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In September 2002, Tom Prather faced a problem thousands of filmmakers had stared down before him: He had an idea for a short film, and he had no money. For young auteurs, it’s desperation that often gets the creative juices flowing. Robert Rodriguez paid for the ultra-low-budget El Mariachi by acting as a human tester for a cholesterol-reducing drug. Prather went nearly that far: He called Sammy Hagar.

“Sammy Hagar was actually pretty easy to get,” says Prather, who wrote, directed, and edited the short film Meetings, which has its official premiere on April 24 at Lewie’s roadhouse in Bethesda. The 30-year-old TV-commercial producer, who grew up in Temple Hills and studied TV and film at the University of Maryland, appealed to the singer’s charitable side. “I approached him with the angle of a fan who was doing something worthwhile,” Prather says. He wangled permission to use Hagar’s “Make It All Right” in Meetings for free—an unprecedented coup, according to the former Van Halen frontman’s publishing company. And the song wasn’t even the reason Prather called.

Prather punched in Hagar’s digits because he thought his film, in which a group of friends make a pact to drink their way through the drudgeries of their workdays, needed some brand-name authenticity—and blond bombshell Hagar’s tequila, Cabo Wabo, fit the bill. “I wanted to get the product placement for the movie to give it some kind of publicity,” Prather says. Also, “[I thought] it would add to the theme—getting drunk.” In the finished film, the camera lingers on a Cabo Wabo bottle, source of one character’s pre-meeting buzz, for a good 10 seconds.

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In Meetings, booze turns out to be the tonic for life’s most vexing problems: bosses who don’t listen, co-workers who kiss ass, team-building exercises. For the four friends in the boozing pact, prework binges lead to a hefty severance package, a table dance, and an elevator make-out session with the obligatory hot secretary.

Prather, as you might imagine, thought up Meetings while drinking beer. In a powwow re-enacted in the film, Prather and his buddies were knocking back a few after work when he had a moment of clarity: This wasn’t just an amiable chat among friends—this was a meeting. And the only thing getting them through the meeting, discounting friendship, was good old alcohol. The real-life epiphany and the filmed one share a setting—the District Chop House & Brewery on 7th Street NW, the façade of which appears in Meetings twice. Prather’s good friend Jason Dorpinghaus, the Chop House’s D.C. brewmaster, plays the waiter who dispenses the drink-through-the-meeting advice. He also played a crucial role behind the scenes, allowing Prather to shoot in the restaurant from 4:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. one day. Also, there was free beer: “Thirty extras…ended up getting plowed,” Prather says.

The office scenes in Meetings, a film Prather describes as “much deeper than Office Space,” were filmed at rock station DC101, where another friend of Prather’s works. DC101 is also sponsoring the film’s premiere, at which both a raffle and a pre-movie commercial for a Nissan dealership will help defray costs. Prather’s strategy is to “cross-promote everything,” he says, adding, “Our motto for this movie was, ‘It doesn’t hurt to ask.’” (It shows; the Meetings press kit lists 13 official sponsors.) “A lot of the equipment was donated by the crew. We did the whole movie—tape stock, catering—for under five grand.” It was a strategy rooted in Prather’s determination to escape what he describes as a common trap: “Most independent films don’t get finished,” he says. “One of my producers—I’m not going to name names—has not ever finished anything.”

Days before the premiere, Prather has his own finish line in sight. A week ago, Hagar’s people sent an e-mail approving of the tequila product placement. In an effort to build off the Meetings buzz, Prather is hurrying to cut a trailer for his next project, Auditions, a documentary/hidden-camera exposé of the indie-film audition process. “I wanted to work on it right away, but I’m being encouraged by my producers to promote this movie.” —Josh Levin

The Meetings premiere party begins at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 24, at Lewie’s, 6821 Reed St., Bethesda. For more information, call (703) 909-5453.