[EDITOR’S NOTE: indieWIRE’s monthly production report looks at independent films in various stages of production. If you’d like to tell us about a film in production for future columns, please contact us.]
In September’s edition of indieWIRE’s production column, Jason Guerrasio profiles five new films in various stages of production. This month’s group includes Tricia Todd and Eric Matthies’ “Agile Mobile Hostile: A Year with Andre Williams,” Marlene Rhein’s “The Big Shot Caller,” Jeff Stephenson’s “The Hill,” Glenn McQuaid’s “I Sell the Dead” and Jonathan Levine’s “The Wackness.”
“Agile Mobile Hostile: A Year With Andre Williams”
The name Andre Williams probably doesn’t come to mind when you think of the greats in R&B, but being behind such songs as, “Bacon Fat,” “Jail Bait,” “Mustang Sally,” “Thank You for Loving Me” and “Shake a Tail Feather,” he certainly is one of them. At 72 Williams is still filling halls and bars all over the world, but he also struggles with addiction and poverty. Starting last March directors Tricia Todd and Eric Matthies followed Williams for one year and captured his roller-coaster life that included going to jail, getting kicked out of his apartment, being put on life support for pneumonia and constantly battling to stay sober.
“Everyone has this fantasy of being a rock and roller,” Matthies says, “and here’s a guy who on the surface looks like he’s got everything–hit records, worked with incredible people [such as Berry Gordy, Ike Turner and Stevie Wonder]–but he’s still struggling and I think people can watch a film like this and recognize that there’s a lot more to the music business and the era of music that Andre came from.”
Matthies admits when he and Todd began the project they imagined interviews with Williams’ famous peers while highlighting his career, but they realized on the first day of shooting him in Chicago they’d get more than that. “[Andre] literally started directing the film,” says Matthies, “He was like, ‘This is where we’re going, this is what I’m going to do, stand over there, now we’re going to go there.’ Andre is a producer, he knows how to put it all together.”
The filmmakers–who juggled their full time job creating DVD content through their company, E.M.P., Inc, while making the doc–also include interviews with some of the musicians Williams worked with including, Johnny Bassett, Jay Johnston, John Sinclair and John Spencer.
Currently in post, the film was shot on HD and produced through the filmmaker’s company, Project Lab. The editor is Michelle Harrison and the executive producer is doc filmmaker AJ Schnack (“Kurt Cobain About A Son“).
[For more information, please visit www.agilemobilehostile.com]
“The Big Shot Caller“
Fed up with the world of music videos–where an artist’s look outweighs the director’s vision–Marlene Rhein ditched the bling and Cristal and turned her attention to writing a feature script. Using her brother as inspiration, Rhein recently wrapped on the project, which she describes as “the most amazing thing she’s ever experienced.”
“The Big Shot Caller” follows Jamie who is heartbroken when his girlfriend breaks up with him and for guidance turns to his sister (played by Rhein) who encourages him to pursue his love of salsa dancing to get over the girl. Rhein cast her real-life brother, David in the lead, who suffers from the eye condition Nystagmus (born without irises). “I was trying to make this other film and it never came through so I said fuck it I’m just going to write this other thing,” Rhein recalls. “I thought of my brother, who’s this shy, insecure person, but is the most amazing salsa dancer I’ve ever seen, so it’s kind of based on a true story about him.”
After getting financing from private investors, Rhein shot around New York in June, but filming was anything but easy. Rhein remembers one time being shut down from a location because the building manager thought they were shooting some other type of film. “My character wears a lot of wigs and thinks she’s some hip hop queen so he thought we were shooting a porn,” she says. “He shut us down but we reshot the scene somewhere else and it turned out so much better. That’s the point of the movie, there’s a reason everything happens.”
Her tenacity also got her a few hours to shoot a key scene at the Sheraton Hotel on 7th Avenue, which meant a lot to her as she wrote most of the film in the hotel’s bar. “This kind of thing kept happening,” she says. “We would get these incredible locations by just talking to people heart to heart.”
Shot on HD by Paolo Cascio, the film is currently being edited by Christine Giorgio, who’s also the producer.
[For more information, please visit www.myspace.com/thebigshotcaller]
A group of friends reunite for the first time since college at a wedding in Athens, Georgia. During the weekend old flames reignite and friendships are tested in Jeff Stephenson‘s narrative feature debut.
Written by Brent Laffoon, Stephenson and producer Jane Kelly Kosek, the project began to get moving less than a year ago after Kosek found financing through Ashley Epting, the owner of a catering company in Georgia. After flying out to Athens, the trio decided to change the film’s setting from the Hamptons to Athens, utilizing Epting’s plot of land called The Hill. Another major alteration from the original script was integrating 9/11 as an event that echoes amongst the friends, especially for the Fudge character (Elden Henson), who is still struggling to get over it. “It’s one of those movies where not everything is tied up so neatly,” Stephenson explains. “You feel like there’s a life for these characters beyond the movie.”
In fact, the script went through a third phase after Laffoon had to leave the project due to other commitments. Stephenson and Kosek went back and punched up some of the key relationships, including one between main characters Sam (Desmond Harrington) and Amy (Kathleen Robertson) who haven’t seen each other since breaking up just after college ended. Sam hopes to reconnect with her over the weekend, but those plans are shattered when he learns she’s married. “We really wanted to delve into [the character’s] feelings and what it felt like back then to break up and when they come together again what are they experiencing,” Kosek says.
Stephenson says in order to get the cast to form a bond with one another they would all often go to the bars around Athens. “As much as the conflicts are a major part of the story, it comes out of love and you have to act like you care about each other, so we made an effort to have everyone hang out.”
Budgeted at around $1 million, the film recently wrapped its four week shoot. Shot on 35mm by Helge Gerull, the film is executive produced by Ashley Epting and produced through Wonder Entertainment.
[For more information, please visit www.wonderentertainment.com]
“I Sell The Dead“
Writer-director Glenn McQuaid transforms New York City into the 18th century British Isles to tell this horror/comedy starring Dominic Monaghan and Larry Fessenden.
Based on his short, “The Resurrection Apprentice,” “I Sell The Dead” expands on the characters from the short, Arthur Blake (Monaghan) and Willie Grimes (Fessenden), a pair of grave robbers who are headed to the guillotine but first are given the opportunity to give their life stories to a priest (played by Ron Perlman). The film spans 15 years and recounts the hijinks the two got into. “It’s a period horror/comedy, but it’s also really a buddy movie meets some of the older British horror films made by studios like Hammer and Amicus,” McQuaid says.
Having done visual effects on films Fessenden’s produced like “The Last Winter,” “The Roost” and “Liberty Kid,” McQuaid immediately gave him the script after finishing it a year ago, and with the help of producer Peter Phok got Monaghan attached and found areas of New York that could pass for the 18th century.
“A lot of it was scouting locations and we found some great spaces,” says McQuiad who shot most of the exteriors in Staten Island and the main interiors at an Irish pub in Manhattan’s East Village.
Shot on 35mm by Rick Lopez, a majority of the shoot was done in May, but the film will do one week of shooting in November when Ron Perlman ends his commitment to Guillermo del Toro‘s “Hellboy” sequel.
[For more information, please visit http://isellthedead.com]
In writer-director Jonathan Levine‘s sophomore effort, the doctor-patient relationship is taken to a whole new level as Ben Kingsley stars as a therapist going through a mid-life crisis and begins hanging out with Luke (Josh Peck), one of his delinquent teen patients.
Set in 1994, Levine based the story around his high school years in New York. “I thought it would be a cool way to investigate some of the themes we’re looking at: drugs, depression, New York from Giuliani to post-9/11, but through a framework that’s goofy and fun,” Levine says from the set.
He first thought of the project while making his first film, “All The Boys Love Mandy Lane,” in 2004. Once the film wrapped his started working on the script and pitched the idea to Occupant Films, the same team behind “Mandy Lane.”
One of Levine’s most memorable days on set (and one that’s received much press in the entertainment shows) is a scene where Kingsley’s character makes out with one of Luke’s friends, played by Mary-Kate Olsen. “It was a fun shoot,” Levine says. “But we shot it at like four in the morning so even though I was into it for most on the crew it was just another day at the office.”
Levine says the biggest thing he took into this film was not caving in to compromises. “I went to film school, so for me at least, you’re fighting so many obstacles that compromises are kind of a daily occurrence. And in my first film we were just hustling to get it done. But now I don’t move on until we get the shot. Before I picked my battles, now I battle for everything.”
Having recently wrapped principal photography in New York, the film was shot on 35mm by Petra Korner. Producers are Keith Calder, Felipe Marino and Joe Neurauter. The film also stars Famke Janssen and Method Man.