Naperville North graduate comes home to make directorial debut ‘Most guys are losers’ – Chicago Tribune
Filmmaker and Naperville North alum Eric Ustian knew something was there. He just wasn’t sure what.
The copy of Mark Berzins’ book, “Most Guys Are Losers…And How to Find a Winner,” sitting on a colleague’s desk in Ustian’s production office would catch the eye of passers-by. And once they heard the story behind the book — a dad wrote it as a dating guide for his daughter — they were even more intrigued.
On Christmas Eve 2016, Ustian flew to Denver to meet with author Berzins to talk about turning the book into a movie.
“As fate would have it, the book author’s daughter was in town after college. And her daughter brought her boyfriend home for the first time. It was the same night I was there. So what I witnessed was this book author breaking the rules of his book,” said Ustian, Founder and President of Pier Avenue Films. “And I didn’t of kids, but I know a good young man when I can see one. And this daughter’s boyfriend was just fantastic. Just a nice, polite, successful guy.
“And I said there was something more interesting about it, about the father not following the guidelines in his book and the daughter’s boyfriend really teaching her the rules of good against the wicked,” he said.
Now, nearly six years later, “Most Guys Are Losers” hits theaters on July 1, with a cast that includes Mira and Paul Sorvino, Andy Buckley, Keith David and Naperville native Belmont Cameli.
“Half of our cast in small roles were strangers to Second City. Some of them are from Naperville,” Ustian said. “Belmont Cameli. He was unknown then, he is very famous now.
A good portion of the 90-minute film was also shot in Naperville, which Ustian felt he had to do.
“I think Naperville is the best place on Earth,” he said. “I’ve lived all over and filmed all over the world, and there are no more beautiful people in the world than Naperville. I believe in it so much that I knew my first movie had to be shot in Naperville .
Ustian grew up on the Naperville-Lisle border in the Green Trails neighborhood and attended schools in District 203, graduating from Naperville North in 1998. At age 18, he chose to move to Los Angeles instead of attending college. from Iowa after booking a few acting roles.
“It was a very scary decision, but I moved here not knowing anyone. I booked roles as an actor. That’s what brought me here,” Ustian said. wasn’t very good at it. What made me a better director was that I knew it wasn’t my thing, but it was a way to keep me in LA, to earn money and go to film school.
When he got his first movie job — as a production assistant on the 2002 dark comedy “Secretary,” starring Maggie Gyllenhaal — he knew making movies was what he wanted to do.
“On day one, I fell in love with it,” he said. “The first minute, the chaos on set and all these different cultures from all over the world. The long hours. Meet movie stars. At the time, that was cool to me.
After a decade of working on films, he produced the first 3D television series sold to an American network, “3D Safari: Africa”. Ustian was working in reality TV when he came across Berzins’ book.
“It took four years to go from taking the book to shooting the film. It took me dozens of rewrites,” he said of the film’s script. “I used all the film teachers I’ve had, all the acting coaches I’ve had, all the actors I’ve known. I used them for the rewrites.
In the film, college students Sandy (played by Grace Fulton) and Bo (played by Michael Provost) return to Sandy’s house in Chicago for Thanksgiving weekend so Bo can meet her parents. His father (played by Andy Buckley) is a bar owner and also the author of “Most Guys Are Losers”.
“It’s comfort food in a time when people need comfort food,” Ustian said.
It was after Oscar-winning actress Mira Sorvino played Sandy’s mother that things started to move quickly.
“It was a ton of pre-production and we got to a point where my uncle took a chance on me and said, ‘I like where this is going,'” Ustian said. “It was really after choosing Mira. That’s the power of Mira Sorvino. She gave us that money. That’s how powerful her name and her talent are.
With funding from his late uncle, Greg Stubblefield, he was able to direct the film.
“Within three weeks we had the money and we were on set in Chicago,” Ustian said.
Much of the $2.8 million syndicated film was filmed in Naperville in late 2019.
“It features the Riverwalk near Nichols Library. It features Washington (Street) and Chicago (Avenue),” Ustian said. “And then a good chunk, probably 25%, takes place in Frankie’s Blue Room.”
Ustian stretched the film’s budget by filming family scenes at his mother’s Woodridge home in Seven Bridges.
“In my mother’s neighborhood there were constant crowds outside and it was minus 8 degrees one day,” he said.
After filming in Chicago, production returned to Los Angeles, where, after a COVID hiatus, it was completed in 2021. Later that year, it premiered at the Denver Film Festival.
On July 1, the film will be released in eight cities across the United States, distributed by Gravitas Ventures.
“It’s hard to believe it started as just a book on the desk of my production office,” Ustian said. “To see it come to fruition is just amazing to me and I’m so grateful.”
“Most guys are losers”
When: opening July 1
Where: in cinemas
Kathy Cichon is a freelance writer for the Naperville Sun.