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September 22, 2014

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Joe Downtown: Fremont East Studios producer shopping new film to crowd at Cannes

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Joe Schoenmann

Freeman White III, director of production at Fremont East Studios in downtown Las Vegas, is taking his new film, “Five Thirteen,” to distributors and buyers at next week’s Cannes film festival.

Next week, he’s bringing “Five Thirteen,” a film five years in the making, to the international film festival in Cannes to show to potential buyers and distributors. Edited and completed within the last month, the film is not an official festival entry.

White’s journey from horticultural documentarian to feature film producer is one 20 years in the making.

Though currently the director of production at Fremont East Studios, a new video production facility at 221 Las Vegas Blvd. North, the 45-year-old has spent 20 years working in the movie industry in California, where he developed close ties to producers, directors and actors, many of whom worked at cut rates to help him make this film.

The way he describes how he developed those relationships is one that works everywhere, especially in Las Vegas, where many people say one thing then do another.

“It’s amazing how, if you’re straight with people and you show up on time and give them your undivided attention, you create relationships with them, you build trust,” he said.

White met the director Kader Ayd, for instance, in the office of actor Wesley Snipes; White was Snipes’ operations manager and friend for many years.

“(Ayd) was trying to talk to the receptionist, who was saying they don’t accept film offers right there,” Freeman recalled.

He listened to the man with the thick French accent, and took him aside.

“It took him 10 minutes to explain, and I could see the fire in his eyes – this dude was committed. He could barely speak English, though now he’s fluent, and he was passionate.”

That was around 2006. The two worked together on music videos and other projects until Ayd came up with the idea for a new movie (he directs the "Five Thirteen" and shares writing credit with Renee Topper).

“He wrote, directed and came up with all the concepts, the theme and how it could come together at the end,” said White, who is the movie’s producer.

Sometimes, Ayd would call White at 3 a.m., excited about a new concept he had for the movie and wanting to use White as a sounding board, one of the the producer’s roles. (White's co-producer is Paull Cho.)

“‘Freeman I 'ad a breakthrough; ‘eets going to be piton!’” White recalls, imitating the Frenchman’s accent, then admits: “I still have no idea what that means.”

Featuring actors such as Tom Sizemore (“Saving Private Ryan”), Danny Trejo ("Anchorman") and Taryn Manning ("8 Mile"), the movie begins about two brothers, one wrongly imprisoned for five years and the other forced into becoming a snitch for a police officer, White says. The brothers reconnect after the prison stint, and both end up in trouble again, and it goes from there.

The movie trailer looks anything but like an independent film, which White said was the result of having access to top-grade lenses for their cameras.

Currently with foreign distribution, “Five Thirteen” will be shown at Cannes in the hope of enticing buyers who can get it distributed in the United States and throughout Europe.

“I spent tens of thousands of dollars of my own money on the movie, because I believe in the story, I believe in our team, and I believe in the intention – I’m big about that, the intention behind the film,” he said.

That might be why White, a New York native who majored in horticulture at the University of Nebraska, talks with such adoration about his first film about buffalo grass.

“Bouteloua dactyloides, are you kidding me? It’s an amazing plant,” he begins. “There are so many interesting things to say about buffalo grass. How it grows, how it reproduces. I could talk all day about buffalo grass.”

Joe Schoenmann doesn’t just cover downtown, he lives and works there. Schoenmann is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded downtown journalist, working from an office in the Emergency Arts building.

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