Aug. 17, 2005 Native St. Thomian and actor Win de Lugo is co-starring in an independent film having its world premier this week at the Sacramento Film and Music Festival.
It could be the beginning of the beginning, or then again, it might not be. De Lugo says that's the nature of the film business, something he has been around for decades.
De Lugo got his feet wet in the '60s in New York, where he studied at the famed Stella Adler Conservatory and appeared in many stage productions, before returning to St. Thomas to run the government Film Promotion Office.
The film De Lugo is featured in, "Touching Down," premieres Thursday evening at the festival. It is one of six features chosen from 300-plus entries at the festival, which also include shorts. De Lugo says, "They did give us the best position on their Web site, sacfilm.com, so that bodes well for our future. Sara Lewis is the lead, it's her story. I have the co-starring role as her volatile father."
De Lugo is emphatic about how this story is presented. Contacted in Los Angeles Wednesday, he says, "At this point, there's nothing to say. I don't want to hype the folks back home with misleading information. I think you'll understand, you know those press releases where they say it's 'the best thing since sliced bread.'"
According to De Lugo, "Her Minor Thing," the Wednesday night feature opening the festival, is a $4 million film. "Our film," De Lugo says, "which runs Thursday, cost $32,000 not exactly sliced bread."
Then again, it might be. De Lugo says, "The launching of a film is a process. It runs through the film festival circuit during the year, hopefully gathering accolades and strong reviews leading to distribution."
He continues, "When you're a stage actor, as I was in New York, you get the opportunity to do great pieces of work, written by the masters. When it comes to movies, they aren't going to give a great role to a Win De Lugo, to an unknown, it's walk-ons and TV work [for us].
"Then I got this role, which I'd been dreaming about. It's not 'Hamlet.' It's a wonderful role with a lot of color. My character, Ted, is a father who goes through the whole movie eaten up by his own guilt, and everything he does is affected by that."
"Touching Down" is a story of a father and daughter. Sam, played by Sara Lewis, is in her mid-20s and longs to leave home. But her father, a security guard at the local bowling alley, wants her to stay in the little town of Tatum, Wash., telling Sam that the outside world is "too dangerous."
Something happened years ago in Missouri, a shooting, which fuels the anger, guilt and the fear Ted feels. Things reach a climax when Sam develops an innocent romance and wants to return home to find out about her past.
"It's the kind of role which allows you to use everything you've learned," De Lugo says. He laughs, "In fact, you have to or you'll fall on your face."
"We have a long road ahead of us," De Lugo says, "through the festivals to see how it develops. It's not my film. It's directed and written by Chris King. And he is so young."
It becomes obvious, however, that De Lugo has great respect for the young director. "He has a baby face, I don't know how old he is, but you can't believe he had these kind of serious thoughts he put down on paper. He is so happy all the time, everybody likes him. I didn't believe he had this connection with reality."
It started when De Lugo auditioned for the first time in L.A. "When I moved out here in '93, everybody that I thought I knew, all my contacts, kind of disappeared, so I decided to pursue my own path and go after the indies, not the studios. I stood a better chance."
The film, De Lugo says, is written for Sam, the lead. "It's written for her character, so the director went looking for the right girl. Then, he went to look for her father."
"I auditioned once, and I walked away thinking I'd put the ball right across the plate," he continues. "Then, I didn't hear anything, and I saw another ad calling for more people to audition for the role. I went back again, and I thought I'd gotten it again. No call. Then, I saw a third audition call in the paper, and the phone rang.
"It was King. I said, 'I'm surprised you're calling, because I saw the ad.' He told me he was auditioning someone that morning when it hit him I was the right person."
De Lugo says King told him, "'I started waving my hands, and said I've got the guy. Why don't we stop this craziness?'"
De Lugo says, "I have to admit it was exciting I've always dreamed of getting a role like this."
However, that doesn't really cut it, that isn't all, De Lugo says. "Films are created in the editing room. They really are. So, the question of who winds up buying the film [is important]. If it falls into the wrong hands, isn't promoted properly, it could be terrible. For example, take the movie, 'Cinderella Man.' It bombed because it was released badly."
The film industry has changed, De Lugo says. "It's no longer all about Hollywood. There's a story in the L.A. Times today "Hollywood's New Back Lot The U.S." Movies are being made all over the U.S., many of them in Louisiana. It's cheaper, cities offer tax incentives, but mainly, because of new technology, you can make a film, edit a film, anywhere. The industry is at a turning point."
De Lugo uses an analogy. "It's like if you're on an oil tanker and it's slowly turning out at sea. It's very hard to tell that it's turning. But, if you're on a point of land, suddenly you see it's turning. Most of the big shots at the studios don't realize this, but the little people standing on the shore, the independent filmmakers, see what's going on."
"The new technology means you don't have to be in Hollywood to make a movie. You could make a movie in Tortola and edit it on Sail Rock. You almost don't have to be here anymore. The smog is terrible, the rents are terrible."
De Lugo says it is his dream to return to St. Thomas. "You can work out of your home base. I'm going to start little by little and establish St. Thomas as my home base, to make short films." He pauses for a moment, "Ironically," he says, "the invention of the microchip has given me back the 20 years of my life I lost by going back to St. Thomas."
While heading the government Film Promotion Office on St. Thomas in the '70s, De Lugo created the U.S. Virgin Islands Film Commission (the fifth in the U.S.), which brought millions of dollars into the islands by luring hundreds of national commercials plus features like "The Island of Dr. Moreau" with Burt Lancaster, "Four Seasons" with Alan Alda and "Weekend at Bernies II."
De Lugo also brought the Atlanta Film Festival to St. Thomas in the mid-'70s, sparking up the shores with the V.I. International Film Fest. Stars were running all over the island, including French star Catherine Deneuve and "Jaws" star Roy Scheider. Banners were up on Veterans Drive, and St. Thomas, for a bit, became the Caribbean's Tinseltown.
After losing one home to a fire, and another to a hurricane, and finding his career affected by a change in the administration, De Lugo headed out for greener California pastures, where he worked in 12 films before "Touching Down."
However, he pleads, "Please don't let people think I've become a movie star, absolutely not."
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