Producer/actor Mike Hatton’s production shingle, Ton of Hats, Inc. in partnership with 101 Films International have announced the surprise completion of principal photography on director Christian Sesma’s (PAY DIRT, VIGILANTE DIARIES) TAKE BACK, a martial-arts action saga starring Mickey Rourke (THE WRESTLER); Michael Jai White (BLOOD AND BONE, THE DARK KNIGHT); Gillian White (NEVER BACK DOWN: NO SURRENDER; Days of our Lives)—and James Russo (DJANGO UNCHAINED).
The Producers believe TAKE BACK is among the first independent films to successfully wrap principal photography following California’s (and most other states’) shutdown order, which effectively shut down film production nationwide.
Written by Zach Zerries in his feature-film penning debut, TAKE BACK, shot in nearly complete secrecy in The Coachella Valley in Riverside County California, took place at breakneck speed under strict COVOD-19 guidelines set forth by city, county, and state regulations, the industry’s white sheet, “The Safe Way Forward,” as guidance, SAG-AFTRA’s requirements, and the production’s own mandatory “COVID Playbook,” created by Hatton and director Sesma.
“The industry white paper helped, but we needed to do more beyond that,” said Hatton. “We tried to make it ‘COVID-proof’ by eliminating non-essential production and on-camera roles. Getting a film of this caliber shot during a pandemic could only be done with the help of an amazing cast and crew and I credit them for the film’s safe and successful wrap.”
“The safety of the cast and crew should be just as important as the quality of the movie. In this new era of filmmaking, I’m proud that Mike [Hatton] and I and our amazing team were the first to get one done,” Sesma added.
The cast and crew—a total of 40 people including 10 cast—toiled in desert heat with some days reaching 118°F. Among the many other precautions taken included: frequent testing throughout pre-production and production; mandatory wearing of masks; quarantine of remote crew in the same hotel and at home for locals; having professional makeup artists apply the cast’s own makeup each day; and finally, having cast members laundering their own wardrobe.
“Our lead actors Michael Jai White and Gillian White are a real-life married couple,” Hatton says, “So our stars could be intimate without putting one another at risk.”
In TAKE BACK, Zara (Gillian White) and Brian (Michael Jai White) are living a seemingly perfect life when a mysterious man (Rourke) from Zara’s past kidnaps their teenage daughter. With the help of a small-town sheriff (Russo), the couple races to save their daughter before she’s sold and vanishes into the sex trade.
“The film sheds some light on human trafficking–a cause Michael and I are both passionate about fighting,” says Gillian White. Indeed, a small genre of films have sprung up addressing the topic, such as 2017’s TRAFFIK starring Paula Patton, Omar Epps and Luke Goss, and TRAFFICKED, starring Ashley Judd, Anne Archer and Patrick Duffy. Sesma adds, “we’re incredibly stoked to have had this cast—Mickey and Michael are legends, and this promises to establish Gillian White as the next martial arts heroine.”
Ton of Hats CEO Mike Hatton, who is best known for his co-starring role in 2018’s Academy Award-winning Green Book, serves as producer alongside Michael Walker and Executive Producer Andy Lyon of 101 Films International, the foreign sales agents for the film.
Tom Conigliaro of Eastlake Films serves as Executive Producer, along with Rourke, Russo, The Whites, Stefan Colson, manager/producer Kimberly Hines of Framework Entertainment, as well as Phil Hunt and Compton Ross who financed the film through their company, Head Gear Films
Sesma and Ton of Hats have established themselves as the pre-eminent independent film production outfit in the Coachella Valley. PAY DIRT, a crime-heist action comedy written, directed and produced by Sesma starring Hatton, Val Kilmer, Kilmer’s daughter Mercedes and Luke Goss, also shot in Coachella, debuts this coming Friday.