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March 24, 1992 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 1992-03-24

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ARTS

The Michigan Daily
Senkowski films
as lawyers quake
'UT'glmdtsthe markwith new movie

Tuesday, March 24, 1992

Page 5

by Rosanne Freed
A few summers ago, oddly-shaped
packages started arriving at movie
production offices on the West
Coast. All over Hollywood, puzzled
secretaries opened bulky envelopes
containing a life-sized plaster foot
and a letter signed by Ron
Senkowski's mother. "My son's
about to come out there," the note
read. "I thought while he was sleep-
ing, I'd chop this off and send it to
you, because I knew he wanted to
get his foot in the door."
As corny as it sounds, the ploy
worked. Senkowski mailed the foot
and the letter himself, and boasts, "It
got me interviews - I met the right
people."
But after rubbing elbows with the
top brass, Senkowski, a 1985 Uni-
versity alumnus and former graduate
student, decided he would rather
;play David to Hollywood's Goliath
by writing and directing his own
films. He recently completed his first
independent feature, Let's Kill All
the Lawyers, which he describes as
"Kentucky Fried Movie meets Judge
Wapner." The film will have its first
open screening at the Michigan
*Theater this Friday.
The 28-year-old Senkowski de-
fied convention to make this autobi-
ographical mystery-comedy-fantasy
film that lambastes the legal profes-
sion. Each year, hundreds of
University graduates enter a fiercely
competitive media job market where
the lucky winners could wind up
!anywhere from TV newsrooms to ad
agencies. Trying to make a career of
,independent filmmaking requires a
diehard (or possibly hard-headed)
!commitment.
According to Instructor Terri
!Sarris of the Department of Com-
munication, "Ron is one of the only
students in recent years to go the
filmmaking route, as opposed to
video. That takes a real energy. And
it's nice to see that he's doing it with
something that isn't a slasher film."
After leaving graduate school
three years ago, Senkowski brain-
stormed script ideas while writing

bids for his father's construction
firm. Forget about horror films -
Senkowski pleads ignorance of the
genre.
Instead, with an eye toward mar-
ketability, he began scribbling the
plot for a murder mystery that in-
volved the legal system. "I decided,
let's come up with a film that's got a
hook, so that we aren't going to cut
ourselves off from any audience," he
recalls. A line from Shakespeare's
Henry VI, Part II provided the title
and the fatal sentiment at the core of
Senkowski's script.
With a combination of practical
ambition and the power of positive
thinking, Senkowski spent his free
time trekking to film festivals all
over the globe before shooting a sin-
gle frame. He collected crumbs of
information from other independents
gathered to show their work in
Cannes, Berlin, Telluride and
Toronto.
He introduced himself to film
critics, so they might recognize his
name later on. And he was en-
couraged by the success of locally
produced films like Roger & Me and
Chameleon Street.
Senkowski says that the motiva-
tion behind Let's Kill All the
Lawyers evolved from his frustration
with life's constraints - legal and
otherwise. But he would be the first
to admit that legal savvy and busi-
ness acumen played a large part in
securing the money to lift his movie
from the page to the screen.
Let's Kill All the Lawyers cost
between $400,000 and $500,000 to
produce. That's an imposing sum
compared to Roger & Me ' s
$165,000 budget, and the $175,000
Spike Lee spent on his first feature,
She's Gotta Have It.
Thirty-three investors anted up
anywhere from $5,000 to $40,000
each as part of a limited partnership
formed to finance the film. Side-
stepping a further discussion of the
financial nuts and bolts of the pro-
ject, Senkowski concludes, "When
you don't worry about the money,
the money just works out."
Of course. it also helns that thin-

Jim Vezina plays Junior in Let's KillAll the Lawyers. He looks on as Rick Frederick dreams of being a filmmaker rather than a lawyer. Get real!

ning the ranks of the legal profession
proves to be an enormously popular
concept.
Let's Kill All the Lawyers is a
surreal dark comedy that tells the
story of Foster Merkul (Rick
Frederick), an idealistic legal intern.
Foster grows disillusioned with the
unsavory shyster shenanigans of his
boss and mentor, Junior Rawley
(James Vezina), an amoral reptile
who proclaims, "I can find a loop-
hole in the Ten Commandments."
Foster's soul searching is aided
by Satori (Michelle DeVuono), the
raven-haired siren who is both a
figment of Foster's fertile imagina-
tion and a very real murderess me-
thodically depleting the judiciary of
its sleaziest attorneys.
As this coming-of-age murder
mystery unfolds, it's punctuated by
brief comic vignettes skewering le-
gal greed and immorality.
An enterprising ambulance cha-
ser carries magnetic business cards
to fling at auto wrecks. Two battling
attorneys face off like gunslingers at
high noon, quick-drawing cellular
phones instead of six-shooters to
conclude a shady deal. News of a
tragic plane crash sends Junior Raw-
ley to the airport in priestly garb,
attempting to hustle up a class action
lawsuit among the grieving relatives.
At times, the film struggles be-
tween lancing its lawyers, lauding its
hero and nudging its plot along.
However, consistently good perfor-

mances by the three principal actors
(all local talent) and the film's over-
all subtle tone of deadly deadpan
humor are the threads that success-
fully tie these episodes together.
Senkowski confesses he's wor-
ried that the movie's digressions, its
spiritual message and its insider le-
gal jokes might alienate a general
audience. "The film is not just a
thriller or a comedy about killing
lawyers - it's the definitive indict-
ment against lawyers," he states,
half-jokingly. "It'll surprise people
who expect an action picture because
of the title."
So far, Senkowski has screened
portions of the film for a group of
entertainment lawyers ("They loved
it"), and shopped for a foreign sales
agent at the recent Berlin film festi-
val ("The Germans were the only
ones that couldn't relate to the con-
cept. They would ask, 'Why do you
want to kill your lawyers? We love
ours!"') Major Hollywood distribu-
tors "didn't want to bite because
there are no stars in the movie," he
says. "But they said, 'You did a nice

job, call us when you sell the video
rights."'
Like his film's hero, Senkowski
originally intended to become a
lawyer himself, changing his mind
after interning in a law office. When
a senior partner discovered
Senkowski absorbed in his lunch--
time reading and remarked,
"Where's Shakespeare gonna get
you in real life?" Senkowski decided
to shuck a legal career for a more
bohemian lifestyle.
So he loaded up the truck and he
moved to ... San Francisco. A few
jobs as an assistant on low-budget
movies gave him the inspiration to
return to the University to study
filmmaking. Senkowski's student
opus, One In A Silent House, led to
the independently produced Forever
My Dog, a small, ,ensitive movie
about the death of the Senkowski
family pet.
Mom and Brother had starring
roles as themselves. Afterschool
Special fare, perhaps, but the 30-
minute film grabbed a brief run at

Birmingham's Maple Theater, and
continues to bring in a modest in-
come from rentals to schools.
There's no doubt in Senkowski's
mind that Let's Kill All the Lawyers
will eventually make its way to the
public, too. Even if he has to sell a
videocassette to every member of
the American Bar Association.
He's hoping to parley this com-
pleted film into financial support for
several new film ideas. "The main
goal right now is to be able to hire
stars, to attract name talent to get the
distributors interested," he says.
Senkowski is currently working
on a new script entitled The One
Who Got Away, about a top-secret
fishing resort in the Upper Peninsula
where presumed-dead celebrities get
away from it all. A hockey fan,
Senkowski also hopes to direct a
documentary about Gordie Howe.
"I don't necessarily want to make
a 40 million dollar movie. I want to
have one film that clicks," Senkow-
ski says. "We've got the door open
See LAWYERS, Page 9

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