In this week's in production column, we speak with writer/director/actress Christina Beck about her Adrienne Shelly grant-winning film "Perfection," about the difficulties of moving to image-obsessed southern California. We also take a look at a fiction feature about a man who must deal with being a manager in the face of the financial crisis, a documentary about 80's hair band Quiet Riot, and a film about "The Next Cassavetes."
EDITORS NOTE: “In the Works” is a weekly column taking a look at upcoming films, in addition to projects in production. It spotlights films in development, as well completed films that are taking creative paths towards distribution and occasionally ventures away from films to look at other types of projects, such as interesting new film distribution, funding, or exhibition mechanisms.
Director/writer/star: Christina Beck
Other cast: David Melville, Robyn Peterson
"This is a culture where looks are everything. There is this inflamed obsession with external beauty here, and I have found it insanely fascinating," writer/director/actress Christina Beck told indieWIRE by phone from her home in Los Angeles about her feature debut. Tinseltown provided the inspiration for Beck, who first appeared as an actress in Penelope Spheeris' "Suburbia" back in the '80s and has a few shorts under her belt. Among them was 2004's "Slice," which was originally developed as part of Fox Searchlight's New Directors' program. The short later screened in Cannes and is the inspiration for "Perfection," currently in post-production.
The story centers on Kristabelle, who still lives with her mother and cuts herself to "feel alive." Her mother, addicted to plastic surgery, also cuts herself trying to maintain her youth. Through the help of a pot-smoking young lover, a newly sober British stand-up comic and Chinese medicine they all "find that love can be more than skin deep."
The feature script was nominated Best Screenplay at the IFP film market and then selected for their rough cut labs. Beck was subsequently awarded the Adrienne Shelly Female Directing Grant and her film was selected for IFP's 2010 Spotlight Sneak Preview Screening of the Year.
"I've met or run into many women who cut themselves or who are into altering themselves massively," said Beck. "I tried to make the script as emotionally truthful as possible."
"Perfection" has had a relatively long road. Following "Slice," the IFP caught wind of the feature script in 2007. "The IFP has been insanely helpful," noted Beck. That interest proved helpful, culminating in the project winning the annual Adrienne Shelly director's Grant last year. The grant, named after the late writer/director/actor Adrienne Shelly, provides an unrestricted cash grant to a female director of IFP's Independent Filmmaker Labs.
"The grant helped with the principal photography," said Beck who has been shooting the film on weekends for over two years. "We never had [much of a] budget and only had five or six people on the crew at a time.
Shooting took place primarily in the San Fernando Valley beginning in 2008. Following a family death, Beck put the project on hold, but resumed last year.
"I've had the same hairdo for the past two years," said Beck who plays the title role, Kristabelle. "I have an acting background. I started out as an actress and went from there to writing and directing. I pictured myself in that role – it's how I write…I was happy to have myself in the lead role because I was always available. Also, the economics of the situation made it the way to go."
Playing the male lead is David Melville who also acted in "Slice." Melville runs a Shakespeare company in Los Angeles and Beck was excited to bring him back for "Perfection."
"He's a wonderful actor. I was so happy I could keep David, and God willing, this film will get some exposure and he'll get the acting recognition he deserves."
Actress Robyn Peterson ("The Sopranos") plays her mother. Though she is still quite striking, she is no longer in that ideal age coveted by the Hollywood machine. "The tricky part of casting this role is that actresses who 'were once beautiful' can be crazy," she noted with laughs. "You have to get someone who is willing to play along for the whole ride. We met through a mutual friend [after the previous actress had to drop out]. She was such a team player and went along doing what was needed to make this little movie with very little money."
Now in the middle of post, "Perfection" will be 87 minutes in length. Beck will be applying to festivals where she hopes to debut the feature that has been years in the making.
"It's a take on how people come to L.A. to be something other than what they really are…It's a comedy…It's absurd," said Beck, adding, "We just inched our way into finishing this film. I guess that's how it's done right now."
"The Jonestown Defense"
Description: "The Jonestown Defense" is about a businessman in Florida who has fallen into a brutal cycle of personal and professional corruption. The movie takes place over the course of one weekend when his employees are about to lose their jobs, he's about to lose his family, and he must find redemption in the least likely place he'd imagine.
Production team: Director: Greg Takoudes ("Up With Me"); Producers: Jeremiah Kipp, Brian Jude, Dennis Ostermaier; DP: Andrew Wonder; Cast: Dennis Ostermaier, Robert Stevens, Michael Michaelessi, Amy Seimtez, Mary Bronstein
About the film: "The movie has been an incredibly collaborative effort, with the actors all developing their own characters, and using acting workshops — for the better part of a year — to develop the script. The performances are raw and, I think, incredible. We shot the film run-and-gun style, filming everywhere in Sarasota — from offices to a jungle, planes and boats — in a wonderfully intense 3-weeks of adrenalin and creativity." — Greg Takoudes
Current status: The team is currently in post-production, intending to complete the edit in the next two months.
For more information and to support the film: Visit the film’s Kickstarter page. As with all Kickstarter projects, the filmmakers will only receive donated funds if they reach their target goal of $20,000 by the end of the campaign on September 18.
Quiet Riot Documentary
Logline: "Frankie say let's make a Rockumentary!" Frankie Banali of Quiet Riot opens his personal home video vaults and his life, for a rockin' documentary.
Production team: Director/Producer: Regina Russell
About the film: "I know Frankie Banali quite well and the Quiet Riot story from the inside. One day He was showing me all of his old footage and we discussed how much he had and I suggested that it would make an amazing documentary. This band was very influential, had a huge rags to riches story. Quiet Riot has been a revolving door of interesting characters and has an incredibly long, happy/sad/funny/heartbreaking story. Then their singer died. I mean come on. That's drama, and there is much more to the story than anyone even knows!" — Regina Russell
Current status: The doc is currently raising funds and the filmmaker is currently sifting through archival footage.
For more information and to support the film: Visit the film’s Kickstarter page. As with all Kickstarter projects, the filmmakers will only receive donated funds if they reach their target goal of $20,000 by the end of the campaign on September 3.
"The Next Cassavetes"
Logline: Upon discovering he is living in the famous apartment from the Classic John Cassavetes film "Minnie and Moscowitz," a man decides to remake the film not as a tribute to Cassavetes, but in hopes of reconciling with his dying estranged father, who is the ultimate Cassavetes fan. With the help of some of John Cassavetes best friends and original cast members, he gets more than just a lesson in film making the Cassavetes way–he gets a lesson in life.
Production Team: Director: Stefan Lysenko; Producer: Brett Kerr; Writer: Mitchell Reiter; Cast: Lelia Goldoni, William Zabka, Rena Riffel, Phil Pasolisi, Mike Malin. Eileen Reardon
About the Film: “Called by spirits of the past, I was inspired to embark on this film-making journey by the ageless historical landmark building, The Villa Elaine which rests on Vine Street in Hollywood California. In 1970/71, in apartment #14 at the Villa Elaine, John Cassavetes set out to shoot the very special feature film entitled 'Minnie And Moskowitz.' Currently, I call this same apartment #14 home and thus it is also my inspiration first and foremost. Recently, the setting has garnered the interest of several actors which were part of the Cassavetes film making family including Lelia Goldoni of the Actors Studio, who has started to connect the dots of the past regarding other actors which were part of John's troop of artists. The ball is now rolling and it has gathered speed because it's time to hear from John once again, even if we only hear from him via his spirit and his friends. Who knows, 'The Next Cassavetes' just might show up to channel John's spirit towards his/her future learning, laughing and loving…” –Stefan Lysenko
Current Status: The film is currently in pre-production and begins principal photography in September.
Also in the works:
According to a report from Deadline.com Frances McDormand is serving as producer on two upcoming projects: HBO's adaptation of Elizabeth Strout's Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of short stories "Olive Kitteridge" (for which she will be play the title role) and an adaptation of the Laura Lippman crime novel "Every Secret Thing," with a script penned by Nicole Holofcener.
Jeff Sneider at TheWrap reports that Riley Keough, Elvis's granddaughter and Lisa Marie's daughter, will potentially follow up her role in "The Runaways" with a spot as one of the Five Wives in George Miller's "Fury Road," the fourth film in the "Mad Max" franchise.