This post was written by Seth Landau.

“How can I help you?” was the first thing the late Gary Winick ever said to me. 

We were introduced by family in the early aughts and he was on the phone from New York. I was in my home office in L.A. preparing my first feature film called “Take Out.” Offering assistance isn’t common in Hollywood as anyone who’s worked in the business knows. 

Consequently, when one of the pillars of the independent film community made himself available and even volunteered help, I was momentarily shocked. Over the next few years, Mr. Winick—who first broke through with his low-budget Tadpole but by now was a full-fledged filmmaker powerhouse with his companies InDigEnt and Cinetic Media—became a transcontinental virtual mentor over phone and email at a time when I absolutely needed a guiding hand.

Last month in February 2022, Take Out, the story of a reporter who crusades against fast food, was finally released, 17 years after its completion. That has to be some kind of independent film record.

It took so long in fact, I unfortunately can’t personally thank some of the fascinating people involved in the making of, because they’re long gone.

Seth_landau_shalom_bagel_take_out'Take Out'Credit: Seth Landau

Getting started

After explaining how impossibly difficult navigating the movie business was becoming, I was given words to live by: “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up!” 

Rose Zemeckis' delivery was emphatic and she spoke with strength and passion. She was talking to me at a restaurant in the Santa Barbara area around the time I was trying to transition Take Out from script to actual movie.

She told me when her son, the Oscar-winning director Robert, was younger and voicing similar anxieties, she had told him the same thing. (As an aside, she told me her personal favorite Robert Zemeckis movie was Forrest Gump.

Rose_z_and_seth_landauCredit: Seth Landau

Because several of my friends and colleagues worked for Zemeckis’ production company ImageMovers, I was often invited to movie premieres. (The most fun—Shrek in 2001 at the Fox Theater in Westwood. I still have the green ears they handed out.) I was also invited to parties and, on this occasion, Zemeckis’ wedding in the early 2000s. It was there that Rose, who passed away years later, spoke those words that stick with me to this day.

Over the years I’d also get encouraging messages from Rose relayed to me through my assistant friends in the office, telling me to hang in there and remain steadfast. It helped.

Danny_zorn_take_out'Take Out'Credit: Seth Landau

Finding talent

Ah… Walker!”

I thought someone in the audience was heckling my friend, Justin Walker (most known for Clueless), during his sketch comedy show in a black box theater at Sunset and La Brea in Hollywood. The male voice behind me continued throughout most of the show, laughing much louder than the others in attendance and calling out to Justin intermittently.

I thought to myself, “Who comes to a small stage show off the Sunset Strip to razz the performers?”

After the show, while giving congrats to Justin on a hilarious production, I was introduced to the male voice. It was the actor Danny Zorn, who had just recently played a cocky TV producer on the final episodes of ABC’s Home Improvement, and earlier in this career appeared in Billy Bathgate, Indecent Proposal, and other big films. And he wasn’t heckling, he was supporting one of his best friends.

After the show, we went around the corner for drinks, and soon after that, we were all on-set in Phoenix during the Take Out shoot, summer of 2004.

Danny_zorn_take_out_bts'Take Out'Credit: Seth Landau

Danny was without a doubt one of the best and funniest actors I’ve ever seen. In Take Out he plays my character’s nemesis, the braggart guy who’s always trying to move in on your woman. He also picked up a second role in disguise to be in scenes opposite Justin’s character, the newspaper’s star columnist and resident office pervert.

Danny and Justin were both fascinating in the movie. I don’t even understand how some people are so naturally gifted. Tragically, our film was Danny’s last, and he left us in 2012. Danny’s relative explains the unfortunate circumstances in her heartfelt 2014 story for Huffington Post.

The very second actor appearing on screen in the movie is tough-guy character actor Michael Hungerford, who passed on far too soon, only a few years after we wrapped production. Mike played one of the utility technicians who opens the movie trying to talk down a hysterical homeowner causing problems with the power company. Mike was a sweetheart to work with and, again, much like the understated Danny Zorn, so incredibly talented you wonder why these guys weren’t household names.

Ours was one of Mike’s final film roles—prior, he was in Zodiac, No Way Out, and one of two members of our cast who appeared in River’s Edge. The other was Daniel Roebuck, who plays a tobacco company executive in Take Out.

Mike_hungerford_take_out'Take Out'Credit: Seth Landau

Why it took so long

Normally, a movie doesn’t take 17 years to be released, and cast and crew can celebrate what they’ve created within a short time after production wraps. Our movie was a micro, micro-budget film where everyone knew everyone (or else they wouldn’t be there) and it was a particularly close, family environment. To have so many family members pass on is heartbreaking. 

Back then, we had a few critics' screenings and generated a little word-of-mouth, but ultimately missed the boat on those indie comedies acquired by then-heavy hitters like Miramax, THINKfilm, Sony Pictures Classics, and the others releasing lo-fi gritty cinema in arthouses like the Laemmle before taking a turn onto SD DVD and cable television.

It wasn’t until the streaming-verse became the distribution model that Take Out was finally allowed to be shared with audiences. I wish Mr. Winick, Mrs. Zemeckis, Mr. Zorn and Mr. Hungerford were around to celebrate it.

Of course, many of us who made the picture are thankfully still here and doing very well, and with hopefully a lot more art to create, and performances to give. I’m grateful for that every day.

This story, though, is a tip of the hat to and sincere celebration of those no longer with us, colleagues and mentors who have sadly crossed over. RIP to those gracious and talented people who were with our project in guidance, mentorship, and performance capacities.

I hope they know, somehow, that we made it... finally.