Holedigger Films Digs Up A Slate from “Dentists” to Reindeers
by Wendy Mitchell
“The Secret Lives of Dentists,” Alan Rudolph’s new film starring Campbell Scott, Hope Davis, and Denis Leary, is one of several films that connect the multi-talented Scott with production company Holedigger Films. Strangely enough, the relationship between actor/director Scott and Holedigger’s George VanBuskirk and David Newman started with something that calls to mind Sally Struthers begging for charity on TV commercials.
“I was watching a program on IFC, and Campbell Scott looked into the camera and said, ‘I need $5 million to make this movie “Off the Map,”‘” VanBuskirk remembered. “So I sent him a letter and I said, ‘I think I can find it for you.'” VanBuskirk and his partner Newman had started Holedigger Films in 1999 without much experience in the film world; VanBuskirk had been an electronics and optical design consultant and Newman had worked in the financial world.
Holedigger’s first effort, with Canadian outfit Knightscove, was Peter Markle’s family film “Virginia’s Run,” starring Gabriel Byrne, which has now landed at Warner Bros. for likely theatrical distribution this fall. Four years after its start, Holedigger is now a four-person operation based in Manhattan’s Chelsea district, with an ongoing relationship with Scott for several films: he stars in “The Secret Lives of Dentists,” which played to good response in Sundance and hit theaters on Friday from Manhattan Pictures. Holedigger also produced (with Anne Chaisson and writer/director Dylan Kidd) 2002’s “Roger Dodger,” the indie flick that earned Scott critical kudos and an Independent Spirit Award nomination; next up is “Off the Map,” which Scott directed. And there are future endeavors in the works. “I thought that Campbell had always made great choices with what he had done, especially the things he’s taken on himself,” VanBuskirk said. “I’ve learned so much from him. I didn’t just want to do one movie with someone, I wanted a long-term relationship.”
Holedigger works with others talents as well. Forthcoming projects include a movie about The Shaggs, the cult favorite ’60s girl group; playwright Craig Lucas’ directorial debut “The Dying Gaul”; “The Best Lie,” about ad executives in NYC; a western from Alan Rudolph; Campbell Scott’s “The Water Way,” described as “an existential heist movie”; and Joe Pantoliano’s movie based on his book “Who’s Sorry Now.” All of the company’s projects have budgets ranging from $1 million to $6 million and all financing comes from private equity.
VanBuskirk, a 31-year-old father of two, likes the balance of edgy indie fare and family flicks. The next children’s offering (also with Knightscove) will be LeVar Burton’s “Blizzard,” starring Christopher Plummer as Santa Clause with Whoopi Goldberg providing the voice of an outcast reindeer. “Family films are a wide-open market,” von Buskirk explained. “And that can support me in doing things that are riskier.”
Following the bow of “Dentists” in theaters, the company has already struck another deal with Manhattan Pictures for late fall distribution of “Off the Map,” the story of an atypical New Mexico family starring Joan Allen, Sam Elliott, and Amy Brenneman. Following that, Holedigger is in post-production on Tom Cairns’ “Marie and Bruce,” a comedy about a neurotic couple played by Julianne Moore and Matthew Broderick. VanBuskirk hopes to have that one ready for Sundance 2004.
All in all, VanBuskirk hopes that Holedigger provides an outlet for films that don’t fit into typical formulas. “The goal for the company is to allow these incredible writers, actors, and directors to work to the best of their ability,” he says. “I want to facilitate that as best I can, to give them the freedom to work. It’s a collaborative process, but I’m a strong believer that the director deserves the final cut. This is the director’s movie, that’s why we pick our directors carefully.”