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Originally published May 31, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified May 7, 2009 at 4:00 PM

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"Outsourced" filmmaker brings the buzz home

Seattle filmmaker John Jeffcoat first learned that his comedy "Outsourced" had buzz last fall, at the Toronto International Film Festival...

Seattle Times movie critic

Seattle filmmaker John Jeffcoat first learned that his comedy "Outsourced" had buzz last fall, at the Toronto International Film Festival. For the third and final screening of his film (all of which were sold out), Jeffcoat had some extra tickets, so he went down to the rush-tickets line to give them away. "It was like a feeding frenzy," he recalled, laughing. "People were going crazy trying to get tickets. It was weird!"

The story of a laid-off online retail manager who is sent from Seattle to India to train his replacement, "Outsourced" has been making the rounds of film festivals since its world premiere in Toronto, winning prizes at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, Cinequest Film Festival and Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles. Now it's finally coming home, making its premiere tonight at the Seattle International Film Festival at 7 p.m. at Lincoln Square. (It will be repeated at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Neptune; see SIFF box for ticket information.)

For Jeffcoat, a 35-year-old New York native who's lived in Seattle since 1994, it's the end of a three-and-a-half-year journey that's taken him to India and back. And it began with an idea taken from the news. Jeffcoat had been working for years in the local film industry, as a director of photography and editor for independent films and corporate videos, and was looking for inspiration for his first feature. He and Seattle-based writer George Wing ("50 First Dates") planned to collaborate on a screenplay, but the right idea just hadn't arrived.

Jeffcoat had spent a college semester abroad in Nepal and had long been intrigued by the idea of seeing a culture from an outsider's perspective. "Later, I guess I was listening to a lot of NPR," he said, "hearing news about outsourcing, people pissed off about getting Indians on the phone, people coming here to train, how humiliating it was. I was thinking, it's a really interesting thing going on here, and I thought, what if we took this one step further, and instead of training their replacement in the U.S., what if we actually sent them to India?"

Wing loved the idea, and the two immediately set to work on the screenplay — after some quick research to make sure nobody else was developing the same idea. The general outline of the story was quickly written: It would be both fish-out-of-water tale and romantic comedy, with Todd (the main character) falling for one of the Indian call-center employees.

And nuances began to fall into place. "I didn't want it to be an IT company," said Jeffcoat, of their main character's employer. "I felt that anything we do with IT is going to be dated and not very visual." They decided that Todd, the hapless manager, would work for an online retailer of novelty products: cheesehead hats, hot-dog toasters, hamburger branding irons. "The idea of explaining American culture to an Indian, it just seemed to work better with what we wanted to do," said Jeffcoat.

As the script took shape, Jeffcoat and Wing shopped the idea around to studios in Los Angeles, but most weren't comfortable with the idea of first-timer Jeffcoat as director. Various casting ideas were floated, with Matt Dillon at one point considering the role of Todd. ("That would have been interesting," said Jeffcoat, "but it would have been a darker film.")

Finally, Seattle-based ShadowCatcher Entertainment came on board, and financing was in place for shooting in Bombay in February 2006, with Josh Hamilton ("Kicking and Screaming") in the lead role. Despite some unexpected setbacks — filming was shut down by local police one day (Jeffcoat says he still isn't sure why), cast and crew members got sick, last-minute budget issues meant trimming seven pages (roughly seven minutes) out of the script — production wrapped in India on March 13. With a few days of shooting in Seattle the following month, "Outsourced" was a reality.

Asked if the prospect of shooting his first feature film overseas was daunting, Jeffcoat smiled. "Frankly, nothing was daunting at that point," he said. "I was really feeling driven to make this happen, just floating on that adrenalin rush of getting my first movie made." It helped, he said, to focus on the details rather than the big picture. "If you try to envision the scope of it, you're going to get lost, you'll be overwhelmed. So I just tried to stay very focused and just kind of take it day to day."

Post-production took place in Seattle, using local companies Bad Animals, Flying Spot, Victory Studios, Alpha Cine and The Image Treasury. "Outsourced" had its world premiere in Toronto in September, and since then the focus has shifted to that difficult final step of making a movie: finding a theatrical distribution deal. While "Outsourced" has been met with interest from potential distributors, nothing was confirmed as of press time.

But Jeffcoat is optimistic, and looks forward to making more films with Wing. They're currently developing a thriller, also set in Bombay. "We hope to continue working as a team, and stay in Seattle if possible," he said. He also hopes to continue and eventually complete work on the documentary "Bollywood and Me," about the Indian film industry.

For now, he's enjoying the film-festival circuit — and watching the film with audiences. "It's been really a whirlwind," he said. "It's a fun movie to go to — it gets people laughing and clapping and cheering."

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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