After Jonnie Stapleton graduated from USD with an acting degree in 2008, he moved to Los Angeles to seek his fortunes as an actor. While there, Stapleton acted in a few small films but soon found that his passion wasn’t acting, but directing.
The first major film he directed was a short subject called “The Beacon.“ Stapleton co-directed this with his friend and fellow USD alum, Paul Peterson.
Stapleton then went on to write, co-direct and star, along with his friend Domenico Grasso, in a feature-length film called “Best of Seven.” Both of these films would go on to win “Best of Fest” at the Eldorado Film Festival in 2014 and 2015. “Best of Seven” was even released to iTunes and Amazon.
Soon, Stapleton found himself working on a short film called “The Man From Mars” to enter in the Louisiana Film Prize Festival. On this project, Stapleton had a crew of but three people: himself, Grasso and his other friend Mike Nicholas.
“I just love working with my buddies,” Stapleton said. “Maybe one day I’ll have a bigger crew of five or six — go all out.
“The Man from Mars” had a main cast of three people: Corey Landis, who has worked in commercials and starred on “That 70’s Show”; Alfrenlynn Roberts, who was fairly new to the acting business and Gabriel Parker, a senior at Texas A&M studying acting.
“He (Stapleton) e-mailed me through Backstage.com, which is like Facebook for actors and that’s kind of how he found me,” Parker said. “I plan on keeping him pretty close and I feel like we have a pretty good friendship.”
“The Man From Mars” tells the story of a cynical podcast host who goes to small towns to make fun of their local celebrities, when he meets a woman who is supposedly the second coming of Jesus. The film itself is 15 minutes long and took three-and-a-half days to film.
“It’s kind of a redemption story,” Stapleton said. “There seems to be some interest in making ‘The Man From Mars’ into a full-length film. We’d be super pumped. It’s not out of the realm of possibility.”
The film’s script was co-written by Stapleton, Grasso and Nicholas, and was directed by Grasso and Stapleton.
The cast was elated when their three-and-a half days of work paid off, and the movie was awarded a prize from the Louisiana Film Prize Festival.
“I was legit jumping up and down,” Parker said. “I was actually back at my university. I was screaming, throwing my phone on the bed and like freaking out. I was just ecstatic. I couldn’t believe it.”
Parker plays the role of one of the people that the main character ridicules — and his character is known for being able to eat a large amount of onions.
For their 15-minute film, the film festival awarded the small group $50,000.
“That is a lot of money for a film festival,” Stapleton said. “I mean, most places it’s like $1,000, maybe $3,000. And to think we saved up a budget of about $4,000 and lived off of mac and cheese, and some people had budgets of $35,000. It’s really awesome to think that we won. We worked hard and earned it.”
Stapleton will be returning to USD this November to present “The Man From Mars” on campus and has plans to return to the Louisiana Film Prize next year and to continue making films.
“I found my true passion in directing, and I hope to make many more films in the future,” Stapleton said. “I’m definitely going to continue working on films. Right now we’re hoping to make a musical — I know it’s a little farfetched, and we’re also pitching a TV show to FX. It probably won’t happen but it doesn’t hurt to try, you know?”