During a time of communal stress and anxiety, Greenwich International Film Festival was overjoyed to present The Bellmen as part of its 2020 platform. This comedic feature thrills the audience with an insider view of the hotel service industry. The uproarious movie is beautifully set at an Arizona resort and the cast includes talented actors such as Richard Kind, Thomas Lennon and Willie Garson. Jason Adler, a Greenwich native, co-wrote, produced and acted in The Bellmen. In this interview Jason details his journey from his youth on the East Coast to his career jump which landed him on the West Coast in the entertainment industry.
The Bellmen gives great insight into the world of hotel service. How did you come up with the concept?
Well my first job was at a resort in Antigua one summer in high school, which inspired me to pursue a career in hospitality. I was lucky enough to attend Cornell University’s school of hotel management, where a requirement was to work a minimum of 800 hours I believe, in the hospitality industry. The summer of my freshman year I worked at The Homestead Inn in Greenwich. I learned so much working for Theresa Henkelmann, who is a brilliant entrepreneur and mentor. The following summer I was lucky enough to land a coveted internship at the Bellagio in Las Vegas! Needless to say, I gained invaluable experience and exposure in this fascinating world. In particular I found the bellmen to have the biggest personalities and tell the best stories. It makes sense since they give the first impression of a hotel, having to sell the property and amenities while escorting guests to their rooms. I always thought this world was under explored, and if I ever got a chance to make a movie, this would be the subject. It’s a broad enough concept which most people can immediately grasp, yet the nuances and behind the scenes inner workings are what make it so interesting.
Tell us about how you went from being an East Coaster to considering L.A. your home?
I grew up going to LA on vacations with my family, so perhaps I fell in love through osmosis. I knew I wanted to head west after college, so when I learned that a friend was attending USC law school and looking for a roommate, it was a no brainer – despite not having a job! I literally pounded the pavement and walked into several hotels to see if they had any openings (I’m dating myself but the internet had not quite taken off), and somehow wound up getting a position as an Assistant Front Office Manager at the boutique hotel, Shutters on the Beach. My second day on the job was September 11th. It was eerily similar to todays climate, with the hotel industry being paralyzed. They laid off 30% of the staff, but kept me on since I was cheap labor on salary, haha. I quickly learned how to balance managing an older staff, demands of a high-end clientele, and having to please upper management. Ultimately it wasn’t what I envisioned, so I moved back east and got a job in commodities, naturally. While that was a lucrative and educational few years, it just wasn’t for me. I started working for my father who had a post production business in NYC. Since reality shows were red hot at the time, I spearheaded a production arm and cut my teeth shooting sizzle reels and pitching shows over the next few years, and finally sold a series to Spike Tv in 2012. It was set to be filmed in LA, so I found myself returning to Southern California…
Tell us more about your first break into Hollywood?
The show was called “Last Family on Earth”, and I’d established a relationship with Robert Vicino, the owner of Vivos Shelters. Vivos had acquired bunkers from the government that were built during the cold war era, and was renovating them for people to live in to survive an apocalyptic event (remember the Mayan apocalypse was to be Dec 21st, 2012?). In other words our timing and access was perfect. Contestants would compete in teams of two, a la Amazing Race, in various “end of world” scenarios/ challenges. The winning team would be awarded 6 spots in a Vivos shelter. Once again, this was eerily applicable to today’s climate! Our agent at WME packaged us with Pilgrim Studios, a top production company in unscripted programming, and we were green lit for 8 episodes! Two weeks before filming began, the network pulled the plug due to “creative differences” with Pilgrim. It was my first Hollywood devastation and I was in shock. I had to reset. I knew I didn’t want to return to the East coast, and there was an itch I hadn’t scratched yet – acting. I had done some stand-up in New York, as well as taken improv classes, so I figured why not? If nothing else it was a chance to network and learn what it was like to be in front of the camera for a change. I was fortunate to book many commercials, and of course play the role of a lifetime in The Bellmen, ha! My true passion however, is producing.
How did it feel to come full circle and return to Greenwich for the film festival?
I was so proud and honored to be included in the festival. It was also a big surprise because The Bellmen is a very specific brand of comedy, which I wasn’t sure would be a fit. Naturally I was excited to be part of such an impressive story telling forum, and in the town in which I grew up was such a bonus! Obviously it would have been amazing to be there in person, but it was very special nonetheless.
There are some hilarious scenes, any that were particularly fun to shoot?
One of my favorites was the Mexico scene with Adam Ray. He is a brilliant improviser. I still crack up every time I watch that sequence. The scenes on stage had to be my favorite though. Watching Thomas Lennon in action and having the opportunity to act alongside Willie, Richard and the others, I almost had to pinch myself. Also it was very hard not to break character! Everyone had such a blast on set throughout the production, and it helped that we filmed and lived at such a beautiful resort. Waking up on location, eating together, and having drinks at the end of the day all helped build strong bonds. We really felt like a family, and with only 15 shoot days it was a real testament to the professionalism of the cast and crew.
How did you get such an amazing cast for The Bellmen?
It starts with Cameron Fife, who I met many years ago on the basketball court. He had a vast network of friends in the industry, plus we had done a pilot of the same name a few years prior so there was a bit of a head start with some actors/characters. Ultimately the script had garnered very good coverage and there was no shortage of options, but everyone we cast was perfect for each role, and we were lucky to have everything line up the way it did! Our casting directors Kendra Shay Clark and Helen Geier did an amazing job as well. They were able to get offers out to anyone we wanted, and quickly. Our Executive Producer Kim Waltrip had worked with Willie Garson before, so when he came on board early we knew we had something special. Obviously getting Tom was a huge turning point, and then Richard – both of whom were top choices for their respective roles. I know Richard attended the Greenwich International Film Festival last year for Auggie, and was bummed to not be able to return this year, as we all were.
One of the biggest obstacles for getting a film made is securing the financing. Can you share how you were able to fund the production and now distribution of The Bellmen?
It was not easy, a lot of persistence! I called everyone and anyone who I thought might possibly be interested in investing, including some cold calls. Lot’s of luggage companies, haha. One of my first breaks was Maria Luna, CEO of BRAVO, a cashless tipping app. I had seen her on Shark Tank, and since the app was primarily used for tipping (has since evolved into multiple functions) and the company was based in Arizona, it felt like a great fit. It’s funny, people are shocked to learn they’re an actual company – that’s how organic we were able to weave it into the storyline! Beyond a select group of friends, family, and BRAVO, I personally made a big bet on myself, Cameron, and the concept. It’s so tough to get that first feature made, and I’ve always been a risk taker. I also decided to self distribute because it’s more feasible than ever today, and with some hard work and good marketing I’m happy to retain control and monetize it for years to come.
What’s the next project in the pipeline?
I’ve been sitting on a great script for the past couple years. It is a comedy centered around the sport of paddle tennis, also known as platform tennis. Coincidentally, while watching the documentary A Peloton of One at the Greenwich International Film Festival, I had very mixed emotions. On one hand it was such a deeply impactful story that moved me, but also the main character was Dave Ohlmuller, who happens to be an incredibly accomplished paddle player. It ignited a flame and motivated me to begin looking for financing! I was also getting involved in a broadway show with my dad, Ken Schur, who was an Executive Producer on The Bellmen. In fact we were about to attend a workshop in April when the pandemic hit, but hopefully when everything starts to normalize we can get back on track.
How can people watch The Bellmen?
The movie is available on Amazon Prime, iTunes, Vudu, and Google Play/Youtube (links below) We also released and ran it for several weeks in 20 theaters – virtually of course. This is a new concept as a result of the pandemic, where people can watch the movie through an independent theater’s website. Since we split the proceeds with them, it is a way for people to support their local theater in these critical times, while the film reaches a wider audience.
To view The Bellmen click on a link below:
View The Bellmen Q&A from the virtual festival here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/eq6xqyfao1itp8f/BellmenQ%26A.mp4?dl=0