Member Spotlight: AFI National Council Members and Founders of Last Rodeo Studios
Three AFI National Council members – Steve Stodghill, David Kiger and Philip Erdoes – also happen to be the founders of the production company Last Rodeo Studios. Their latest film SCARE ME had its world premiere at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and was acquired by AMC Networks’ genre streaming service Shudder. Their collective credits have been featured in film festivals around the world and have been Golden Globe, BAFTA and Academy Award®-nominated.
AFI spoke with Steve and David (Philip was unavailable to join for this interview) about how they became involved in AFI, the origin story behind their film studio and some of their favorite films.
Steve, you are currently Chair of the AFI National Council and have been on the National Council since 2011. David, you’ve been a member of the AFI National Council since 2014 (and Philip joined in 2016). Can each of you share how you first became aware of AFI and what prompted you to get more involved?
STEVE: I started going to the AFI Life Achievement Award almost 20 years ago with my friend Todd Wagner, who had just joined the AFI Board. The recipient that night was Robert De Niro, the next year was Al Pacino and the following year was Meryl Streep – not a bad way to start. Film watching has always been a strong interest for me, and AFI is the gold standard for all things honoring film. Then 14 years ago, AFI came to Dallas to do the AFI DALLAS Film Festival. I was hooked a while back on AFI and have served for years as the Chair of the National Council. I was on the Board for that three-year run and was also the original chair of that film festival, so I was able to work with AFI President and CEO Bob Gazzale and become even more familiar with AFI’s good work.
DAVID: Steve is one of my dear friends here in Dallas. And, as he mentioned, he has been involved with AFI for a long time, and I always heard him talking about it. I love movies – especially older movies – I was weaned on movies. My father loved classics, and I used to watch with him. Steve would return from LA and tell me about these events – and he said I should join, and I said, “Yes, I should, and I want to! How do I do it? What do I need to do?” So I met with AFI’s Chief Advancement Office Tom West and learned about the National Council and said, “Let’s do this!”
Beyond being fans of films, what about AFI’s mission or programming resonates with you?
DAVID: The fundamental underpinning of AFI’s mission is preserving film – I feel that is noble and much needed. I have also discovered that I really enjoy the interaction with the Fellows at the Conservatory and talking with them one-on-one. For me, because I am an entrepreneur, I always love meeting motivated talent.
STEVE: AFI has arguably the top graduate film school in the world, the annual Life Achievement Award is the top award an actor or filmmaker can receive and the AFI Top 100 lists are the definitive industry list for the greatest films overall. And AFI FEST is one of the best film festivals in the world.
Through your involvement with AFI you are able to be part of the many different programs that AFI has to offer. Do you have a favorite?
STEVE: No doubt, the AFI Life Achievement Award, one of my favorite nights of the year.
DAVID: Agreed. I look forward to that event because it’s not what I do in my normal day. To have that opportunity to get up close and personal with everyone there is pretty special.
As mentioned, along with Philip, the three of you created Last Rodeo Studios, which develops, finances, and produces film and television projects. How did Last Rodeo Studios come to be? In film terms, what is its origin story?
DAVID: Steve, myself, along with Philip who lives in New York – we’ve known one another for 35 years and have been connected to each other in various ways. Over the years, we have invested in films on our own and pursued these things independently. A few years back, we thought it would be smarter to pool our resources. We would get a lot more bang for our buck. So we did – we said, let’s set up a studio. And since we’re all old guys, we figured it’s our last rodeo potentially, so let’s call it Last Rodeo Studios. That’s how it came to fruition.
And then we hired Eamon Downey –an NYU graduate who worked on a documentary called A NEW HIGH about homeless veterans in Seattle going through rehabilitation through climbing a mountain. I supported a documentary in Dallas called WE ARE ALL HOMELESS and we needed a videographer, so I snatched Eamon to work on that. Eamon was a natural for Last Rodeo to hire to bird-dog new projects.
With SCARE ME, it was the first film that all three of us participated in and we sort of struck pay dirt.
As producers of film, you understand that the arts are so important to our culture and community, and even more so in challenging times. For members who want to support the art of filmmaking and filmmakers during this time, what can they do? What are you doing during this time?
DAVID: I am watching every movie I can possibly watch! My eyes are bleeding (laughing). Then I take a break and go watch more. We have these wonderful distribution vehicles like Netflix and Hulu and Amazon, and we can finally take the time that we thought we’d never have and go watch those top ten movies that you’ve always wanted to see.
STEVE: I have been at the house under a “Shelter in Place” order in Dallas County for two weeks and have watched over 20 movies in our media room and a similar number of TV shows on Netflix.
DAVID: If you have the money, and you can be philanthropic, think about financially helping people who are young, burgeoning filmmakers. Reach out to AFI and ask, “Are any students working on projects that need a shot in the arm right now? Sometimes it’s not a lot of money that could make a difference, could be $500 or $2500. Ask, because some of these projects might be in jeopardy because of this.
Being part of the AFI National Council, we know that movies mean a great deal to you. Do you remember some of your first memories of watching movies? And are there any films that have influenced you throughout your life?
STEVE: I was born in 1960 and the first movie I remember seeing with my parents at the theater was GOLDFINGER. I also remember my mom taking me to see GONE WITH THE WIND when I was a kid and us watching OKLAHOMA and THE WIZARD OF OZ on our color TV in the 60’s. Those were the films that got me started, but I think I really fell in love with film by going with my dad on Saturday afternoons to watch the new John Wayne westerns and eat popcorn and Junior Mints, a practice I adhere to this day.
DAVID: Early on, the films I watched with my dad – THE WIZARD OF OZ, as a young kid – that film was magic. The next film I remember is GIANT. I saw that in the theater with my father and thought it was amazing. And then as I got a little older, THE GRADUATE – still one of my favorite movies of all time – such a transformational movie in terms of filmmaking. And APOCALYPSE NOW, THE GODFATHER and THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION. There are so many…
Photo: Steve Stodghill, David Kiger, Philip Erdoes and Eamon Downey