Thursday, January 17, 2008

Liquor Group does Sundance

Park City, UT
Liquor Group joins Florida Film Commission at Sundance 2008, To Host World Premiere Reception for “The Year of Getting to Know Us”

Park City, Utah-Sundance: The Year of Getting to Know Us has joined the Sundance 2008 Film Festival to be screened in the official Premiere Category. The World Premiere is slated to debut on January 24, 2008 with a lavish invitation only reception to follow, sponsored in part by Liquor Group and the Florida Film Commission.

The Year of Getting to Know Us is a USA full length feature film directed by Patrick Sisam, whose most recent oeuvre includes Rescuing Desire and the critically acclaimed Wedding Banquet. Produced in part by Lou Maggio, under his RING Production, LLC banner, the dramedy is a saga of domestic discord and reconciliation.

A father played by Tom Arnold and son played by Jimmy Fallon are closer in blood but painfully divided by the diverging course of their lives. The moral motion of the film is fairly predictable-the departure, the return, and redemption of the prodigal son who grew up to become a commitment phobic man. He reunites with his estranged ailing father and in ways unexpected comes to terms with his own childhood.

Ultimately they discover how much they have in common. The Year of Getting to Know Us is a dramedy about life and finding the humor in it. Featuring other A-list actors such as Sharon Stone, Lucy Liu and Illeana Douglas, it is a universal story of family and their ineffable joys and agonies.

Filmed in Jacksonville, Florida where Liquor Group is also headquartered, The Year of Getting to Know Us (working title Eliot Rocket) is right on it’s scheduled its production and release. This is a rare instance in the precarious arena of self financed independent films.

First announced by the JEDC Film & Television office in February 2007, the production has been on an accelerated fast track since. By April, it was crewed up and shooting principal scenes on location in and around historical and lush Jacksonville, Florida. “The local budget came in on its estimated 2.5 million with supporting business to have increased that figure by an additional million or so. With catering, housing, ground transportation and all the incidentals that are not directly film related the economic impact has been very favorable,” states Todd Roobin, JEDC Film Commissioner.

The Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton lauded the Year of Getting to Know Us when it was announced during a news conference last year. “I am extremely pleased to see a local Jacksonville business invest, produce and help promote films utilizing our beautiful city and dedicated workforce. The Year of Getting to Know Us is the types of production that makes a significant contribution to our film and television infrastructure, local economy and enhances our film reputation to the major motion picture industry.”

States Maggio, “Ring Productions is right on schedule to produce one to two independent films each year, with Jacksonville serving as the main filming location. The Company is comprised of partners including Lance Ringhaver, Ed Machek, Mike Ossi, Howard Butler and Lawrence Najem, who bring their own expertise and film knowledge to the company. In addition to, the law offices of Ossi, Butler, Najem & Rosario, who represent the William Morris Agency and John Travolta.

“With my partners and I being natives of Florida, our goal is to bring original feature productions and documentaries to the Jacksonville market that resonate with audiences everywhere while we utilize the local workforce and supporting businesses in the area,” said Lou Maggio, President & CEO of RING Productions, LLC.

Liquor Group is sponsoring the After Party Reception and a lavish hospitality room throughout the Sundance Film Festival January 17 through the 27. An innovative specialty spirits distributor based in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL. “It is our goal to sample some of the finest mixologists' creations instead of simply displaying our products in and around Sundance. Among those premium artisanal sprits gracing throughout the Park City confab are Happy Rum with its winking smiley face logo, some of the finest scotch this side of Braveheart, from the house of Gordon MacPhail, and RU the official Vodka of the Imperial Court of Russia,” confirms Liquor Group President/CEO C.J. Eiras.

For more information visit
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Monday, January 7, 2008

Smiles sell sweet spirits

Daytona Beach, FL
As published in the Daytona Beach News Journal
Written by Audrey Parente

Red Rum tastes great with pineapple juice, said Leesa Benz during a liquor-tasting demonstration recently.

"It's my favorite," she oozed, impersonating Marilyn Monroe, the blonde bombshell she has been identified with locally for more than a decade.

It's an act Benz of Ormond Beach has capitalized on in the past as a part-time entertainer, but recently it's paying off in liquor sales.

She started out last year as a taste demonstrator for various liquor products for Liquor Group Distribution, a 6-year-old, mid-sized liquor and wine distributor based in Ponte Vedra Beach.

But after having unusual success with her taste testing at local liquor stores, Lowell Newman, Liquor Group's executive, said he made her a sales representative and gave her an entire territory of her own - stretching from St. Augustine to Melbourne - including Volusia and Flagler counties.

"Leesa is a little different, very enthusiastic . . . and it works for her," Newman said.

It also works for C. Scott Sharps, vice-president of Sharps Discount Liquors, who just opened his fifth liquor store. Four of Sharps' sites are in Volusia County, the latest in Daytona Beach Shores. But the first was in Flagler County, opened by his father 11 years ago when the family relocated here from Vineland, N.J.

Sharps said his liquor business has been steadily growing: "We have seen increases every year."

He also noticed the unusual results of Benz's unique presentations.

"Our distributors all have people come in and do tastings on specific products they want people to be more privy to . . . new products or ones people might not be used to - and they (the people giving samples) might sell a bottle now and again," Sharps said. "But it would be a shock if she (Benz) didn't sell more than 12 or 18 bottles (at one tasting)."

The Ormond Beach woman with the bubbly personality, a Seattle native, worked for Estee Lauder Cosmetics before she joined the Navy in 1989. After her military service she returned to the cosmetic company in San Diego. Benz moved to the Daytona Beach area in 1994.

She was crowned Mrs. Daytona Beach in 1998 and competed but didn't win the Mrs. Florida crown that year. After that, for a number of years she made radio and television commercials and worked in the hotel industry.

In 2003, she hosted a public access TV talk show, interviewing such guests as former Hawaiian Tropic owner Ron Rice, Florida Sen. Evelyn Lynn and the rock group Foghat. This year the TV show moved to Internet television.

During all the years and previous careers, Benz performed her Marilyn impersonation at local auto club events, for the Post Office during the unveiling of a stamp honoring actress Marilyn Monroe, at art openings, music award affairs and various public venues.

Her busy life came to a crashing halt three years ago when Benz nearly died from a brain aneurysm.

"It was a freak thing," Benz said. "I had brain surgery. I was very fortunate from what the doctors have told me. I pretty much came out unscathed."

After months of recovery, the first person she interviewed for her Internet television show was her neurologist.

"Then I went back to work at the Plaza Resort and Spa for about a year until I was recruited by "Perfect Wedding Guide," she said.

She spent three years with the guide, and the demonstrations for Liquor Group were just a sideline until the opportunity to handle her own territory was too good to pass up.

"The Marilyn look always helps," she said. "People are intrigued with that. You also have to be personable and friendly.

"I make sure to talk to every person, even if I am busy. I look up and see a whole bunch of people come in and run to them, make eye contact, whip them up a drink," she said. "I am amazed people will just take a sip and they are sold."

There might be more to it. Benz has a grabbing sense of humor.

No separate liquor license is required by her to do the taste testing, provided the store has the proper licensing, but she is not allowed by law to sample beer.

On her table, among the bottles of Red Rum, Voo Doo Rum and an occasional smiley-face bottle of Happy drinks such as Happy Vodka and Happy Gin, is a frothy beer bottle with a beer spill.

Out of the blue Benz will gasp in dismay at the bottle, catching the attention of anyone who isn't already watching her - but no problem. It's just a rubber joke prop. However, as soon as she has all that attention, she goes to work doing her spiel.

"Just the attention I give people is all I need," she said. "Although with some people, you have to take more time with them and tell them about the recipes, like Shining Red Apple - Red Rum with hot apple cider - or how you can use the (smiley-face) bottles as a vase or candleholder."
Cutline: Leesa Benz hands out Voodoo and Red Rum samples to customers at Sharps Discount Liquors in Daytona Beach recently. It's a new career for the eye-popping Marilyn Monroe impersonator.


Leesa Benz, a former Mrs. Volusia County and now a liquor representative, is shown in this undated photo impersonating Marilyn Monroe.

For more information visit
or call 904-565-2633