Brains or muscle?
Accountants or killers?
Need? Or greed?
All the above are involved in this 35-minute street drama, and it was filmed here in Wheeling, where one of the actors witnessed it, and another participated in it.
“It’s one of those stories that grabs you, holds you, and then it lets you go,” said Ron Scott Sr., the father of the author of “Need or Greed,” a film by Undependent Films scheduled to premiere at Marquee Cinemas on September 29. “After you see this movie, it’s on you after that. Think what you want, but it’s live, and it’s raw, and it’s up to you how you think about.”
Undependent Films is a production company based in the Upper Ohio Valley, and this movie was directed by James Wodarcyk; the cinematography is by Desi Lekanudos and Ryan Dague, and it was edited by Jeff Madzia. Scott Sr. and Scott Jr. have leading roles as does Corey Jackson. The film company’s most recent release was “The Static” featuring actor Rob Garrison of “Karate Kid” fame.
Three showings of “Need or Greed” are set for this Thursday at The Highlands complex at 6:30 p.m., 7:30 p.m., and again at 8:30 p.m. The film features Ron Scott Jr., Corey Jackson, and Scott Sr., a man who remembers an era in the Friendly City when drug fiends flocked to certain street corners to acquire what they craved.
“I was involved with some things before I joined the Marine Corps, and I went to jail for it, too, but then I turned to the military,” Senior explained. “I’ll never forget when I came home from Vietnam. I landed in San Francisco, and there were actually people spitting at us and calling us baby killers. It offended me so bad that I officially declared war on everyone, and I was going to do anything and everything I can to get all the bucks I could while I could.
“Then I hooked up with buddies of mine, and we went pretty much crazy, and we didn’t care,” he said. “I had my own crew, and we robbed banks and anything that was federally insured. At that time the fastest money in the criminal game was bank robbery money, but then the drugs came into play, and the drug money was three, four, five times faster, so that’s what we did. We just kept moving stuff like the weed and the cocaine.”
In this film Scott Sr. portrays “The Old Man,” the kingpin of a trafficking racket who is forced to make a most difficult decision in a storyline that’s about rivalry, family, friendship, and the fear of the unknown.
“My son (Scott Jr.) more or less knew my lifestyle when he was young, and by knowing those things, it gave him an insight to be able to put this film together,” he explained. “I mean, I didn’t take him with me, and I was pretty much a loner back then. I knew all of the big time gangsters like Jesse Anderson and his boys, and they always asked me to join their crew. But that wasn’t my thing.
“But man, I was in one of the biggest gangs in the world because I was in the United State Marine Corps for three-and-a-half years, and there’s no way anything is going to compare to that,” Scott Sr. continued. “At that point in my life I wasn’t going to take any orders from nobody. I was done with that. I wasn’t afraid of Jesse or any of those boys, but I didn’t trust him because I knew he was a gangster. I was civil with him, but he was in that damned mob.”
Scott Sr. was born in Triadelphia but never really lived with family. Instead, he spent his youth in orphanages, foster homes, and jails. Now, at the age of 67 with eight years in prison under his belt, he speaks slowly, walks with a cane, and has finally ceased taking his days for granted.
“All of those things have made me into the person I am today, but it’s also what convinced myself to finally do what I could do to make sure my son didn’t turn out like I did,” he admitted. “I wanted him to understand that what happened to me was because of me. It wasn’t because of the system or anything like that. It was because of me. I chose to do it all.
“I still don’t remember a lot of it, but I know a lot of was pretty nasty stuff. It was some vicious stuff, and it tore my straight life apart. So I was a criminal, and I was a crook, and I was determined then to be that,” Scott Sr. continued. “It wasn’t because America was a bad place or anything. It was all because of me, and it has worked out for the best,” he said. “I’m very thankful for that; I truly am.”
Scott Jr., now 42 and a father of three children of his own, was raised in East Wheeling by his mother. Early in his life this section of Wheeling was a popular destination for those seeking illegal substances. And yes, his family and his friends tested him.
“There was the temptation, but what I always had in the mind were the stories that my dad used to tell me about prison that scared me to death,” Scott Jr. admitted. “So then I had some family members telling me they were thinking about creeping out onto those streets.
“There was a time when they had a little bit of crack, and they were going to sell it in East Wheeling because that’s where all the fiends came to get it. They told me we could make $300 in like two hours, but I was still so afraid,” he explained. “That’s when I bought a ski mask and put that on, and then I had a toboggan on and then a hoodie. I thought no one would ever know who I was, but they all laughed at me. That’s how I knew that action wasn’t for me at all.”
“Need or Greed” was filmed on those same streets, and several of the visions Scott Jr. employed in the movie simply relied on his recollections.
“There was a time in East Wheeling when crack was everywhere. It was bad,” he recalled. “I can remember people organizing their Christmases, and everyone got a, ‘dub.’ Whatever money you spent on the drugs, you doubled, and that’s why it was called that, and that’s how they paid for the Christmas. You pay $50 for the ‘dub’; you made $100 off it because those other fools didn’t know how else to find it.
“It was amazing because it was so commonplace. No one hid it from anyone. They would conversation out in the open: ‘You gettin’ a dub?’ ‘Yup.’ It was everywhere back then,” Scott Jr. continued. “There was that much dope on the street. But even then I kept remembering what my dad told me about prison, so I stayed out of it.”
‘Write Me Something’
Scott Sr. landed behind bars the first time at the age of 17, and he later was sentenced to prison at the age of 24 and was incarcerated until he was 31.
Ironically, though, “Need or Greed” was born while Scott Sr. was in a different kind of hell.
“While my father was in the hospital for a while, my friend James (Wodarcyk) was helping him out, and then he came to me and told me that he would love to shoot some video with me and my dad,” explained Scott Jr., whose character is named, “Most.” “That’s when I started thinking about what we could possibly do, and then I wrote some stuff down.
“Initially I just wrote up this small scene, and I handed it to him to see what he thought, and he immediately said, ‘I need more.’ So I just kept writing it out,” he said. “I was adding more and more each night, and it was stuff I could imagine because of all of the stories my father has shared with me and because of what I saw for myself.”
With every installment he read, Wodarcyk’s enthusiasm grew.
“Everyone involved with Undependent Films loved the story and setting,” he said. “It was a subject that I wouldn’t have been able to write about in such detail. But what sold us on the project was Ron’s enthusiasm at our first meeting. He completely won us over. I was personally very excited to have a chance to finally work with the Scotts.
“As for the script, we were very fortunate. Ron handed us a polished script. The dialogue was perfect as written. The biggest change was the addition of a few scenes at the beginning to give a sense of the character’s background,” the director explained. “Another change was moving the setting from inside a moving car to them walking through various parts of the building. We also added a grand entrance for the Old Man to demonstrate the amount of power and respect he commanded.”
Those choosing to attend one of the three screenings on Sept. 29 will not have the time to eat a bucket a popcorn as the movie is just over a half an hour in length, but that is enough for time to feel the edge.
“My initial impression was that it was a great inner city gangster story, so I wanted it to be gritty,” said Wodarcyk. “But as I read it over and over, I saw all these other layers. The relationship between ‘Lu’ and ‘Most’ is very complex. They were childhood friends and now are rivals with opposing philosophies of how to conduct business.
“I spent an evening looking at film clips with the director of photography, Desi Lekanudos, to pick a look that matched the tone of the film best. The great thing about working with him is once I show him the look I want, he can make it happen,” the director continued. “I think his suggestion to not use diffused lighting sets a great tone. Probably the most challenging aspect of the film was the gradual shift from realism to a more surreal feel at the end.”
Live and Raw
The relationship between this father and son was not always as tight and loving as they appear today. In fact, there was a time when Scott Jr. did not know if his and his father’s relationship would change from estrangement to reconciliation. Eventually it did, though, and since father and son have partnered on poetry and music and family and on film.
“It was hard for a long time, I’m not going to lie,” Scott Jr. explained. “And that’s one of the reasons why this film is the way it is. Most people putting movies out there about this crime stuff usually get caught up with the same story. It’s always glamorized, and everything’s great, and there’s always fast money. But that’s not how it really is at all, so I wanted this story to take a turn to where it’s not even comfortable for the actors let alone the people watching this film. That’s because it’s the real reality.
“Everyone is always on shaky ground when they are involved with stuff like that, and that’s because it always ends bad. Maybe not in the most of those kinds of movies, but those movies aren’t portraying how it really is, and that’s probably because they’ve only heard about it instead of living it,” he said. “If you are involved with a criminal lifestyle, eventually it’s going to end up bad. There’s no happy ending to it; trust me.”
Along with the Scotts and Jackson, “Need or Greed” also features local actors Tamara Harrison, Luca DiLorenzo, D’Asia Scott, Alex Madzia, Lauren Elliott, Brandon Hilson, Chris Jackson, Anthony Savage, Will Sparksman, and “Money Mook.” The original music is by Flight Gang, Shanne Gain, BMSdaKid, Josh Heatherington, & The GrindTeam.
“This film was really a small slice into the lives of the characters during a brief but intense period,” Wodarcyk explained. “But during that time it really explored some themes that are common to all people like the bonds between family and friendship and whether to use brain or brawn.
“How power is acquired and what it takes to hold onto it? The difference being, these characters live in a world where the stakes are higher, and the consequences are much harsher,” he continued. “Tough decisions have to be made, and a wrong decision can cost you your life.
Madzia, who served as film editor for ‘Need or Greed,” explained how those involved with Undependent Films went about the production process.
“We try to rotate as much as we can with the films that we do as long as everyone is comfortable with what they are expected to do so everyone has a chance to do that’s involved with making a film like this,” Madzia explained. “It’s pretty collaborative, and for “Need or Greed” I served as the editor of the film.
“For this one we developed a shot list so we could make sure that James could get all of the shots he wanted,” he continued. “Once we got those shots, I would use the editing software to select the shots that would work best to tell this story. After that I teamed up with James to watch all of the footage, and after that I put it all together. Sometimes it came down to a tenth of a second to make sure we got the right shot.”
Madzia added that he depended on the director’s vision to tell this tale.
“The director (Wodarcyk ) always has the final say, and that’s why I picked James’ brain before getting started,” he explained. “I needed to know where he wanted to go with this and what kind of feel he wanted from the movie. I wanted to make sure the story kept going somewhere, and it certainly does.
“I find this to be a very interesting character study, and the performances of the actors are really, really good, and they make the story really pop,” Madzia continued. “This movie is different from anything we’ve worked on before, one and of the biggest differences is that one of us didn’t write it. That meant we had to consider Ron’s vision, too, for the whole thing. But how people will react to it is hard to predict.”
Scott Jr. worries not.
“That’s because it’s the truth,” he said. “It’s what I saw and lived and what I heard about from my pops, and like he says, it’s live, and it’s raw, and it’s up to you how you think about. I can’t say it any better than that.”
(Photos provided by Undependent Films)