Messhall Kitchen adds homegrown film festival to the menu

LOS FELIZ, Calif. — Making a Prohibition-era cocktail is an art. It takes prep work, lots of ingredients and some final touches before it’s presented to the consumer. In a way, it’s a lot like making a film, as Andrew Pack knows. 

He moved to Los Angeles from the Midwest eight years ago to pursue a career in acting.

“It’s really like one of the only things I ever knew that I actually wanted to do,” he said.

Pack has tended the bar at Messhall Kitchen for exactly a year, working alongside his colleague Jon Bangle, a server at the Los Feliz restaurant, who went to film school on the East Coast before moving west to be an actor.

“Obviously, it’s LA, so everybody that works here is getting into the film industry,” he said frankly. He was cast from time to time but eventually says he got sick of waiting for the phone to ring.

“It just came to a point when I said I’m tired of waiting to hear yes,” Bangle explained. “I’m gonna make a yes for myself. And that’s kind of how this started.”

He’s referring to the Messhall Film Festival — an idea whipped up by Pack and Bangle, who pitched it to the restaurant’s owner and got the green light.

They envisioned a community-driven project, a series of short film created by and starring their multi-talented coworkers in collaboration with their regular clientele — many of whom are well established entertainment industry pros with credits like “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” “Office Space,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Mad Men.”

“Extremely busy people,” event coordinator and actor Gabriel Rissa pointed out, “cool enough to lend their expertise, their time, their equipment, to help us create something.”

Bangle wasn’t sure what to expect when he first began approaching them, but before he could even finish explaining, they were on board.

“’Oh my god, yes. Yes! What do you need? How can I help?” he recalls them saying. “And it was amazing. And these people that I’ve looked up to, all of a sudden, we’re working on the same level. It was fantastic and wildly surprising.”

Each of the eight films was shot at Messhall Kitchen and everyone got one night to film. The staff supported each other. If you starred in one film, you had to work crew on another, Bangle explained, and everyone stepped up. 

Although the short films all take place in the restaurant, the results are wildly different — comedies, dramas and one where the cocktails themselves are the characters. 

Rissa was present for all eight overnight shoots, sometimes acting but always making sure everything ran smoothly, with no harm to the staff or the structure.  

He’s one of the few employees who has been at Messhall Kitchen since it first opened a decade ago.

“There is just something special about this place,” he said. “There is a grand story of places that you don’t see… when you drive by.”

Or drive-in. What was once Willard’s Chicken Inn became a popular mid-century drive-in with car hops. The building itself was once owned by Cecil B. DeMille, so having a film festival here just feels right and Pack and Bangle are already discussing a sequel.

“It’s been a lot of fun to work with some of these people, and we’re excited to see where it goes,” Bangle said.

“As long as [management] keeps saying yes, we’re going to do a season two, I think,” Pack laughed.

Good thing because this process has gotten the bartender’s creative juices shaken and stirred. “1,000%!” he said enthusiastically. “Yeah, it’s lit a fire for sure.”

The festival will hold a red carpet premiere on Nov. 8 with outdoor screenings of the short films. The films will also screen on Nov. 14, 16, 28 and 30.  

For details, follow @messhallfilmfestival.