The independent feature film River Road premieres Friday evening at the Woodward Theater in Over-the-Rhine, distributed by Cincinnati-based Four by Three Productions. It will be the first screening in a limited theatrical release for the film, which stars Cody Kearsley from the hit TV show Riverdale.
The stylistic drama revolves around a rock musician and a free-spirited woman whose intense relationship spirals into a world of drug addiction and crime. Kearsley stars as Travis, alongside Lexy Redman as Zoe and Steven Roberts as Fresno. The film—written and directed by Rob Willey and produced by British Columbia-based Tall Grass Films—was nominated for seven 2021 Leo Awards in Canada, including Best Picture, and won for Best Supporting Actor (Roberts) and Best Musical Score (Michael Chambers and Willey).
“I’m definitely looking forward to taking the audience on a bit of an intense wild ride,” says Willey. “I hope they’re surprised by some of the twists and turns the movie takes.”
Willey says the journey to bring River Road to the screen has been “long and crazy,” citing several obstacles posed by the pandemic. “We were a scrappy, low-budget independent production, so just completing the filming was a challenging adventure.”
Despite those challenges, the film caught the attention of Four by Three founder Chase Crawford, who says he was particularly drawn to its visual aesthetic, action, and drama and saw a promising distribution run for it. “When I first talked to Chase from Four by Three, I was impressed at how enthusiastic and passionate he was about River Road,” says Willey. “I also liked some of the innovative ideas he had for the movie’s marketing and distribution.”
River Road makes its world premiere in Cincinnati, followed by a one-week run at Lumiere Cinema in Los Angeles and screenings in Missoula, Mont.; Portland, Ore.; and Victoria and Vancouver, B.C. “The future of the film is bright,” says Crawford. “We have about a dozen markets lined up for theatrical release and will get it placed on streaming after the new year.”
Founded in 2017, Four by Three has secured streaming deals with nearly 40 platforms in 22 countries, including Apple TV, Prime Video, Roku, and Tubi. Its catalog includes narrative and documentary features and television and comedy specials, as well as commercial work alongside partner company Warehouse Collaborative. Forbes recently covered their creative handling of a marketing campaign for the Cincinnati Bengals.
In addition to distribution, Four by Three produces independent films. One of its latest features, Shooting Doves, wraps production this month. The feature is co-written by local filmmaker Craig Lamar Brown and Andrea Summer VonAllmen. Brown directed the film, and VonAllmen wrote much of the film’s music while also starring in the production. The story follows two musicians who fall in love while attempting to reconcile their racial differences and overcome relationship adversity.
Crawford says he has several more projects in the works. “Our film division continues to grow, while we’re launching new ventures like Four by Three Records and Four by Three Comedy,” he says. “We have already had bigger companies approach us in terms of a buyout, but that’s not my vision with all of this.”
His vision is for an independent production company that can hold its own against industry giants, is connected to impressive local talent, and is situated neatly between Midwestern comfort and urban opportunity. Four by Three team member Steven Baer, who says he does “a little bit of everything from producing to directing to camera operation,” claims that vision is what motivates the entire company. “We’re super excited about the premiere of River Road, and we think it’s going to be a big success,” he says. “But that’s not the only iron we have in the fire. We have a bunch of exciting projects in the works that we can’t wait to share with the world. Truly, we’ve only just begun.”
Baer credits the Four by Three team’s small size as a creative asset because it means no one is boxed into a single role. The dynamic works particularly well for Crawford, Baer, and the company’s photojournalist (among other titles), Marco Thomas. “We all share the same passion for the film industry,” says Thomas. “This isn’t a job to us, but it’s hard work—all the emails and phone calls and behind-the-scenes grind. That’s how we’re able to keep moving forward.”
Thomas says his strength is the still image (he goes by OnlyShooterLeft on Instagram), but he isn’t limited to that role. The team thrives, he says, when everyone learns something new and puts it to work. “Chase has a way of making you believe in yourself more than you do, if you didn’t already,” says Thomas. “He asked me to come on board with no strings attached, and I could still be OnlyShooterLeft and work on my personal projects. So, instead of getting my foot in the door, I was simply asked to make myself at home.”
The world premiere of River Road screens at 6 and 8:30 p.m. October 1 at the Woodward Theater, with each screening followed by a Q&A with Willey and Crawford. Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 the day of the show. The film is recommended for ages 18 and up, and the Woodward is requiring attendants to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test within 72 hours prior to entry. Watch the River Road trailer here.