the airport is Molly Mahoney (Aubrey Dollar), after discovering her boyfriend is actually married, she runs into Josh and cries on his shoulder about the whole thing.
But Josh is thinking about the bad news he received from home. Dad Max (Daniel J. Travanti) is ill and he tells his son the one thing he had hoped to see was his son happily married. Josh gets the brainstorm to take Molly home to the family!
Getting over the initial freak out of it all, Josh and Molly fall into their respective roles as an engaged couple. That is until Josh runs into Giselle (Heidi Johanningmeier) and a fling ensues. Molly is fine with it…but is she really?
Josh is going to have to decide what he really wants before Molly ends it all.
FINAL WORD: McRae as Josh is a handsome player who wants it all. It is clear he doesn’t know women in the slightest. His family has already pegged him as a player but are thrilled he has ‘changed’. The fact that Josh wants to do this for his father is admirable but McRae gives his character moments of hopefulness followed by equal moments of reverting to type. I enjoyed watching his performance as it wasn’t overplayed at all.
Dollar as Molly is a young woman trying to discover why she keeps making the same mistakes regarding love. Simply looking for someone who sees her for who she is, Dollar portrays Molly as a girl slowly understanding who she is and what she wants. Not always good at choosing the right man, Dollar’s performance also clearly shows a young woman who sees the potential of love and a good life with someone who starts out a friend.
I was thrilled to see Travanti as I have always been a great admirer of his work. Playing this role of a man who knows his limits, he also has a sense of humor and a great laugh. Playing opposite McRae is a stroke of genius as, once again, I have to say the porch scene got to me.
Brooks as Frida is totally a Mom! Thrilled that her son is settling down it all comes to a grinding halt once she spies Josh in the lobby of the hotel. Keeping it to herself Brooks brings a seething to her character that I can relate to! Once she lets it out there is no stopping her and I appreciated seeing the lioness come out.
Other cast include: Mary Jo Faraci as Doreen, Ron Dean as Art, Robert Belushi as Sean, Rebecca Spence as Carla, Kily Spottiswoode as Suzanne, Jen Lilley as Larissa, Emily Handley as Gwen, Courtney Parks as Alexis and Roni Geva as Iris.
TUBS OF POPCORN: I give ONE SMALL HITCH three and a half tubs of popcorn out of five. It is a charming look at the complications of relationships, not just in love but in life. I do so love the scene between McRae and Travanti on the porch, more fathers and sons should have conversations like that – tugs at the heart for sure.
Watching these two characters believe they can pull this off, there was a nice natural progression of a childhood friendship to adulthood with comedy in between. Dollar really does give Molly a sweet quality, especially when realizing she is bonding with Josh’s family. McRae has his charming moments letting Josh’s guard down that shows he isn’t the player he thinks he is.
I really enjoyed watching the families all celebrate Josh’s ‘engagement’ like it was a Super Bowl win! Both sides of the family brought such comedy and behaviors that I truly believe audiences, especially those who have been engaged before, will laugh at.
Director Burgess says of the film, “At its heart, ONE SMALL HITCH is a film about family. There’s a fun love triangle and some screwball comedic moments but ultimately this story is about the relationships between its characters. So the experience I am most trying to communicate with ONE SMALL HITCH is that of life and relationships coming full circle.”
In the end – love with strings attached.