Production Report: The Baxter, Duane Incarnate, Head Games, Only Human, Pizza
by Jason Guerrasio
[Editor’s Note: this is the second installment in indieWIRE’s new column devoted to covering independent films in production. If you’d like to recommend a film for us to cover in a future production report, please email email@example.com.]
“I’m a big fan of the romantic comedy genre and I’ve loved the character of the ‘wrong boyfriend,'” Michael Showalter says. “I thought it would be interesting to give him the central love story. It’s as if you were watching a typical romantic comedy where the girl dumps my character for the leading man but instead of staying with the girl and the leading man we go off with the wrong guy and see what happens to him.” That sums up Showalter’s solo directorial debut, “The Baxter.” Along with directing, he also wrote the screenplay and plays the lead role of Elliot, that wrong guy who’s madly in love with Caroline, a woman who’s way out of his league.
Known for being a member of the comedy troupe, “The State,” and starring in the cult favorite “Wet Hot American Summer” (which he also co-wrote and co-produced), Michael Showalter has gone solo for this project. Spending eight months writing the film on his own, he has attempted, as he puts it, “to invert the [romantic comedy] genre while at the same time staying within it.” “[It’s] very much in the vain of an old 1940s screwball romantic comedy,” Showalter says, while taking a break from shooting. “There are a lot of twists and turns and it’s got a fairly intricate storyline.”
Showalter is in the midst of a 20-day shoot with a cast including Michelle Williams, Justin Theroux, Peter Dinklage, Zak Orth, Michael Ian Black, Catherine Lloyd Burns, and Elizabeth Banks (“Seabiscuit”) as Caroline. The IFC Films production is shooting in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, with DP Tim Orr (“All the Real Girls,” “Raising Victor Vargas”). Showalter hopes to be done with principal photography by the middle of April with post finished by July.
Best friends Gwen, Connie, and Fran are shocked when their dowdy friend, Wanda, introduces them to her significant other, Duane. Tall, dark, and handsome, Duane doesn’t look like the type of guy who would be attracted to their friend, so the three investigate what his real intentions are. What they find makes them question everything they thought was right in the world. “Things start to come undone,” director Hal Salwen (“Denise Calls Up”) explains. “It snows in July, there’s an unexplained hurricane in different parts of the world; all these things come together to make them think this is not right.”
Produced by Salwen and Jonathan Shoemaker (“Face”), this dark comedy was done on a “modest budget” last summer in Manhattan. Shot in 19 days by DP Frank G. DeMarco (“Hedwig and the Angry Inch”), Salwen recalls one of the biggest discussions before shooting was with DeMarco about whether to use 16mm or digital, which Salwen had originally wanted to use. “DeMarco pointed out that lenses for 16mm cameras have just gotten better and better over the years,” Salwen says. “You really get this beautiful film and we’re still not quite at that point with digital. [Also] the argument that with digital you can have a small crew, we had a pretty small crew.”
Presently finishing post-production, the film stars Caroleen Feeney, Kristen Johnston (“Third Rock From The Sun”), Cynthia Watros, Peter Hermann, and soap star Crystal Bock as Wanda. The film was recently selected for the NY, NY Features competition at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.
Over drinks of whiskey at a Calgary bar last year director Paul Fox and screenwriter Wil Zmak voiced their disappointment in the current state of horror films. Yearning for the days when the genre didn’t need screaming teenagers, the two decided to make one that paid homage to the great horror films they grew up on.
Their psychological thriller “Head Games” follows Samantha, a psychiatrist who spends the weekend with her family in their winter cottage, when suddenly, Harlan, an old patient of hers who believes she conducted unethical experiments on him, shows up. He proceeds to put the family though a series of nightmarish games that delivers the truth while reaping vengeance. Inspired by the works of Polanski, Hitchcock, and Kubrick, the Canadian filmmaker wanted to make “something a little smarter than the horror movies we’ve seen in the last decade.”
Coming off a string of impressive shorts that includes his New York School of Visual Arts thesis film, “Last Round Up” (which played at Sundance and garnered Fox a first-look deal with New Line), “Head Games” is his first feature. Developed through The Feature Film Project, an initiative of the Canadian Film Centre, the film started production in late February. Done on a budget of $500,000 Canadian ($378,960 U.S.), the 18-day shoot ended last month and was produced by Brent Barclay (who teamed with Fox for the short “Reunion”). Shot in Toronto on Super 16mm, the film stars Kate Greenhouse, Gordon Currie, Iris Graham, Dov Tiefenbach, and Aidan Devine (“Cold Creek Manor”) as Harlan. Currently in post, Fox hopes to begin submitting the film to festivals in late summer.
When Doug Block agreed to go back to his childhood home in Long Island last October to help his father sell the family house, it was the finale to a tumultuous two years during which his mother sudden died and his 83-year-old father immediately remarried. Having had a shaky relationship with his father for most of his life, Block came to a realization while spending time with him. “I had no idea who my father was,” says the director. “He was a total stranger and I had two weeks before he moved down to Florida to really get to know him.” So Block decided to use the time to make a documentary that not only explores his parents’ marriage, but more importantly brings peace to his turbulent relationship with his father.
Using footage he shot while visiting his father, and incorporating old 8mm home movies that go back to his parents’ marriage, Block creates a “non-fiction story that plays like fiction.” “We’re trying to treat it as much as a fiction film as possible in the telling of the story and how it unfolds on screen,” he explains. But he makes it clear the film isn’t like the dysfunctional family docs that were popular last year. “This isn’t ‘Capturing the Friedmans’ and my father isn’t famous like in ‘My Architect’; it’s about the potential for change no matter how old you get.”
Produced by Linda Morgenstern (“The Same River Twice”), “Only Human” was shot on digital video and currently received enough seed money to begin post-production. Block’s current goals are finding an editor and composer to put the finishing touches on the film. He hopes to be finished by the summer of 2005.
This offbeat comedy revolves around Cara-Ethyl, an unpopular teenager who finds an unexpected friend in a thirty-something pizza deliveryman. Set in the small town of Milford, Penn., the film follows the two through a series of misadventures over the course of a night of pizza deliveries. “Basically no one comes to Cara-Ethyl’s 18th birthday party and the pizza boy rescues her and takes her out for the night, it’s a coming-of-age story,” says writer/director Mark Christopher. “It has been described as ‘Welcome to the Doll House’ with heart,” adds producer Howard Gertler of Process Media.
Christopher, who previously directed “54,” about the 1970s hot spot, Studio 54, teamed up with InDigEnt to make this character-driven comedy. Shot in three weeks last August, Christopher admits they had a hectic shooting schedule but believes it worked for this type of film. “We had one day where we had to shoot 11 pages, but this is the kind of script that can be done like that.” While the cast and crew tried to deal with the hectic pace, they suddenly found solace in the most unlikely event, the blackout that affected most of the Northeast. “We were at some house that had its own generator and their television worked so we got to watch the coverage of the blackout,” says Gertler, who was relieved to be watching it from afar. “It’s a lot mellower when you’re in the sticks.”
The cast includes newcomer Kylie Spark (Cara-Ethyl), Ethan Embry (the pizza deliveryman), Julie Hagerty, and Judah Friedlander (“American Splendor”). Done on a “tiny budget” with Panasonic DVX-100 cameras, the film is currently finishing post-production.