In this undated image provided by Dr. Ravi Godse, Pittsburgh Steelers Hall-of- Fame running back Franco Harris, left, and Ravi Godse are shown in a scene from Godse’s independent film called “Help You Help Me.” Godse so wants people to enjoy his movie that he is promoting the film by offering a money-back guarantee to anyone who buys a DVD of his independent film from his website starting Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2011. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Ravi Godse)
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Dr. Ravi Godse is on call nearly 24/7 as a top internal medicine specialist in Pittsburgh, but he so loves writing, directing and starring in movies that he wants other people to love them, too.
And he is so convinced you’ll love his third independent film being released on DVD on Tuesday, “Help Me Help You,” that he’s offering a money-back guarantee and a personal, e-mailed apology if you don’t.
“These days, we are too busy and the money’s too tight,” said Dr. Ravi, as he likes to be called in person and as the recurring character in his films. “That’s why I thought the apology was heartfelt. It’s like, ‘I’m sorry, guys, that I couldn’t entertain you.'”
Godse began making movies in 2004 and “Help Me Help You” is the first to see a limited release in theaters. It’s being released on DVD by Monarch Home Entertainment and sold through Amazon and elsewhere, but Godse can only offer the money-back guarantee to customers who buy it directly from him at www.helpmehelpyoumovie.com.
Those who don’t like the movie can request a refund by e-mail without having to explain why. “It’s on the honor system,” he said.
The guarantee is “funny, it’s tongue-in-cheek. … It’s a great strategy,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of the box office division of Hollywood.com and a movie business analyst for The Associated Press.
“He’s definitely going the extra mile to make sure that people who don’t know him as a filmmaker are comfortable with him and checking out the film. It’s like a movie insurance policy,” Dergarabedian said.
The money-back guarantee isn’t the only big step Godse is taking with his third film.
“Help Me Help You” marks the first time the diminutive doctor hired widely known TV and movie stars — Steve Guttenberg (“Diner,” ”Cocoon”), Richard Kind (“Spin City,” ”Curb Your Enthusiasm”), comedian and Disney sitcom star and director Rondell Sheridan and Sabrina Bryan, a former daytime soap star and member of The Cheetah Girls.
But Guttenberg cautioned against the idea that Godse is simply looking to cash in with name talent. “I’m hoping that he didn’t hire me because I’m well-known. I’m hoping he hired me because he thinks I’m a good actor,” Guttenberg told the AP.
“He’s so sincere. He doesn’t have an agenda bone in his body,” Guttenberg said. “He’s a pure artist. He really adores the medium and he adores the work, and only good is going to come from that.”
And Guttenberg pooh-poohs the “plebian mentality” that the movie isn’t big or expensive enough to be good. Godse shot it in 10 days with a budget of $200,000, “though we like to call it ‘under a million’ to sound more important,” Godse joked.
In earlier movies, he stuck with mostly local talent for his Pittsburgh-based films. “Help Me Help You” contains another homage to Pittsburgh: a cameo by Steelers Hall of Famer Franco Harris, who lampoons the most famous play in Pittsburgh sports history — the Immaculate Reception — when he makes a similar catch of a cell phone thrown in his direction as he jogs past Godse and his angry wife in a park.
Godse isn’t afraid to poke fun at his alter ego, as evidenced by the self-deprecating titles of his first two direct-to-video films: “Dr. Ravi & Mr. Hyde” and “I Am A Schizophrenic and So Am I.”
“Help Me Help You” raises the question of whether people should help those who don’t wish to be helped. After Godse is told he has cancer and has six months to live, he picks six people to help improve their lives, and “he screws it up. Then it turns out he’s not dying, so now all these people are out to get him,” Godse said.
Lisa London, a veteran Hollywood casting director, fell in love with the story and thought of top-notch comedic talent to bring it to life.
“That was the selling thing for this was the story: It was a cute story. Actors want to do things because they like the script,” London said.
Kind said he likes smaller films because they rely on acting and came to admire Godse’s ability to get his films made, quickly and economically.
“Here’s a guy who works I don’t know how many hours a day in his medical practice and he goes home and writes a movie?” Kind said.
Godse was able to afford bigger-name stars for “Help Me Help You” by working to minimize their time on the set; Kind and Guttenberg shot their scenes in about a day.
Rather than move the camera or have his small crew reset the lights for different scenes — both of which cost time and money — Godse had the actors change costumes so multiple scenes could be shot from the same setup. He also has sets ready in advance so the actors could do just that — act — when they arrived, without the down time.
“The way they did it was both cost-effective and very inventive,” Kind said.
That inventive approach includes the money-back guarantee.
“He’s crazy, but I think it’s really noble,” Guttenberg said. “And, you know, I don’t think anybody’s going to ask for their money back. Though there’s always that guy who’s buying a suit and wearing it to a wedding and then bringing it back the next day.”