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Young lawyer and longtime friend create feature film

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Indiana history buffs may remember Eugene V. Debs as the five-time Socialist candidate for president who, in 1918, represented himself in his own sedition trial, in defense of his anti-war statements. Now, two young filmmakers have added a new chapter to the life of the Terre Haute native, creating a fictional descendant – a hard-drinking grandson – who aims to become governor of Indiana.

debs film Pete Biagi, director of photography for “The Drunk,” discuses a shot with the crew on 6th street in downtown Terre Haute, Ind. (Photo courtesy Myles Beeson)

The film, “The Drunk,” is the brainchild of William Tanoos and Paul Fleschner, whose names may ring a bell – their fathers, Anthony A. Tanoos and G. Steven Fleschner, are partners with the Terre Haute firm Fleschner Stark Tanoos & Newlin, which specializes in Social Security disability law nationwide. William is an associate with the firm, but lives in Los Angeles. The younger Tanoos began shooting the film with Fleschner in Terre Haute on July 18 and expects to wrap on Aug. 15.

The story follows Debs’ fictional grandson from his drunk-driving arrest to his run for Indiana governor against a corrupt prosecutor. Actor Tom Sizemore, whose numerous film credits include “Saving Private Ryan,” has signed on to play the crooked prosecutor.

“It’s kind of a unique approach to storytelling, because it’s not a biopic,” Tanoos said. “The central theme is redemption and friendship.”

Both Fleschner and Tanoos have dabbled in filmmaking over the years.

“I started making short films in high school with friends – five, 10, 20 minutes long,” Fleschner said. “And in college, I did some short films.”

Tanoos, a graduate of the Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis, made a few short films in college and wrote a few screen plays. And one day, he came up with the idea for “The Drunk,” and sent it to his longtime friend Fleschner to review. Fleschner liked the rough draft.

“William – he has real passion about political causes and making a strong statement … and that really appealed to me,” Fleschner said. “I really like stories that have a point to them.”

The two began working together to fine-tune the screenplay. And tying the story to the life of Eugene V. Debs presented the perfect opportunity for the filmmakers to return to their hometown for shooting.

“We have this rough draft which could’ve been set in Anytown, U.S.A., and suddenly we had this eureka moment … then we were full-steam ahead about making this in Terre Haute,” Tanoos said.

“Film and film production, and basically filming a movie, is almost foreign to small town Indiana … I don’t believe Terre Haute has ever seen a full feature-length film production,” Tanoos said. But he said the locals have all welcomed their presence.

“They’re certainly impressed with the professionalism,” he said. “They see it’s a real movie and they’re thrilled about that.”

Tanoos and Fleschner have known each other since childhood because of their fathers’ work together as attorneys. And the filmmakers say they are thankful that their fathers have respected their venture into making movies.

debs film A crew member slates a scene featuring William Tanoos (playing the role of Joe Debs) in the background, sitting at the bar. (Photo courtesy Myles Beeson)

“Personally, my dad has been incredibly supportive through this whole process,” Tanoos said. “You know, here’s a kid who went to law school and now says, ‘Hey, I wanna go make movies.”

Fleschner said that he considers his father one of his closest friends and is someone who he turns to for advice often. So he appreciates having him nearby during the challenges of filming.

While filmmaker and attorney would seem to be two distinctly different career paths, both occupations can place considerable demands on a person’s time.

“There’s days where we’re up for 21 hours, on set for 12 to 14 hours – constantly working,” Tanoos said. But the grueling schedule doesn’t seem to get in the way of enjoying the job. “I lie in bed at night and count down the hours until I can get up and do it again. It just really is fun,” he said.

Both Tanoos and Fleschner say they have a lot of faith in the crew they work with, from the set designers to the cinematographer.

“Filmmaking is such a collaborative art,” Fleschner said. So rather than instruct the crew about every detail of production, they allow a lot of creative flexibility. “We like to be surprised to see whatever they come up with.”

After filming wraps in August, Tanoos and Fleschner will turn over the raw footage to an editor, who will work independently to ensure that the film is edited objectively. The filmmakers will rejoin the editing process after initial edits, and then they’ll begin looking for distributors as well as film festivals where their work can be showcased. “The Drunk” is scheduled to be released in early 2012.•

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  1. I grew up on a farm and live in the county and it's interesting that the big industrial farmers like Jeff Shoaf don't live next to their industrial operations...

  2. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  3. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  4. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  5. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

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