A drug deal gone bad, a crooked cop, a beautiful woman and a young man trying to get his life on track: It sounds like it could be the latest twist in St. Tammany Parish’s at-times tawdry courthouse and political scene.
But in this case, it is actually the plot of a movie — “Indecent Justice,” a Southern noir film that recently completed shooting on the north shore.
The film, which cost less than $200,000 to produce, tells the story of Wally Edwards, a college baseball player trying to get past a positive drug test who finds himself blackmailed by a dirty cop into taking part in a drug deal. The deal goes bad, two detectives are shot and Edwards is behind bars, needing the help of his young wife and an unscrupulous attorney.
“Indecent Justice” is the brainchild of north shore attorney Bernard Smith. The screenplay is based on a 2012 novel that Smith self-published called “Random Allotment.” Despite being a film neophyte, Smith knows his subject matter: He’s an assistant district attorney who represents St. Tammany Parish government in civil lawsuits.
Even though the movie is set in Mandeville, Covington and Abita Springs, Smith insists that the characters are not based on particular people, only on experiences he’s had through his years in St. Tammany Parish. Decades before he joined the DA’s Office, he served as Mandeville’s mayor from 1976 to 1980.
The fedora-wearing Smith said he wanted to write the novel and the screenplay because he likes new challenges. “I’m always looking for a new mountain to climb,” he said.
Also, he wanted to show that what happens in a courtroom is usually just the “tip of the iceberg,” he said.
“I wanted just to show the things that can go wrong behind the scenes.”
Smith found writing the novel straightforward, but making the movie was far more complicated. “It’s like trying to push a cloud,” he said. Making a movie is “constantly changing.”
During the filming, there was constant back-and-forth between the director and the actors over lines in the script, he said.
Smith also wanted to get the movie made for a very low budget. That added layers of complexity, according to the film’s director, Eric Scott Williamson.
“The script was a little bigger than the budget,” he said. Certain scenes, such as car chases, had to be cut or changed to keep it within the cost constraints.
Due to its low budget, the film was shot quickly: in 11 days rather than the 20 to 25 allotted for most productions, Williamson said.
Some scenes were filmed in Mandeville Mayor Donald Villere’s office and others at the Green Room, a bar and music club in Covington, Smith said.
The cast and crew brought local flavor and Hollywood legitimacy to the production: District Judge Reggie Badeaux played a role, and Michael Papajohn, who has acted in several big-budget productions, including “Terminator Salvation,” “Gangster Squad” and “Spiderman 3,” plays Detective Anthony Alexander.
Williamson, who graduated from UNO in 1993, has worked on commercials and TV shows all over Louisiana. “Indecent Justice” was his first feature-length directing effort.
“It was a race, but we did a lot,” he said. Williamson praised the cast and crew, many of whom took pay cuts to work on the movie.
“Everybody kind of made it their own passion project,” he said.
The film is now in the editing phase, and Smith hopes it will be finished by the summer. He would like to enter it in film festivals, such as in Nashville, Tennessee, or Toronto or, if he feels it is good enough, the Sundance Film Festival in Utah.
Smith vows that this won’t be his only foray into filmmaking. He said he has five other screenplays written, and he has formed his own production company. And next time, he might want to do more than be the executive producer.
“I would like to direct,” he said. “It’s another mountain to climb.”
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.