By NATE SMITH
(Washington) Times Herald
It is the dream of many people to be in a movie, let alone create one.
For most of us, that dream goes as far as to the video store or the theater. For two former Washington residents, the dream of a real motion picture became a reality with “The Debacle.”
“The Debacle” was written and partly produced by Christopher Koenig, a Washington High School graduate who now lives in New Albany. Koenig also plays one of the lead roles in the film and recruited his friend and Washington High School grad Matt Newton to play a role in the movie.
The plot of the very high quality production is two friends, Vaughn and Larry are regular guys bumbling through life until a chance encounter leads them to 1870s Arizona. There, they are forced to help a struggling town or they cannot return home.
Much of the family-friendly film was shot in Indiana, Kentucky and in Arizona where Koenig and production partner, director and co-star Ryan Wood spent several weeks in the heat working in the same locations where famous Westerns like “Tombstone,” and “The Quick and the Dead” were shot.
The motivation to create the film, Koenig said, was always a goal for him and Wood, one of his best friends. The two had produced short films before, but always wanted to give the full length film project a chance.
“We always thought we could make a movie sometime,” Koenig said. “I said ‘Let’s just do it. It may not work but let’s do it anyway.’”
From there, the two created a production company, Four80 Vault Films, wrote the script and started finding donors to finance the project. They used mainly an extended network of friends and family to raise the funding necessary for the film.
“We did one step after another, just to see if we can do it,” Koenig said.
Eventually, the two got the funds together and when the time came to cast actors, Koenig wanted his friend, Newton, a stage veteran, to be the bad guy. The two knew each other from their time in Washington and Newton sang at Koenig’s wedding several years ago. Koenig returned the favor a few years later when he officiated Newton’s wedding.
“I had Matt in mind the entire time when I wrote the character he would eventually play,” Koenig said. “I was like ‘Yeah, I’m going to appeal to all the bad sides of Matt. I think he can pull this off and make this work.’”
For Newton, the chance to act in a movie was something he could not pass up.
“(Koenig) called me up and said ‘Hey, you want to be in a movie?’” Newton said. “I said, ‘Yeah, what do you have for me?’
“I thought ‘This is the opportunity of a lifetime. Who knows if I will ever get this opportunity again? So I’d better take it.’ ”
To be the antagonist in this Western, Newton said, he did not have to go far to find inspiration as Westerns were some of his favorites growing up. His character is tasked with leading his gunmen to drive the town’s residents out so his town will get the valuable Union Pacific station.
“This guy is supposed to be likable,” Newton said. “He’s supposed to be a likable guy, but it is a facade. He’s just a punk, just a bad guy.”
The story is based, very loosely according to Koenig, from the Bible story of Moses leading his people out of Egypt. Koenig, who does stand-up comedy on the side, cast himself and Wood for the lead characters because they “knew they could count on” themselves. The production process, which took about 14 months, had a very steep learning curve.
What came out of the experience was a very high-quality production the entire family can enjoy.
“It’s clean enough for the entire family, but not hokey,” Koenig said.
“For their first full-length movie, these guys did a great job,” Newton said. “The cinematography, everything, fabulous.”
But even though Newton has been in many productions while currently living in Nashville, he said acting in a feature film is different and at the first screening in Louisville earlier this summer, he was looking on things that could have been better. Newton’s family loved seeing him on the big screen.
“My dad passed away in 2009 and that was the kicker for me because he would have loved it because he thought it would have been the neatest thing that I was the bad guy in a Western,” Newton said.
In all, there have been 12 to 13 screenings and the producers are in negotiations to release it digitally. There might be another film in the future at Four80 Vault Films, and Newton said he would be ready to be in it when called upon.
“We wanted to earn a right to make another,” Koenig said.
The film is available to purchase online at www.thedebacle.com.