[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 March’s edition of indieWIRE’s production column, Jason Guerrasio profiles five new films in various stages of production. This month’s group includes Matt Aselton’s “Gigantic,” Jay DiPietro’s “Peter and Vandy,” Matthias Emcke’s “Phantomschmerz,” Bradley Glenn’s “The Seminar with Robert McKee” and Ry Russo-Young’s “You Won’t Miss Me”
Described as an “odd comedy,” Matt Aselton‘s debut feature follows Brian (Paul Dano) and Harriett (Zooey Deschanel) who build an unlikely relationship and in that time decide to adopt a baby from China, while, unbeknownst to them, a hitman (Zack Galifianakis) is trying to kill Brain.
Written by Aselton and Adam Nagata a few years ago, the project languished until producer Mindy Goldberg got the script to Killer Films‘ Christine Vachon who came on to produce the film. But Aselton says the biggest thing was finding two actors that could take on this “strange” material. “You write it and you go ‘that’s really weird,'” he says. “But then when you have two actors like these who are both dramatically gifted and you watch what they did with the material you start making the movie around them, so it’s interesting to look at what you wrote and then see what showed up on screen and I think it works in a great way.”
Coming from the commercial world where he’s shot ads for everyone from Volkswagen to Starburst, Aselton was ecstatic to finally work on a feature. ‘It’s fun to make something and not have to look over your shoulder to see if the advertiser is satisfied,” he says. “And I was able to bring along a lot of the crew I worked with on those [commercials] so that made for a good environment to work in.” Aselton adds that because some of the commercials he’s worked on had CGI, he knew the right people to go to for assistance when some of the film’s sequences needed f/x. “You get a lot of help when you ask someone who mostly works on commercials, ‘Want to work on my film?'”
Currently in post, Aselton hopes to be finished by the summer. Shot on 35mm by Peter Donahue (“The She Found Me“), Beatrice Sisul is editing. Film also stars John Goodman and Ed Asner. Executive producers are Dano and Scott Ferguson. Cinetic is selling the domestic rights.
“Peter and Vandy“
“I started writing with this theatre group and I wrote this scene with these two characters and it just got a great response,” recalls writer-director Jay DiPietro about the birth of his stage play that would become his debut feature film. “I’m not exactly sure why, but I knew I wanted tell the story of this relationship out of order. I could envision being able to play with the hypocrisies and just finding the true causes of how you end up with a person.”
The stage play, done at Tom Noonan‘s Paradise Theater in New York’s East Village, got attention for it’s unconventional storytelling and received a Drama Desk nomination for Best Play. The play was quickly optioned for a film version that DiPietro would also direct, but after lagging in development for two years, DiPietro got it back and quickly found money to make the film casting actors Jason Ritter and Jess Weixler to play the leads.
The film follows Peter (Ritter) and Vandy (Weixler) through their relationship, but like the stage version, the story tells their relationship out of order which called for actors who could immerse themselves in the material and have the flexibility to work with changes done on set. “Something very important to me was that the actors would have the material for a good month before shooting,” DiPietro says from the editing suite. “I would re-write [scenes] on the fly because half a page would be summed up by a look or a stare and that was done because we created an environment where the actors made the characters come alive.”
Shot around New York City and New Jersey between Thanksgiving and Christmas last year, the film is currently being edited by Geoffrey Richman (“Sicko“). DiPietro says for a film like this the post process is stressful as there are endless options of how the story can be told. “There’s a way we have it in the script but we’re playing around with it another way,” he says. “It’s important that when people see it they’re seeing something fresh.”
Produced by DiPietro, Paper Street Films‘ Benji Kohn and Austin Stark and Cook Street Productions‘ Peter Sterling, the film was shot on Super 16mm by Frank G. DeMarco (“Shortbus“). Executive producers are Amanda Gruss and Bingo Gubelmann.
Director Matthias Emcke bases his debut feature on the life of a friend who lost his leg in a motorcycle accident.
Via e-mail from Germany, Emcke describes his friend as a “writer, poet, womanizer, drunk, cyclist,” and found his life-altering accident so intriguing that he decided to make a story out of it. “Phantomschmerz” (the word for the pain amputees experience in their limbs post-amputation) stars Til Schweiger as Marc, a cyclist who loses his leg in a traffic accident and tries desperately to forget about the incident but learns to live with it after meeting Nika (Jana Pallaske).
Known for producing films such as “Till Human Voices Wake Us,” Emcke describes directing as “less money but more fun.” Also an executive producer on the film, Emche wrote the screenplay in 2005 and showed the script to Schweiger a year later. He jumped on board to play the lead. Warner Bros. Germany signed on to distribute domestically and Film 1 to produce with financing coming from private investors.
Filmed in Berlin, Frankfurt and France in 35 days late last year, Emcke says the most exciting part of the shoot was filming at the Col du Tormalet, the grueling mountain climb stage during the Tour de France bike race. “We had only one day to shoot and it was a helicopter shot for the film’s finale,” he recalls. “There were high winds and fog but we had to go up, if not we would have had to push the entire shoot to next year.”
Shot on 35mm by Ngo The Chau, the film is edited by Martina Matuschewski and produced by Henning Ferber, Sebastian Zuehr and Marcus Welke.
“The Seminar with Robert McKee“
Known to some as the “most influential man in Hollywood,” Robert McKee conducts screenwriting seminars all over the world that are as helpful as they are demoralizing for screenwriters hoping to make a name for themselves in the industry. Director Bradley Glenn traces McKee’s controversial rise as the guru of screenwriting, who’s nourished over 20 Oscar and 140 Emmy winners, though he’s never had one of his scripts produced.
Now if you recognize the name you’re probably thinking of the crass character Brian Cox played in “Adaptation.” In fact, Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman specifically wanted Cox’s screenwriting seminar character to be named Robert McKee and went as far as contacting McKee to ask for his blessing. According to Glenn, McKee would allow them to do it only if they changed some of the script according to the notes he sent them. “They realized for [that part of the film] to work they needed to have him onboard,” Glenn says. “And [McKee] knows what his image is.”
But how has McKee become the most prominent screenwriting teacher in the business if he’s never had a script of his produced? That’s what Glenn hopes to find out by taking an in-depth look into his seminar, which he conducts around the world, as well as interviewing people who’ve taken it like Jimmy Fallon, Oscar nominated screenwriter Nick Kazan and Quincy Jones. However, Glenn (who’s taken the seminar numerous times) says even though McKee has granted him full access to his work, he’s made it clear he’s not making a puff piece. “I’m going to tell the real story,” he says. “It’s going to be fair and accurate and that’s taken time to develop.”
One of the major parts Glenn hopes to develop is Glenn’s pursuit to get one of his scripts produced. “He has this script called ‘Madness’ and there’s a strong possibility that it will be produced,” says Glenn. “Tony Kaye is slated to direct it.”
Glenn is currently gathering interviews and believes he’ll be working on the project through the end of the year. The producer is Rachel Klein through Totem and Taboo Productions. Doc is being shot on HD by Jonathan Schnell and Eric Londers.
[For more information, please visit www.seminarthemovie.com]
“You Won’t Miss Me“
“Orphans” director Ry Russo-Young is currently in post on her second feature. Starring Julian Schnabel‘s daughter, Stella, the film follows twentysomething actress Shelly Brown (Schnabel) who’s recently been released from a psychiatric hospital and roams New York City bumping into friends, getting into trouble and searching for romance.
Russo-Young came up with the idea of the film shortly after the 2007 edition of South By Southwest when she learned from Schnabel, who she’s known since they were kids, that she was getting into acting. They got together and made up the Shelly character. “It wasn’t one of those weird ambiguous things of ‘Are you playing yourself?'” Russo-Young says when asked how close the Shelly character is to Schnabel. “I don’t want to get into the mysticism. It’s a fiction film and she’s playing a character but I do think like all good actors she’s drawing from her life experiences.”
Around last April Russo-Young filmed Schnabel as the Shelly character for three hours, asking her questions ranging from her life to love and as Russo-Young describes it, “creating a visual document.” She then studied the footage for a couple of months and began crafting a story which she then relayed to Schnabel who from there improvised scenes on set. Russo-Young and Schnabel are credited as co-writers.
Russo-Young also decided to shoot on multiple formats to show Shelly’s unstable mental state. “Something could set her off, like saying something to her that she takes the wrong way, and the next shot you’ll see is on a lower quality video.” She says they shot on everything from 16mm to a VHS recorder.
Shot in July around New York City, the film is currently in post edited by Russo-Young and Gil Kofman. Financed mostly out of Russo-Young’s pocket, the cinematographers are Kitao Sakurai and Ku-Ling Siegel. Cast includes Rene Ricard, Greta Gerwig, Aaron Katz, Joe Swanberg, Mary Bronstein and Michael Tully. Music includes songs from The Virgins and Stylofone.
[For more information, please visit www.ryrussoyoung.com]