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Cinematic: Dirty and Savage: Fresh Film Faces


By Kim Kowsky '86, M.F.A. '00

Published Jan 1, 2011 8:30 AM


Milla Jovovich and Mary Steenburgen star along with Juno Temple and William H. Macy in Abe Sylvia's coming-of-age comedy Dirty Girl. Photo courtesy of Abe Sylvia M.F.A. '06

Three recent graduates of UCLA's School of Theater, Film and Television who worked on each other's student films are enjoying breakthrough success with their first full-length features.

Abe Sylvia M.F.A. '06, writer and director of Dirty Girl, a coming-of-age comedy, and Justin Lerner M.F.A. '07, writer and director of Girlfriend, a drama about a man with Down syndrome, both sold distribution rights to their films at the 2010 Toronto Film Festival.


Photo courtesy of Justin Learner M.F.A. '07

Dirty Girl, starring Milla Jovovich, Mary Steenburgen, Juno Temple and William H. Macy, netted a $3-million distribution deal from The Weinstein Company. Girlfriend, starring Jackson Rathbone, Shannon Woodward, Amanda Plummer and Evan Sneider, an actor with Down syndrome, earned a deal reportedly "in the mid-to-upper six figures" from Hannover House. Both films are expected to be in theaters by spring.

"It's hard enough to get a feature made and in a festival and sold, but for both of us to do it at the same time — you can't really plan on something like that," Lerner says. "I feel unbelievably fortunate and proud that Abe and I can be on this journey together."

Another friend and fellow film student, David Harris M.F.A. '07, also earned kudos in 2010 for co-writing and directing his first feature, Savage County, a low-budget ($250,000) slasher movie that is available on XBOX, PS3 and iTunes. The film has been turned into an online alternate reality game and will be released on DVD in January 2011.

Originally planned as a series of 10-minute webisodes, Savage County won an audience through non-traditional media and marketing efforts. In partnership with Eventful, which handled the Paranormal Activity campaign, MTV agreed to air the movie if 100,000 people saw the trailer for the project and wanted to see more. The campaign logged 130,000 demands and ran Oct. 7 on MTV2 as part of its "October Block of Horror" campaign.

"David, Justin and I all go way back," Sylvia concludes. "All three of us are friends and we all worked on each other's films at varying points. ... One of our professors said the relationships you make here are going to carry you over the years, and it really has been true so far."