Life as a bar owner has exposed Mark Berzins to a wide range of dating scenarios — and a wide range of losers. He wrote about them all in his 2015 book, Most Guys Are Losers (and How to Find a Winner), which was recently turned into a movie. Most Guys Are Losers will debut in digital format during this year's Denver Film Festival, which opens today, October 22. And while the film is set in Naperville, Illinois (and wasn't shot in Denver), the debut brings Berzins's story back to Colorado.
Berzins is the founder of the Little Pub Company, which runs more than a dozen bars around Denver, including the British Bulldog, Don's Club Tavern, the Elm and Will Call. "You get to see a significant number of workplace romances because the industry attracts a lot of young, single people," he explains.
The father of two daughters, Berzins wanted to help his own kids avoid some of the pitfalls of dating the wrong person. The idea for the book developed as his oldest daughter was graduating from high school and preparing to leave for college. "She said, 'I'm going to head off for college; what am I going to do without you in my hip pocket with all your thoughts and advice?'" he recalls.
His response: "Don't worry, I'll write it all down for you."
The idea wasn't initially intended to be a published book, Berzins explains, but just a humorous collection of dating tips for women about men. "I sometimes have insomnia from thinking about my businesses, and when I get up, it's so quiet that you can really focus," he says. And so the father and bar owner used those sleepless nights to create and print a handbook for his daughter to take to college.
She and her friends loved it, and as the homemade booklet made the rounds it became a little dog-eared; Berzins printed more from his home computer to pass out to friends who also had kids of dating age. Soon the requests became too many to handle, so he looked into publishing, and the demand was there. "It was just meant to be a special gift, and then it took on a whole new life," Berzins recalls.
It was only a few months after Most Guys Are Losers was published that the idea for the movie was hatched. "A buddy of mine does reality TV, and his wife left a copy of the book on his desk with a note that said it was perfect for a reality show," Berzins says. "They wanted to follow me around with a camera and I would point out losers at my bars; it was a great idea for a TV show, but a horrible idea for a bar owner."
The seed had been planted, though, and Berzins was soon in contact with a scriptwriter interested in the concept. They worked together on creating a story that somewhat mirrored the bar owner's life experience. The main character — named Mark Berzins, oddly enough — writes a book on dating advice for his daughters, then must deal with the fallout when one daughter brings her boyfriend home for Thanksgiving. The real-life Berzins says the original script was more about the bars, with lots of bar jokes but not much in the way of family connections. But over several iterations, the story became more about the family and the dynamics between father, daughter and boyfriend.
As an executive producer, Berzins was on hand for much of the filming and also consulted on the details of the bar scenes (axing a bottle-service scene, for example, because that would never happen in a neighborhood bar). Many of the characters in the movie are based on Berzins's family, friends and employees. Keith David plays Al, a longtime bar manager whose character loosely mirrors Eric Young, who has worked for Little Pub Company for sixteen years. And Aiden Berzins, the transgender nephew that Mark Berzins's family took in after Aiden's parents disowned him at the age of seventeen, plays a version of himself in the movie. Even the original homemade booklet that Berzins gave his daughter as a graduation gift is used as a prop in several scenes.
The movie has been a bright spot during this very dark year for bars and most other businesses. "You're looking at every store with such a tight lens, and the decisions become about which ones aren't losing money," Berzins notes. "I'm certain that this winter will see which bars and restaurants can simply avoid bankruptcy, foreclosure and eviction."
As he positions his bars to weather winter, the debut of Most Guys Are Losers is a welcome diversion. "It's not life-changing, but it's life-enhancing," Berzins explains. Actor Andy Buckley, who played Mark Berzins, was one of the biggest enhancements. He knew everyone on the set by name and would often show up with coffee for the entire crew, says Berzins, who adds that he loved Buckley's performance.
The real-life boyfriend who had to prove himself as a keeper, not a loser, also proved to be a bonus for his family. In the movie he's named Bo, but his real name is Jake, Berzins says, "and he's everything you could ask for in a son-in-law."
Sometimes life, like the movie, has a happy ending — even if you have to deal with a few losers first.
Most Guys Are Losers debuts on Friday, October 23; it will be available for $15 ($12 for Denver Film members) on the Denver Film Festival's streaming platform from 12:15 a.m. October 23 to 11:45 p.m. November 8. Find out more at denverfilm.org.
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