After six years in L.A. and a "best comedy" nomination at an international film festival for a short movie he wrote and directed, Carson City native Lee Madsen came home with a cast and crew of more than 35 people to make his independent feature film, "Pledge Of Allegiance."
For this low-budget independent film that chronicles the coming-of-age for a group of friends in a small town, its lack of budget hasn't stopped new talent in Hollywood, or a couple of veterans, from hopping on board.
The movie's star, Freddy Rodriguez, is using his hiatus from filming the HBO series, "Six Feet Under" to play the part of "Mac," football star of the fictional Capital High School and leader of the flick's main group.
According to Madsen, in jocular tribute to old gangster movies, the boys emulate Italian mobster stereotypes with Mac playing the role of Godfather.
Also in the movie is Carmine Giovinazzo, best known for his role in "Blackhawk Down," who plays "Frankie," Mac's right-hand man.
Other big names featured in the film are Peter Dobson of "Drowning Mona" and "Frighteners," musician Lennon Murphy, Joe Bologna of "Blame it on Rio," Melissa Marsala of "Soprano's" and Carson City's own Trever Wyatt Hopper, 25, a 1994 graduate of Carson High School, who is making his movie debut.
With locations in Reno, Lake Tahoe and the bulk of the film shot in Carson City, at locations like Carson High School and the Lucky Spur casino, Madsen has taken on a huge production.
"I need to praise the actors. They're very passionate about making this film," Madsen said, adding he's had just a few hours of sleep a night and big cups of coffee. "All of the actors and crew on this movie have bonded and we've become a big, traveling family."
Despite the movie being set in Carson City, Madsen jokingly admits, "This isn't about anyone I know. This movie is not a docudrama."
He said he chose Carson City because of its beautiful locale.
Madsen and Hopper aren't the only two working on the film that are familiar with the area.
Second unit photographer is Joseph Valentine of Minden, who's worked on films such as "Charlie's Angels" and "Gone in 60 Seconds."
"He's top notch, an ace," Madsen said. "We're really lucky to have him."
And art director, Aeryn Donnelly, is also a 1987 Carson High graduate who lives in L.A. now and said she came on board when Madsen called her boyfriend to ask him to work on the movie.
"I haven't been here since I graduated," she said, amazed at how much bigger the Carson City of today is compared to 15 years ago.
Since her parents moved to Vermont, Donnelly hasn't had much of a reason to come back. "So this was perfect," she said.
Sunday, the crew was filming scenes at Carson High School, using a dozen local teens playing students.
Madsen was pleased with the cooperation he's received from the school.
"Principal Glen Adair has been a huge help. We can't thank him enough," he said.
The crew will film two more weekends at the high school, and early this week expect to shoot inside Hopper's parent's home in East Carson.
Richard and Jeanette Hopper were on the set Wednesday at the Lucky Spur, its lights lit for the first time in decades, watching their son film the movie's first scenes in Carson City.
Despite being tired, Madsen is thrilled with what they've done so far.
"This is really coming together. I need to concentrate on the story. I know its good and I need to make sure that the other actors we hire for future scenes are going to be great, because the performances so far have just been stellar," he said.
"This is such a good cast and there are so many locations, its like a big budget movie. This is definitely not your average small indy film, even though that's the budget we have."